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Conan, Natural Linguist?


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#61 Almuric

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Posted 22 November 2008 - 08:42 PM

His faculty with language is also a common pulp hero trait. Look at ERBs heroes. No sooner are they translocated to Barsoom or stranded in Pellucidar, and they learn the local (and conveniently universal) language. More than anything, this allowed the writer to keep the story moving quickly, without getting bogged down in chapters of the hero not knowing what the heck is going on.
"It is more than a mortal sea. Your hands are red with blood and you follow a red sea-path, yet the fault is not wholly with you. Almighty God, when will the reign of blood cease?"

Turlogh shook his head. "Not so long as the race lasts."


--- The Dark Man, by Robert E. Howard

#62 deuce

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Posted 22 November 2008 - 09:05 PM

His faculty with language is also a common pulp hero trait. Look at ERBs heroes. No sooner are they translocated to Barsoom or stranded in Pellucidar, and they learn the local (and conveniently universal) language. More than anything, this allowed the writer to keep the story moving quickly, without getting bogged down in chapters of the hero not knowing what the heck is going on.


I agree. That's the pragmatic reason. However, as Merlin's quote from The Sowers of the Thunder demonstrates, Howard also "bought into" the "Celtic aptitude" thing. Of course Conan would be a "quick study" in language acquisition, since his people were the "root race" of the Gael. In his "Allison" yarns involving the AEsir, there's more than one instance where the AEsir are befuddled by local languages. In Marchers of Valhalla, the Khemuri learn AEsir to communicate with their unwelcome guests. I'd bet a band of Cimmerians would've had the local lingo sussed out in short order. You see the same thing in the In the King's Service fragment. Donn Othna already knows Greek. His Saxon "comrades" have to depend on him.

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#63 amster

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Posted 23 November 2008 - 12:51 AM

His faculty with language is also a common pulp hero trait. Look at ERBs heroes. No sooner are they translocated to Barsoom or stranded in Pellucidar, and they learn the local (and conveniently universal) language. More than anything, this allowed the writer to keep the story moving quickly, without getting bogged down in chapters of the hero not knowing what the heck is going on.


At least ERB made an effort, unlike, say, Star Trek, where every alien race the Enterprise encounters just happens to speak English fluently. :)
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--Robert E. Howard to Harold Preece, ca. June 1928--

#64 Almuric

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Posted 23 November 2008 - 03:24 AM

Ah, but on Trek they have the Universal Translator, which manages to decypher every language in the universe in a billionth of a second, and makes the translated words match their lip movements to boot. ;)
"It is more than a mortal sea. Your hands are red with blood and you follow a red sea-path, yet the fault is not wholly with you. Almighty God, when will the reign of blood cease?"

Turlogh shook his head. "Not so long as the race lasts."


--- The Dark Man, by Robert E. Howard

#65 amster

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Posted 23 November 2008 - 03:27 AM

Ah, but on Trek they have the Universal Translator, which manages to decypher every language in the universe in a billionth of a second, and makes the translated words match their lip movements to boot. ;)


I never really bought the universal translator. I think the Babble Fish is much more believable. :)
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--Robert E. Howard to Harold Preece, ca. June 1928--

#66 Almuric

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Posted 23 November 2008 - 05:03 AM

Both are plot devices, of the most literal variety.

But, let's steer this back to Conan, shall we? :)
"It is more than a mortal sea. Your hands are red with blood and you follow a red sea-path, yet the fault is not wholly with you. Almighty God, when will the reign of blood cease?"

Turlogh shook his head. "Not so long as the race lasts."


--- The Dark Man, by Robert E. Howard

#67 deuce

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Posted 23 November 2008 - 06:04 AM

Both are plot devices, of the most literal variety.

But, let's steer this back to Conan, shall we? :)


Fine with me. :)

(IMO) Evidence says: Conan="natural linguist".

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#68 amster

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Posted 23 November 2008 - 06:31 AM

My bad. :ph34r:
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--Robert E. Howard to Harold Preece, ca. June 1928--

#69 rabbits

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Posted 24 November 2008 - 09:04 PM

something else maybe worth considering is those languages likely shared language groups E.G. Germanic / Romance / etc so learning one would put him in a good position to learn another of the same type quickly..

#70 rabbits

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Posted 25 November 2008 - 02:13 AM

another thing maybe is that he didn't know all of them.. he just found people who knew languages he did know..

Take the scene in 13th warrior where the only language they share is Greek.

