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Classical Tongue

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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 it 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. If forgotten, can become a Lost Language. In some cases, a classical language came either from or to a Noble Tongue.

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 & Manga 

    Fan Works 
  • In RWBY: Scars, Faunus have a language separate from the Common Tongue everyone uses known as "Ishvi". They only use it amongst other Faunus because for years they've been persecuted by humans for speaking it.
  • In Let Us Be Your Poison, many Faunus don't speak the Common Tongue of New Kingspeak. They only speak their own tongue, Zhoviyak.
  • In From Behind Bars, "lion-latin" is this to lions. It's actually Swahili.
  • In Flame's Shade - Revisited, faunus have a basic primal "language" consisting of animal-like noises. This language is something they know from birth. Some noises are known species-wide but some are only understandable to their own kind of faunus (such as cat faunus growls or rabbit faunus clicking).

    Film — Live Action 

  • "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.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire has High Valyrian, the language of the lost Valyrian Freehold. In Westeros it's taught to the highborn as a sign of noble education, particularly in the Valyria-descended Targaryen dynasty. In the East, it's been absorbed into local "bastard Valyrian" dialects in the Free Cities and blended with Old Ghiscari in the languages of Slaver's Bay. Some notable words or phrases include valar morghulis ("all men must die", an Essosi greeting that is traditionally replied by valar dohaeris, "all men must serve"), valonqar ("little brother", part of a prophecy that haunts Cersei Lannister since childhood), and dracarys ("dragonfire", used by Daenerys to command her dragons to breathe 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.
  • Several in the Middle-earth works of J. R. R. Tolkien:
    • Westron, the Common Speech of western Middle-earth during the time of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, is derived from Adûnaic, the language of the Númenóreans who had already ruled much of Middle-earth before even before they lost their island homeland to catastrophe and were forced to reestablish themselves on Middle-earth as the kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor.
    • Quenya serves in the same capacity for the Elves, being the language spoken by the Elves who (at least momentarily) lived with the Valar in the Undying Lands.
    • Khuzdul (Dwarvish) is a static, ceremonial language, and Dwarves rarely speak their own tongue to outsiders outside of their Battle Cry (and presumably the hearers are expected to soon be dead). When talking to outsiders and sometimes even among themselves they use Common Speech. And if an outsider knows Khuzdul, that is a sure sign that they are considered to be a very honored friend and possibly that they have 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 and Language of Truth, which probably explains why it's no longer in common use.
  • 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 Mistborn's Wax and Wayne books is the language once spoken by Spook the Lord Mistborn, founder of the new civilization, and is now only used in old historical documents and occasional government ceremonies. To readers, it's Spook's bizarre street slang from the Original Trilogy.
  • Kens is the Kencyr language in Chronicles of the Kencyrath. High Kens is a super formal and archaic form of the langugage. The scholarly Jaran's battle cry is in High Kens, in the vein of Smart People Know Latin.
  • Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children: Old Peculiar. Some peculiar-specific vocabulary comes from Old Peculiar, like syndrigasti and ymbryne, and there's one song in it. But even Millard—who prides himself as a scholar of all things peculiar—only knows a little, and there's definitely no one having conversations in Old Peculiar.
  • The Gentleman Bastard series has Throne Therin, the courtly language of the defunct Therin Empire. Amusingly, Word of God states that the Therin nobility invoked this, creating a "tarted-up" version of common Therin to set them apart from the common folk and flaunt their erudition.
  • Latatian, the language of the ancient Ankh-Morpork Empire, in Discworld. Used by wizards, lawyers, and doctors, all of whom reckon that their professions are greatly enhanced if ordinary folk don't understand a word they're saying. In the same way as modern Morporkian just happens to be identical to 20th century English, Latatian bears a remarkable resemblance to Canis Latinicus.

