In Empire we use real world languages as phys-reps for game languages. The most obvious example is the English language, which in the game is the common tongue for the Empire. However several other languages are also used in the setting, players can use these languages in play if they are familiar with them.
Language is a hard-skill in the Empire game, meaning that your character is entitled to speak any languages only as well as you can. We do not use any system of hand-signs, cards, or declarations to signify that a language being spoken is portraying another language in the game. Some character options are only available to players who are fluent in a foreign language as a result of this requirement. Google Translate or similar mechanisms should not be used to automatically translate written documents.
English is used to represent the language commonly spoken by all citizens of the Empire. Although it is usually called "Imperial" by Imperial citizens the same language is spoken right across the continent - and most folk in other lands refer to it by their own name (for example in Axos the same language is called Axou) so some folk refer to it simply as "Common". Other residents of the continent may speak the language with a strong accent, but English represents their first language also, so the stereotypical broken English is not appropriate in anyway.
Due to the considerable power of the Empire over the last four centuries, the Imperial language is also a widely-spoken trading and diplomatic dialect in the wider world. If you are playing a character who is originally a distant foreigners - a character who has come to the Empire from overseas - then your character's mastery of Imperial is exactly as good as your English.
The Empire is the most powerful state on the continent, but there are states on other continents whose power rivals that of the Empire. Interactions between the Empire and these countries is limited - the distances and dangers of travel are too great to allow any possibility of military action, but diplomacy and trade do flow back and forth.
We have created descriptions of several powerful rival states - and specified the language (or languages in many cases) used by the people who live there. You cannot play a character who was raised in that state unless you are a fluent speaker of one of the listed languages. If you are fluent then you can choose to either play a native of that land or to play an Imperial citizen who has learned to speak the language fluently.
|OOC Language/Language-Group||IC name||Foreign Nation|
|Dutch||Sarcophan||The Sarcophan Delves|
|Romance||Asavean||The Asavean Archipelago|
|Scandinavian||Sumaask||The Sumaah Republic|
|Slavic||Jarmish||The Principalities of Jarm|
Classical languages of Europe and the Middle-East from antiquity and the middle ages exist in the world of Empire as ancient historical tongues. Most of these languages are incredibly obscure but if you know some Aramaic or Hebrew then you are welcome to use the language in-character provided you are clear what it represents.
The exception is Latin which is relatively common. In Empire Latin represents Old Asavean, a forerunner tongue widely used on the Asavean Archipelago, it was once the common tongue of diplomats throughout the world. The language is ancient, it was known as Old Asavean even before the Empire formed. It was widely used for diplomacy and negotiation and was spoken by the rich and powerful across the world as a result.
At the time of the Empire's formation, it was a common second language for high-status citizens of the nations on the Bay of Catazar, and especially amongst the Dawnish. It was present but rarer in the northern nations. In 6 Y.E. the First Empress ruled that as a matter of Pride in her Empire, her Senate and Synod would speak "Imperial", not Old Asavean, in debate. The decision was not universally popular in the South, but it was grudgingly accepted.
As the last generation of Old Asavean speakers died out in the Empire, the language had a brief resurgence as young Imperial (especially Dawnish and Catazarri Leaguer) citizens associated it with the glory of the great leaders who built their Empire. Since then, it has persisted as a minor but high-status language, (ironically) associated with the glory of the first days of the Empire. Short phrases are often seen on banners, and as with any language, it has left remnants in the Imperial tongue.
Other British Languages
Languages of the Brythonic and Goidelic language group such as Welsh or Gaelic represent Iaith, a tongue widely used on the continent centuries before the Empire was created. This language had many sub-dialects and was already dying out before the destruction of Terunael. A few communities sought to preserve their language and there are communities in the Empire even today where these old languages are spoken.
If you speak or read any of these language then you are welcome to use this in-character as the ancient cultural language Iaith, it represents a dialect of this ancient tongue that your character or your community has preserved.
British Sign Language
British Sign Language represents the Imperial language of Hand-Sign. First developed in Holberg University in the 210s, Holberg Hand-Sign was developed by a deaf doctor by the name of Albrecht Gandino van Holberg. Gandino, who was deaf from birth, developed a basic sign-system with his family and Guild, and used it to studied medicine under his Guild-head. In 211 Holberg University financed him to develop the language more fully, and so he began work on a system of finger-spelling and hand signals that closely mapped on to Imperial - albeit with its own syntax and grammar.
In 234, a prosperous League doctor by the name of Elena Lucianova von Temeschwar took Gandino's work and developed it further, making use of space and involving movement of the hands, body, face and head. In 238, she produced a manuscript about "Master Babington", a deaf man proficient in the use of a manual alphabet, "contrived on the joints of his fingers", whose wife could converse with him easily, even in the dark through the use of tactile signing. Her system soon spread across the League, despite Lucianova's personal correspondence with rivals in other cities who she denounced for plagiarizing her original work, claiming they had sent spies to her classes to learn her system.
Over the next 80 years the system spread widely amongst the deaf, as well as some members of hearing communities: Freeborn corsairs have been known to use a dialect known as "Freesign" to communicate on deck, and Navarri scouts have used a variation known as "Night-speak" to talk silently amongst themselves. Disturbingly, members of the Sarvosian underworld have been rumoured to use Imperial Sign Language as a form of thieves' cant, to communicate silently under the noses of honest citizens.
Imperial Sign Language, as it has become known, has many regional dialects. Signs used by the Navarr, for example, may not be used (or even readily understood) by those in Sarvos, and vice versa. Some signs are even more local, occurring only in certain towns or cities (such as the various systems of number-signs).
The most common ISL dialect is represented in the Empire game by British Sign Language; less-common dialects are represented by Makaton and International Sign Language. Sign-Supported-Imperial also exists; this is represented by Sign-Supported-English. Other sign languages may be used freely, and may represent foreign sign languages or unusual local dialects of Imperial Sign Language.
A useful introductory video made as part of the Access:LARP project which discusses BSL in live roleplaying and also includes suggestions for specifically Empire related signs can be found on Robin Tynan's YouTube channel here.
There are obviously many more languages than are covered here, and it is perfectly fine to use those languages in play if you want to. We're very unlikely to define a place for those languages in the setting, however. If you need to explain a language you are using that isn't one of those we've included, the simplest thing is to say it's a language spoken by your grandparents who emigrated to the Empire from outside the known world, and that they didn't talk about the old country much.