Created By: Ekuran on March 26, 2012 Last Edited By: Ekuran on May 14, 2012
Troped

Classical Tongue

A dead/(mostly) forgotten language, or one that's spoken by the elite/educated/etc. Probably both.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
redirects: Rare Tongue, Old Tongue, Noble Language, Classical Language, Dead Language, Forgotten Language.

A language that isn't known/used by the common man. It may be dead/(mostly) forgotten, or is spoken by nobility/scholars/any elite or knowledgeable/educated person in general. It'll probably be both. A few words from it might be used to denote something special, or is used for something or someone's name, but don't expect the common masses to generally use it (anymore). It's often an Expy of Latin, if it isn't Latin itself.

The language may also be some kind of holy language spoken by those in a religious order, which makes the comparison to Latin all the more obvious. In these instances, see Sacred Language.

A Language of Truth or Language of Magic often doubles as one.

Compare Smart People Know Latin. Contrast Common Tongue.

See also: classical language on The Other Wiki.

Examples:

Anime and Manga

Film

Literature
  • "High Speech" from The Dark Tower, which is the language of Gilead, the city of Gunslingers, and is considered a "civilized" language compared to the Low Speech of everyday communication. It's an "old" language in the sense that, by the time of the first novel (The Gunslinger), Roland is the last of the Gunslingers and thus one of the few people left in the world who actually can speak it.
  • High Valyrian from A Song of Ice and Fire.
  • During the Archprelate's funeral in the Elenium, there's a reference to the prayers and chants being in an archaic form of the Elene language that hardly anyone present understands.
  • The High D'Haran from The Sword of Truth series.
  • Several in The Lord of the Rings: Westron, the Lingua Franca and Common Tongue of the series, is derived from Adûnaic, the language of the Númenóreans. Quenya serves in the same capacity for the Elves.
  • The Old Tongue in The Wheel of Time, precursor to the Common Tongue used in the books. It was similarly the universal language in its own time, and is now used mainly by nobles to show off their status, much as Latin was in the real medieval age.
  • There's The Inheritance Cycle's Ancient Language. As an added bonus, it's a Language of Magic.
  • In Time Enough for Love, which takes place in the 43rd century, more or less, English is a dead language, which Lazarus Long insists on speaking when dealing with the Howards.
At the end of Gaudy Night, Wimsey makes his last marriage proposal to Harriet Vane in Latin and she accepts in the same language ("Placet," meaning "it pleases"). They're both highly educated graduates of Oxford University, where the novel is set. The event is special, in that Wimsey unsuccessfully proposed marriage to Harriet (in the vernacular) repeatedly over the course of several years and several novels.

Live-Action TV
  • Downplayed on Grimm when Nick needs a text translated that is written in a medieval dialect of German. Monroe explains that the dialect has not been used in a long time but he can still translate it because it is close enough to modern German.
  • It's mentioned in one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation that French has become a dead language.

Tabletop Games
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • Forgotten Realms has Auld Wyrmish -- the language of ancient dragon civilization on which different species talk with each other, while each kind itself uses derived dialects. Much the same applies to Giant, which is not the same as dialects e.g. stone giants or verbeeg use among themselves. Thorass or "Auld Common" is ancient written trade language from which "Common" is derived, still used for official records in some lands.
      • High Drow is an ancient dialect known mostly to the drow clergy, different enough that they sometimes use it for secret communication over the heads of lay worshipers.
  • High Gothic of Warhammer 40,000.

Video Games

Western Animation

Real Life
  • Latin, of course.
  • Ancient Greek is also a real life example (in fact as a rule of thumb, Latin is favoured by Lawyers and Greek is favoured by scientists).
  • Oddly, some jokingly refer to the French language as a dead language, when it's obviously not.
    • It was used as a language among nobility in some places, like Tzarist Russia.
  • Sanskrit also fits the bill, and it's even used as a ceremonial language in Hindu religious rituals and Buddhist practice in the forms of hymns and mantras.
  • The Other Wiki has a long list of extinct languages.
    • It also has several Sacred Languages used by various religions. Including: Latin, Sanskrit, Koine Greek, Aramaic...
  • In the British Isles there are those who desperately try to keep alive Welsh, Cornish, Scottish and Irish Gaelic. Arguably, all are examples.
Community Feedback Replies: 58
  • March 27, 2012
    Koveras
    Classical Latin in Real Life, obviously.

