View Full Version : Translation Spells - how well do they work?

02-22-2015, 06:59 PM
Here's a general Fantasy RPG question...

Imagine, if you will, a spell that allows insta-translation of spoken word (for D&D folk: Tongues). Do spells like these translate literally, or do they allow for "fudge factor" for meanings and inflection? Should it make allowances for thinks like the Inuit having seven different words for snow and translate accordingly, or will you just hear, "snow"?

What about words/names that no longer exist? If there was an old man from Nantucket - how will that last word be "heard" via the spell? Would it be left as is to be puzzled out, or would you hear qualifiers (i.e. "Nantucket - location name")?

What of idioms? "You are pulling my leg" is American - but in Russia, they say, "You are putting noodles on my ears." Would that be translated literally, or would the spell make allowances?

The core of my question: Would it screw up poetry or lyrics? What about meter and rhythm? "I think that I shall never see, a thing so lovely as a tree..." It's simple, it's direct, it's arguably beautiful... and if translated, it COULD become gibberish. What about modern day song lyrics? "Give me a ticket for an aeroplane..." Would that become "Book me passage on a roc/giant raptor construct"?

This is what happens when you have insomnia and a glass of spiced rum... don't let it happen to you!

02-23-2015, 10:09 AM
Doesn't have to be fantasy only. Have you ever plopped a Babel fish into your ear?

You need to choose a perspective for the translation. A dictionary or a person are probably the best choices. If the spell uses a dictionary, then you get the most boring, literal, direct translations. If it uses the words of a person, your translation will sound like what that person would say. Choose a musician, and your poetry and lyrics translations will sound pretty good, but your physician or legal translations will be relatively confusing.

The spell might be best designed to use the spell's recipient as the translator. In this case, the magic would transform the message into messages that the recipient would understand best, even if they weren't the best or most accurate translations.

Another good choice would be to direct the spell into/through a god's voice. Gods tend to make better decisions than people do, and thus, better translations (if not a bit outdated).

I just have one question: why the rum? (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FTi40w0nLgo)

02-24-2015, 01:02 AM
Well, the rum thing is easy... I can put three ounces in a glass with a couple of ice cubes and sip on it for four or five hours. And it's YUMMY!

That's an interesting twist with using the caster as the "translation tool" for the verse - and it makes sense. I may have to incorporate that... hmmmmm (runs to get more rum!!)

Oh, and with five different bottles of spiced rum - and the fact that I only drink about 3 ounces per WEEK on average, I'll NEVER run out!

02-24-2015, 09:47 AM
:mad: <--rum breath

02-24-2015, 05:57 PM
I always assumed that translation spells operated telepathically: they convey what the target means to say, not what he says. Plus, hey, it's magic.

Even then, things can get strange if the target is non-humanoid, e.g. a sapient spider, or comes from a very different reality or plane of existence. Imagine a medieval person trying to understand the concept of a digital computer or an airplane. Either you're stuck with clunky short hand like Think Box or Flying Boat (thank you, Sif (http://agentsofshield.wikia.com/wiki/Yes_Men#Memorable_Quotes)), or you dump a bunch of complicated memories in their head (which as Jack O' Neil (http://stargate.wikia.com/wiki/Repository_of_knowledge) or Phil Coulson (http://marvelcinematicuniverse.wikia.com/wiki/GH.325#Capabilities) can attest can be extremely unpleasant). Now imagine conveying non-human concepts without the necessary frame of reference.

But yes, magic or technology that operates solely on words, with a possibly incomplete knowledge of connotations and idioms, can be loads of fun. Dothraki idioms (http://wiki.dothraki.org/Idioms_and_Phrases) are a little weird ... and that's just a constructed language.

02-25-2015, 07:36 AM
Yes fm, there's always that issue: what does the spell actually do? Does it create meaning in the recipient's head, so that he's hearing the actual words spoken -and- the translation? Does it give him perfect understanding of the words, so that no translation is needed? Or does it make the spoken words actually sound like they're in a different language?

New thread, I guess. Translation spells: what do they do?

02-25-2015, 10:54 AM
I hereby give full permission for this thread to be hijacked by this VERY important question (as if permission is actually NEEDED!) :)

02-26-2015, 11:33 AM
Translation spells: what do they do?

AKA: Translation spells, how the **** do they work?

(Which presents another possibility: what if hard-to-translate concepts -- or words the gods don't like -- sound like meaningless noise when the spell translates them?)

As another data point, older(?) versions of Tunnels & Trolls allowed some characters to use Wizard Speech natively: essentially, they spoke and understood every language of Trollworld. As someone who knows just enough about linguistics to be annoying, does that mean all Trollworld languages descend from a common root language? (Canonically, all Kindreds, i.e. "races", save Trolls came from other universes, so probably not.) Does Wizard Speech lay bare a Chomsky-esque Universal Grammar that most Earth linguists no longer believe exists? Is Wizard Speech, as I opined above, a surface-level telepathic link between speaker and listener? Or is there really only one language on Trollworld, which the kremm (magical) fields distort for anyone who doesn't know the spell or talent for untwisting language?

02-27-2015, 10:34 AM
How many languages are there in Trollworld? If they're like Spanish, Italian, and French, then sure - not that hard to speak each of them. If they're like Japanese, Indian, and Norwegian, I'd call it a telepathic link.