In this guide, you’ll find everything you need about the DND Languages. I’ll focus on Dungeons and Dragons 5E, but most of this is also applicable to other versions. You’ll find a list of all DND languages, as well as tips for how to use them to make your campaign even better and more exciting for players.
I was once a player in a game where my character was a doctor that knew the goblin language. We were in a dungeon where there was a group of humans we didn’t like, and a group of goblins and bugbears. The party came to a point where we heard the goblins through a door, so naturally I struck up a conversation, and we bonded over our mutual hatred of the human group. We gained some powerful allies that allowed us to skip through a section of the dungeon.
Imagine you’re in a player in a campaign and your DM just hit a strong hurdle in his campaign. He had a book in draconic, and expected you to go through a quest to get a translator. Unfortunately for him, your friend had a cleric that knew Draconic. The DM totally forgot to check your characters, and was so surprised he didn’t know what to do.
DND languages can have a large effect on your story. Languages can impact your allies and enemies. You have to communicate somehow with your allies, and not being able to negotiate could easily create enemies. There are even spells that only affect creatures that you can communicate with due to having to give commands.
The Best DND Language
This is a very common question. People want their character to have the best options and stats, so naturally many ask: “what is the most useful language?” The answer is, ask your DM. The most useful language totally depends on the campaign and story.
If you’re spending 90% of your time in the Feywild, than speaking Sylvan, Primordial, or Elvish will be the most useful languages. On the other hand, if you’re in a frozen area full of giants and dwarves, than Dwarvish and Giant are the best languages.
Undead and Their Language
A common question for undead hunting rangers is, “What language do undead speak?” Rangers get a language tied to their favored enemy, so this makes sense. There is no unique language for undead. Undead just speak the languages they spoke when alive. Some rare undead also speak Infernal or Abyssal if their undead state is related to demons or devils.
So if you want a background where you hunt undead, think what types of undead would you hunt. If you’re hunting mostly elven ghosts, it would make sense for you to learn Elvish, so you can read all the random cursed items or even talk to the ghosts.
Can’t Learn Elvish Without Elves
There are also DND languages unique to certain settings, which confuses a lot of players that use DNDBeyond and other similar apps for character creation. People ask about languages such as Vedalkan or Loxodon, but these languages are spoken by vedalkans and loxodons in the world of Ravnica.
If you’re using a character creation app, ask your DM what languages are used in their world. I’m recently running a Theros campaign, and since dwarves and elves don’t exist on Theros it doesn’t make sense to use their languages. Theros is based on Greek mythology, so it has languages for minotaurs and centaurs instead.
Daelkyr is also a confusing language. It’s pretty much Deep Speech, but is only used in very specific settings and editions. It’s honestly super confusing because you assume they’re dialects of each other. However, they’re more or less just the same language, but different worlds and story-lines use different names.
Language Types (Forgotten Realms)
The Forgotten Realms is the most commonly used world for D&D campaigns. It has 18 official languages (not including dialects).
Common DND Languages
|DND Language||Typical Speakers||Script|
Exotic DND Languages
|DND Language||Typical Speakers||Script|
|Deep Speech||Mind flayers, Beholders||N/A|
-There are also secret languages such as thieves’ cant or the tongue of druids aka Druidic.
Common VS Exotic DND Languages
The differences just depends on the version of the game. In some editions, you can only learn common languages normally and need certain perks, races, or classes to learn exotic languages. Thankfully, 5th edition just says for each race, you have either specific languages or a slot to pick any language. Some backgrounds also add an extra language of your choice.
Sometimes, depending on the setting, exotic languages can be pretty common. If you’re in the Plane of Water surrounded by elementals all the time, then Primordial will be more common than even the Common language.
Also one of the more confusing exotic languages is Undercommon. Many assume it’s the language that everyone in the Underdark uses. However, only traders that travel through the Underdark do. So it doesn’t guarantee you can communicate 100% clearly with drow or duergar. That being said, I’ll usually just have drow and duergar speak Undercommon because it makes things a lot easier on the players.
What are Secret DND Languages?
I mentioned the secret languages, thieves’ cant and the tongue of druids. These DND languages are not something you can select during character creation. Thieves’ cant is only learned if you are a rogue character, and only druids can learn the tongue of druids or Druidic.
Thieves’ cant is a secret language that rogues use to communicate with each other. It’s a mix of code words and sign language that they can use to hide messages in normal communications. The official books are vague with this, so it’s entirely up to player and GM interpretation.
Generally I’d say something like: “as they talk about the mayor of town, they mention how great the mayor is but frequently use the gestures meaning “cruel” and “horrible” whenever the mayor’s name is used.” It takes 4 times the usual amount of time to communicate when using thieves cant. That’s because you’re speaking in code, which should also mean something else on the surface.
The tongue of druids, or Druidic, is a language only druids can use. It is a spoken language and Druids can be use it to leave magical notes. If a note is found, it can’t be understood without magic if you don’t know Druidic as well. A little strange, but it means that if you can’t just roll an intelligence check to attempt to decipher the message if you find it.
Reading or Writing?
As you can see, for the common languages there are only three written languages but 8 spoken languages. Most of the languages uses the Dwarvish alphabet. The Player’s Handbook for 5th edition has a visual for the Elven, Dwarvish, and Draconic alphabets, so you can write documents in them for your players. This doesn’t mean that if you know Dwarvish that you can read the other languages. It just means they use the same alphabet. Think of English in comparison to French or Spanish. There are some letters unique to a language, but they overall use most of the same letters.