  • March 27, 2012
    somerandomdude
  • March 27, 2012
    Bisected8
    • Ancient Greek is also a real life example (in fact as a rule of thumb, Latin is favoured by Lawyers and Greek is favoured by scientists).

    • Several in The Elder Scrolls. The Dwemer language is mostly lost, rediscovering the dragon language is a plot point in Skyrim, as is the Falmer language.
  • March 27, 2012
    LogicallyDashing
    The earliest known writings are in the Sumerian language. Unlike Latin and Greek, there's no way to decipher most of it, because it's the only writing system that's been found from that time, making it impossible to get anything like a Rosetta Stone.
  • March 27, 2012
    Mauri
    Latin is one "by the books" example but there are other options like Sumerian and Sanskrit.
  • March 27, 2012
    TBeholder
    • Forgotten Realms has Auld Wyrmish -- the language of ancient dragon civilization on which different species talk with each other, while each kind itself uses derived dialects. Much the same applies to Giant, which is not the same as dialects e.g. stone giants or verbeeg use among themselves. Thorass or "Auld Common" is ancient written trade language from which "Common" is derived, still used for official records in some lands.
      • High Drow is an ancient dialect known mostly to the drow clergy, different enough that they sometimes use it for secret communication over the heads of lay worshippers.
  • March 27, 2012
    kyun

    Real Life

    • Oddly, some jokingly refer to the French language as a dead language, when it's obviously not.
  • March 27, 2012
    randomsurfer
    On Gor prayers to the Priest-Kings are said in Archaic Gorean, a language only the Caste of Initiates speak.
  • March 27, 2012
    CaptainRainbowz
    High Valyrian from A Song Of Ice And Fire could be one.
  • March 27, 2012
    nielas
    What about dialects that are no longer used but a speaker of the modern version can still understand or decipher?

    • On Grimm Nick needs a text translated that is written in a medieval dialect of German. Monroe explains that the dialect has not been used in a long time but he can still translate it because it is close enough to modern German.
  • March 27, 2012
    fulltimeD
    The Divine Language spoken by esoteric priests and sexy living MacGuffins in The Fifth Element
  • March 27, 2012
    Bisected8
  • March 27, 2012
    Mauri
    There are works trying to figure out Sumerian and Sanskrit but they are mostly used by scholars focusing on language evolution and such.
  • March 27, 2012
    Ekuran
    ^^^^I'm guessing that's a Downplayed Example.
  • March 27, 2012
    zarpaulus
    Wikipedia has a long list of extinct languages.

    As well as several Sacred Languages used by various religions. Including: Latin, Sanskrit, Koine Greek, Aramaic...
  • March 27, 2012
    randomsurfer
    It's mentioned in one episode of Star Trek The Next Generation that French is a dead language.
  • March 28, 2012
    Antigone3
    During the Archprelate's funeral in the Elenium, there's a reference to the prayers and chants being in an archaic form of the Elene language that hardly anyone present understands.
  • March 28, 2012
    Shnakepup
    Would "High Speech" from The Dark Tower series count? It's apparently[[hottip:*:I say apparently because Translation Convention is in full effect whenever it's spoken, so the reader is never aware of when it's being spoken except when explicity told]] the language of Gilead, the city of Gunslingers, and is considered a "civilized" language compared to the Low Speech of everyday communication. It's an "old" language in the sense that, by the time of the first novel (The Gunslinger), Roland is the last of the Gunslingers and thus one of the few people left in the world who actually can speak it.
  • March 28, 2012
    Nocturna
    Note that Sacred Language is already a trope, and would be a subtrope of this. Examples of Sacred Languages should go on that page, not here.
  • March 28, 2012
    Omeganian
    The High D'Haran from The Sword Of Truth series.
  • March 28, 2012
    troublegum
    I hate to point out flaws, but Sumerian isn't indecipherable. It and it's Cuneiform alphabet were initially translated in the 19th Century by Assyrian historians.

    Minoan (aka Linear A), the precursor to Mycenaean (Linear B) is indicipherable and that may have been what people were thinking of.
  • March 28, 2012
    HeartOfAnAstronaut
    Old English?

