A language that isn't typically known or used by the common man. It may be dead and mostly forgotten, or only spoken by educated elites such as nobility, scholars, clergy
, or mages
. A few words from it might be used to denote something special, or is used for something or someone's name
, or someone who knows it might drop a phrase here and there in an attempt to sound clever
, but don't expect the common masses to 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
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Anime and Manga
- "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.
- Dwarves never speak their own tongue to outsiders except their Battle Cry(and presumably the hearers are expected to soon be dead). Dwarvish is a ceremonial language and is exactly the same in the time of Lord of the Rings as it was in Durin's time. When talking to outsiders and sometimes even among themselves they use Common Speech. And if an outsider knows Dwarvish that is a sure sign that he is considered to be a very honored friend and possibly that he has Gone Native.
- 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 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.
- The Alex Benedict novels take place 9,600 years in the future, more than enough time for civilizations to rise and fall and give our future antiquities dealers something to pick through. Many languages have come and gone in that time. Notably, modern English vanished in the third millennium, and modern French only lasted a millenium more before both languages became only known by their written form — no one has recordings to know how they sounded.
- In A Canticle for Leibowitz, English and Latin have this status for the Church. One aspiring monk remarks on the strangeness of English grammar.
- High Imperial in The Alloy of Law.
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.
- Old High Gallifreyan in Doctor Who.
- 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. It's rendered as Dog Latin in the books, but Word of God is that it's just a Translation Convention.
- Warhammer Fantasy had (at least in earlier editions) the Latin expy called Classical language. Not surprising given the setting's tendency for Fantasy Counterpart Culture.
- Among Darrians in Traveller the Old Script Yaser Te-yulep is used for poetry and legal documents and the Roman Script Rome Te-yelup is used generally.
- Ancient Hylian in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.
- 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. The closest example to a language of the educated, possibly, is Old High Elven or Aldmeris.
- The Ancient Language in Fire Emblem Tellius, used as a spell casting language in most contemporary settings and is the primary language for the Heron tribe. Most of what Princess Leanne says is in this language, translations of which can be found here and here.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- It also has several Sacred Languages used by various religions. Including: Latin, Sanskrit, Koine Greek, Aramaic...
- Hebrew. Interestingly it has been revived as everyday speech in a deliberate social engineering project of the Zionists. Many Ashkenazi Orthodox dislike this considering Hebrew a holy language and Yiddish the common language of the Jews...a position that Sephardi Jews, Orthodox or otherwise, find annoying.
- Arabic is an interesting case. Classical Arabic—the flowery language of The Qur'an—is unquestionably dead, but it's not difficult to understand for one who speaks Modern Standard Arabic, which is less flowery and more businesslike. However, nobody speaks MSA as a first language, either: they speak one of the numerous varieties of Arabic. However, none of these are traditionally written down, and high-class colloquial Arabic blends seamlessly into MSA anyhow. The result is that while Classical Arabic is a classical language for Arabs (and a holy language for Muslims, Arab or otherwise), Arabic in general is very much alive.note
- Classical or Literary Chinese differs from modern vernacular Chinese mostly in style and vocabulary, one of the more salient features being the lack of multi-character words. It survives mostly in literature, certain formal contexts, and school exams.
- Classical Chinese provides a straight example in Chinese-influenced, but non-Chinese countries, such as Vietnam, Korea, or Japan. The educated elites of the bygone era in these countries could read and write classical Chinese easily. The peasants of their own time or their modern descendants, not so much.