Some languages don’t have a written version. Deep Speech is used by aberration creatures, and they generally communicate using telepathy. Mind flayers use a written language (Qualith). The only way to understand it is through psychic abilities, so it’s not something your normal adventurer will understand.
DND Dialects: Understanding Words, but not Meaning
Some languages can also be split into different dialects. The Primordial language has a dialect per element:
- Air = Auran
- Water = Aquan
- Fire = Ignan
- Earth = Terran
So all elementals know the Primordial language, and all the elementals can speak to each other despite the dialect differences. So it’ll be similar to a British person, an American from New York, and an Australian all in a room speaking English.
Personally, I’m a fan of making this more common with other languages in my campaigns. It’s a great way for world building that won’t heavily impact game play. The Infernal language spoken by those in the Nine Hells will likely differ from tieflings raised in The Material Plane, so it’ll make sense that two people communicating using Infernal will understand each other, but there will be differences.
Can’t do Accents?
If you want to do this but can’t do accents, that’s fine! You can just speak normally, but just change some keywords. An example I used was for the bulette monster. They’re armored mole like creatures that burrow, and hunt prey by leaping into the air and crushing their opponents. So I made some swamp locals refer to the creatures as “swamp frogs.”
A minor way to help show how the local dialect differs from the party’s, and also mess with the players since they’re expecting giant frogs on their travels. I got this idea from the Atlas Animalia book by Andreas Walters and Sarah Dahlinger.
You can also act as a narrator instead of speaking in character. You could say, “she goes into the stories of the areas. She keeps using the word that translates as “horned one” when describing the creature that flies and breathes fire.” Your players might assume it is a dragon, but it is actually a chimera with a goat head for the horns.
How Does it Sound?
Honestly, not all the languages have descriptions of the language itself. If you look under some races in chapter 2 of The Player’s Handbook 5th edition*, you’ll find some descriptions.
- Draconic = “The language sounds harsh to most other creatures and includes numerous hard consonants and sibilants.”
- Dwarvish = “Dwarvish is full of hard consonants and guttural sounds”
- Elvish = “Elvish is fluid, with subtle intonations and intricate grammar.”
- Orcish = “Orc is a harsh, grating language with hard consonants.”
* Interested in The Player’s Handbook? You can purchase one on Amazon, and learn more about Dungeons and Dragons.
If you’re going to be hardcore enough to want detailed descriptions of how each language sounds, I feel you’ll have fun making up your own descriptions. Let Elvish be guttural, or have Dwarvish be the equivalent of a Romance language. Make Celestial be alien and unnerving, while Infernal sounds calming and friendly. Earlier editions had references to languages such as Celestial and Primordial, but it’s up to you if you want to mix editions.
Don’t We All Want to Talk to Our Pets?
A common question players have is what language do animals speak? Is there a way to speak with animals? D&D doesn’t have a language to speak with animals, but you can speak with animals with any language using spells like Speak with Animals. Forest gnomes also have a racial ability to speak with animals using any language, which can be confusing since it’s not a listed language on your character sheet, but is under racial abilities.
How to Mess with Your Players
When I was in college, I took a class about Chaucer and his work. If you’ve never read Chaucer and his Canterbury Tales, they’re in Old English, which is similar but different to modern versions of English. Read this section:
“And smale foules maken melodie,
That slepen alle night with open eye
So priketh hem nature in hir corages;
Than longen folk to gon on pilgrimages— Canterbury Tales. Prologue. Line 9.
I imagine you understand it, but it is a struggle, right? The funny thing was Old English uses an accent similar to German, and my teacher made several comments on how I kept using French pronunciations.
Now, what does this have to do with Dungeons and Dragons? Well, remember my previous story of the book written in Draconic? It’s a common trope in fantasy stories for the characters to find a text they can’t understand without help. I feel a better option is to give them a chance to translate some of the text. Have them do a history skill check or intelligence check. What they roll decides how much info you give them, but also make sure at least some info is hidden without them spending a long time to translate with help.
Just because your player knows Draconic doesn’t mean they’ll understand this book. Most people know Draconic from magical texts, so a book that isn’t about magic will use words and phrases the character might not know. Also think of English versus Old English, so it makes sense that Draconic would have had changes over the centuries.
Also think of how words can change meaning over the years. So if the party get an item with a word etched into it, you could have a word where it means something different from what the players might expect.
That said, it isn’t 100% fair to do this to your players. They might view it as a mean trick. That’s why I always at least hint at the fact this isn’t what the text should mean, or hint that there is something off. Mention that some words are misspelled or are in a strange order. Give the players a chance to roll skill checks to see how much they understand. That way, the skill check will be the hint that something is off.
There are spells that help with languages. Tongues is a spell which lets you understand all spoken languages and whenever you speak, everyone understands what you say. Comprehend Languages is a spell that lets you understand spoken languages and written messages that you touch. I’m a big fan of using both spells to make allies and negotiate deals.
Some spells also require to speak a certain language. If you want to use the Command spell on someone, you must share a language with the creature.
Any More Questions?
I tried to search online for the most common questions about D&D languages, but did I miss any? You can comment below any questions you have.
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