    Welsh might be a subversion, in that English has replaced it as the first language but there've been huge efforts to revive Welsh, e.g. bilingual signs, teaching Welsh in schools, since the mid/late 20th century. Welsh also seems to have inspired a lot of fantasy writers over the years.
  • March 29, 2012
    zarpaulus
    • In Scrapped Princess it turns out that the old language is English. For example the name of their continent, "Dustvin", is a corruption of "Dustbin".
  • March 29, 2012
    FreemDeem
    In the British Isles there are those who desperately try to keep alive Welsh, Cornish as well as Scottish and Irish Gaelic. Arguably, all are examples.
  • March 29, 2012
    Generality
    • Several in The Lord Of The Rings: Westron, the Lingua Franca and Common Tongue of the series, is derived from Adûnaic, the language of the Númenóreans. Quenya serves in the same capacity for the Elves.
    • The Old Tongue in The Wheel Of Time, precursor to the Common Tongue used in the books. It was similarly the universal language in its own time, and is now used mainly by nobles to show off their status, much as Latin was in the real medieval age.
  • March 30, 2012
    troublegum
    Seriously: Sumerian isn't indecipherable.

    Gaelic, Welsh and Cornish really don't count because they aren't spoken exclusively by an elite/nobility/scholarly community. Gaelic and Welsh in particular are spoken by large numbers of 'common' Welsh and Scots people and are sufficiently 'alive' as languages that you can order most government leaflets in Welsh or Gaelic.

    If road and street signs are written in a language, I don't think it invokes this trope.

    Real Life
    • Hieratic: a script from Ancient Egypt that was supplanted for commmon usage by Demotic but remained in use by priests until the 3rd Century AD
  • March 30, 2012
    desdendelle
    Literature
    • There's The Inheritance Cycle's Ancient Language. As an added bonus, it's a magic language.
    • In The Lord Of The Rings, Dwarvish serves as this in the Third and Fourth ages; it is only know to the Dwarves, a dwindling race.
  • March 31, 2012
    TBeholder
    It's an old language which currently used, but not as a normal language. It need not be "rare". The Trope Maker is Latin, which was anything but.
  • March 31, 2012
    zarpaulus
    • In Time Enough For Love, which takes place in the 43rd century, more or less, English is a dead language. Which Lazarus Long insists on speaking when dealing with the Howards.
  • March 31, 2012
    Ekuran
    ^^Rare Tongue is probably the best name for this trope and is a good contrast to Common Tongue. It, at it's core, is about a language the most people don't know/use. Saying it's old is also misleading since it doesn't have to be, as the french example shows.
  • March 31, 2012
    SNDL
    Would Esperanto count?
  • March 31, 2012
    Ekuran
    Hm.

    It would technically count, but I feel like it should be under some kind of Sub Trope like Sacred Language.

    Trade Language, maybe?
  • March 31, 2012
    LOAD
    Is the Ancient Language from The Inheritance Cycle an example? All Elves speak it.
  • March 31, 2012
    Ekuran
    The Elves in that series are pretty elitist to me.

    Not that it matters, since for humans, it's basically a magical Rare Tounge that magic users speak in.

    I'm guessing that would make Celestial/Draconic/Abyssal/etc. from Dungeons And Dragons count to...
  • March 31, 2012
    zarpaulus
    ^^^ Esperanto The Universal Language is a failed attempt at a Common Tongue. And there are a few thousand "native speakers" since it's old enough that some people could have learned it from their parents and not old enough to be practically forgotten.
  • March 31, 2012
    Ekuran
    Then it should fall under another language trope altogether, like In Universe Con Lang or an unrelated Trade Language trope.
  • March 31, 2012
    Topazan
    I don't think Rare Tongue is the best name for this. The description and examples make it seem like it's about an ancient language with a significant impact on the region's history, and one the knowledge of which is a sign of education. An obscure village dialect is 'rare', but probably not this trope.

    I suggest Elite Tongue or Elite Language, to emphasize the 'classiness' of the language. Or maybe even Classical Language.
  • March 31, 2012
    Ekuran
    How about Special Tongue? That would keep the contrast with Common Tongue and doesn't make it seem like it's only limited only to nobles/elites/etc.
  • March 31, 2012
    Topazan
    That calls to mind something like Thieves Cant or technical jargon. I think Classical Language fits the definition best.

    To quote:
    ...a classical language is a language that has a broad influence over an extended period of time, even after it is no longer a colloquial mother tongue in its original form.
  • April 1, 2012
    Arivne
    Tabletop Games
    • Dungeons And Dragons
      • In early editions druids and thieves each had their own secret language that only they spoke. The thief version was called Thieves' Cant.
  • April 1, 2012
    TBeholder
    So... decide what you want already? Because "Special Tongue" is very, very inclusive. For one, now you sweep in ConLangs, etc.