#71 amster

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Posted 25 November 2008 - 02:22 AM

another thing maybe is that he didn't know all of them.. he just found people who knew languages he did know..

Take the scene in 13th warrior where the only language they share is Greek.


True, but that will only get you so far. It would be virtually impossible to rise to a leadership position (such as the head of an Afghuli tribe) without knowing the language fluently.
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--Robert E. Howard to Harold Preece, ca. June 1928--

#72 rabbits

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Posted 25 November 2008 - 02:32 AM

well obviously some are more story dependent than others.

#73 deuce

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Posted 25 November 2008 - 04:18 AM

another thing maybe is that he didn't know all of them.. he just found people who knew languages he did know..

Take the scene in 13th warrior where the only language they share is Greek.


Knowing that many languages is in no way an impossibility. REH was fully aware of Sir Richard Francis Burton and his accomplishments. If it was possible for RFB (and numerous other historical figures) why not Conan? Just because your average (OK, "sub-standard" :P) American can barely manage English (let alone additional languages) doesn't mean that Conan suffered from the same handicap.

Just remember: Conan could read 10,000 year-old Stygian heiroglyphics AT A GLANCE. ;)

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#74 amster

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Posted 25 November 2008 - 04:23 AM

I've waited in line in airports and train stations numerous times in European countries, and witnessed lots of service people juggle multiple languages seemingly with no effort.
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--Robert E. Howard to Harold Preece, ca. June 1928--

#75 deuce

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Posted 25 November 2008 - 04:29 AM

I've waited in line in airports and train stations numerous times in European countries, and witnessed lots of service people juggle multiple languages seemingly with no effort.


...and their lives didn't depend on it.

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#76 Axerules

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Posted 26 November 2008 - 06:02 AM

I also think that Conan was a natural linguist. He probably spoke some tongues better than others, depending on the time he spent in the country.

Something interesting:
THotD, chapter 7: "He wears Nemedian mail, but speaks with an Aquilonian accent."
Funny isn't it? The Nemedians didn't hear a "Cimmerian" nor a "barbarian" accent, hence his Aquilonian must have been pretty good.

Edited by Axerules, 26 November 2008 - 06:02 AM.

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#77 RJMooreII

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Posted 16 April 2012 - 11:33 AM

Where did Conan learn his languages? One might suppose he picked up some spoken tongues simply from interacting with speakers, but he sure does seem to speak a few (though with an accent) quite early in his career. More curious to me is where he picked up polyliteracy. Writing in any given language is quite a separate skill from speaking any given language; unless they utilize similar phonetics or a copped alphabet each new language is a whole new skill to learn. Literacy, unlike speech, is a rather contrived human skill and takes quite a bit of practice.

On top of that, writing and reading are also distinct skills. Conan does not do a whole lot of writing, but it's unclear just how many languages he can write in (as opposed to speak, and read).
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#78 Amra_the_Lion

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Posted 16 April 2012 - 01:58 PM

Where did Conan learn his languages? One might suppose he picked up some spoken tongues simply from interacting with speakers, but he sure does seem to speak a few (though with an accent) quite early in his career. More curious to me is where he picked up polyliteracy. Writing in any given language is quite a separate skill from speaking any given language; unless they utilize similar phonetics or a copped alphabet each new language is a whole new skill to learn. Literacy, unlike speech, is a rather contrived human skill and takes quite a bit of practice.

On top of that, writing and reading are also distinct skills. Conan does not do a whole lot of writing, but it's unclear just how many languages he can write in (as opposed to speak, and read).


He was only mentioned writing a few times, signatures in the royal library, once on a map, and on a note to Xaltotun, all in Aquilonian although I would guess he could write in many more languages of the 25 that I surmise he speaks. As to when and where he learns them I have given it a guess in a chronology with the languages spoken in each tale and where and when he may have picked them up.

(Amra's) The Chronicles Of Conan The Cimmerian

Edited by Amra_the_Lion, 16 April 2012 - 02:02 PM.

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Amra's The Chronicles of Conan The Cimmerian: Determining the chronological order of Howard's Conan Tales


#79 Kortoso

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Posted 16 April 2012 - 04:46 PM

I'm concerned that you didn't find this thread in your search:
Conan's Linguistic Abilities

#80 ZackDavisson

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Posted 16 April 2012 - 09:34 PM

From my personal experience of living in Japan, I would say that language aquisition happens a lot faster when you NEED to learn it just to feed yourself.