    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. Played straighter with the cloth covering the Templar treasure, which has writing in Aramaic and Latin. Rosalee can translate some of the Latin, but says it's archaic Latin, not Classical Latin (which, ironically given the trope name, would be easier to translate).
  • 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 is the ancient language of the Time Lords, since become so obscure that the Doctor writes a diary in the language to ensure it can't be read by others.
  • Ghoul: The ghoul starts mumbling a Madness Mantra in Aramaic at one point.
    Finish The Task, Reveal Their Guilt, Eat Their Flesh...
  • Farscape has Old Luxan, which D'Argo needs specialized Translator Microbes (as opposed to the regular ones everyone has) to understand, and which Jool disparages him for not knowing. There's also an ancient Hynerian language, which Rygel does know as he's their deposed emperor.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • Forgotten Realms:
      • Auld Wyrmish is the language of ancient dragon civilization with 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 that giant subspecies, e.g.: stone giants or verbeeg, use among themselves.
      • Thorass or "Auld Common" is an 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.
    • In the default setting, Draconic is one of the most ancient languages still in use, partly thanks to its use in magical notation and partly because dragons are candidates for longest-lived non-immortal creatures.
  • In Pathfinder's Golarion setting, the language of the ancient Azlanti empire hasn't been used in millennia, but has been incorporated into the common tongues of Taldane and Varisian and can still be found in some ruins.
  • High Gothic of Warhammer 40,000. It's rendered as Dog Latin in the books as a Translation Convention, per Word of God.
  • 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.
  • Exalted has Old Realm, as opposed to modern High Realm and Low Realm. It's still spoken by most spirits and by scholars, enough to be used as one of the setting's three Common Tongues.
  • Ironclaw has Magniloquentia, a dead language that was spoken in Triskellion before they conquered Calabria. Even the majority of priests don't speak it and only read the Calabrese translations of their holy scripture, though there are some advanced holy spells that have to be learned in the original Magniloquentia.

    Video Games 
  • Several in The Elder Scrolls. Most prominent is Aldmeris, the language of the Aldmer (Old or First Elves), Precursors to all of the modern races of Mer (Elves). It parallels Latin in that it didn't so much die out as evolve into several distinct but clearly related languages, some living and others, like Dwemeris and the Falmer language, extinct. Translating Dwemeris is a side-quest plot point in Morrowind while translating the Falmer language is a side-quest plot point in Skyrim. Rediscovering the language of the dragons (Dovahzul) is a main quest plot point in Skyrim.
  • The Ancient Language in Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance and Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn is used as a spellcasting language in most contemporary settings and is the primary language for the Heron tribe. Most of what Princess Leanne says is in this language. In fact, it's simply English in an invented script; translations can be found here and here.
  • In Sword of the Stars negotiating with different species requires researching their languages, most of them have three, a "Common Tongue" that allows Ceasefire agreements, a secondary language that allows the formation of alliances or Non-Aggresion Pacts, and a third that enables tech sharing and demands for their surrender. Humanity's are English, Latin, and Hanzi.
  • For Jade Empire, BioWare commissioned a 2,500 word Conlang called Tho Fan, also known in universe as "the Old Tongue". Though, they ended up using it to save memory on dialogue as they could get away with using only a few sentences in what would sound like gibberish to most players, and the majority of NPCs speak "English" anyways.

  • 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.
  • In Unsounded, the dead Old Tainish language has been replaced by Tainish and Continental in common speech, but is still studied extensively as the Language of Magic. Since it's the only language the Background Magic Field of the Khert understands, spell composers put a lot of work into rediscovering long-lost bits of vocabulary.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • 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, Mizrahi and Ethiopian Jews, Orthodox or otherwise, find annoying.
    • The Orthodox Sephardi also traditionally considered Hebrew a holy tongue, and their own common language was Ladino. Unfortunately, unlike Yiddish, which developed among Eastern European Jews who were forcibly segregated from the rest of the community, and therefore was not very much like German, Ladino was invented by Spanish and Portuguese Jews who lived in a Muslim-dominated society, which meant they were tolerated and allowed to mingle - which means that modern Ladino sounds almost exactly like Spanish, with hardly any Hebrew influence—to the point where the official language regulator for Ladino in Israel is a member of the Asociación de Academias de la Lengua Española, the general council of Spanish-language regulators. Which is why most modern Sephardim just prefer Hebrew.
  • 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.
  • Scholars now suspect that Old English (the language of Beowulf) had become this by the Norman Conquest. Numerous misspellings and scribal errors suggest that the late Anglo-Saxons' spoken language had already come to greatly resemble what we now call Middle English.