    ^^ Classical Language would fit, but Greek is both Classical and living. Should these be included? A fictional analogy would be wizards using Elven or Draconic while relevant creatures still speak it.
  • April 1, 2012
    zarpaulus
    I think that "Elite Tongue" and "Old Tongue" should be separate tropes.

    "Elite Tongue" seems to imply that it is a living language used by the elite caste of society, like High Gothic of Warhammer40000.
  • April 1, 2012
    Catbert
    Honestly, Old Tongue was probably the best title for the trope as defined. Elite Tounge could be something like having the Norman aristocracy speak French while the Anglo-Saxon peasants spoke English.
  • April 1, 2012
    Ekuran
    The concepts overlap too much. For example, High Gothic is both used by the elite of the Imperium and is a classical/dead language like Latin.
  • April 1, 2012
    zarpaulus
    Then just name it Old Tongue or Ancient Language or something.
  • April 1, 2012
    randomsurfer
    In Foundation and Earth Golan Trevize and co. stumble upon what they think is the long lost Earth but it turns out to be just Alpha Centauri. The humans there speak an old form of Galactic Standard, which is as transcribed in the book sounds like Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe.
  • I do not think this should redirect Dead Language, since there are a tropeable number of examples of that IRL.
  • April 2, 2012
    69BookWorM69
    I don't know if you want a Latin example here, but I'll give it anyway: at the close of the novel Gaudy Night, Wimsey makes his last marriage proposal to Harriet Vane in Latin and she accepts in the same language ("Placet," meaning "it pleases"). They're both highly educated graduates of Oxford University, where the novel is set. The event is special, in that Wimsey unsuccessfully proposed marriage to Harriet (in the vernacular) repeatedly over the course of several years and several novels.
  • April 2, 2012
    Ekuran
    That's actually a great example, since it's used to denote something special (i.e. a marriage proposal).
  • April 2, 2012
    Topazan
    @T Beholder - I don't know anything about Greek, ancient or modern, but I would be very surprised if modern Greek was still mutually comprehensible with ancient Greek after milennia of linguistic drift. Again, to quote the wikipedia article:
    Thus classical languages tend to be either dead languages, or show a high degree of diglossia, as the spoken varieties of the language diverge further and further away from the classical written language over centuries.

    I still think Classical Language fits best:

    - A dead/(mostly) forgotten language. - Check. See above.

    - One that's spoken by the elite/educated/etc - Check. Languages with a rich body of ancient literature tend to be held in high regard by the educated. All of Edward Sapir's real life examples in the wikipedia article qualify in their regions.

    - A language that isn't known/used by the common man. - Check. Again, see above.

    - The language may also be some kind of holy language spoken by those in a religious order, which makes the comparison to Latin all the more obvious. - Check. Latin, Greek, Classical Chinese, Arabic, and Sanskrit are all liturgical languages.

    By the way, Smart People Know Latin might be related.
  • April 3, 2012
    Ekuran
    You're right. Classical Language would make a good name.

    But the title should be shorter, so I'll go with Classical Tongue.
  • April 3, 2012
    Topazan
    Sorry, I don't want to sound like I'm unwilling to compromise, but Classical Language is a pre-established term. In addition, calling it a "tongue" rules out examples where it's primarily the written form of the language that's studied. Besides, Classical Language is not by any means a long name for a trope; it's only two letters longer than Classical Tongue.
  • April 4, 2012
    Treblain
    What's going on with the name? It seems like there's a different name for this draft every day or two.
  • April 4, 2012
    lebrel
    I like Classical Language, frankly.
  • April 24, 2012
    Telcontar
    I'd prefer a title without "classical" as that makes me think of Latin, but it's okay if the final title is one of those. My favourite is probably Old Tongue.

    Another example:

    • In Ears For Elves, some children argue about the proper pronunciation of "Taurë", the word for "wood elves" in the Forgotten Tongue. It's the first part of the name of the Taurëcuiva Festival.
  • April 25, 2012
    BrentLaabs
    Looks just about ready to launch. It needs less slashes and more conjunctions in the second paragraph of the description.
  • May 14, 2012
    BrentLaabs
  • May 14, 2012
    NightNymph
    Not sure if this counts...

    • The angels in Supernatural speak and use written Enochian. Many of the spells used to make them manifest, banish them, ward aginst them, etc. are said in or are written in Enochian. This might instead be a Sacred Language though I do not see the example listed there.

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=356q7388f4se3uywcjoz0e3p&trope=DiscardedYKTTW