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Conan, Natural Linguist?


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#1 SkiSwope

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Posted 29 April 2005 - 05:17 PM

I recently finished the BCoC collection of Howard's Hour of the Dragon, People of the Black Circle, & A Witch Shall Be Born and was struck by the fact that Conan seems to pick up new languages as easily as if he had a Federation universal translator implanted in his ear.

I over-looked it in the first CoCtC collection, but in retrospect, he appears to need little more than to hear a few words in a new language and he's functional. This even holds true for ancient, lost, dead languages.

Howard probably did this as a short-cut so he could just get to the heart of the story. But, it led me to wonder, if you had to try to explain Conan's natural utility with languages, how would you do it?

Was Conan a genius?

Was he simply a keen observer of non-verbal communication and that made it easier for him to understand people and figure out what they were saying?

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#2 budgie

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Posted 29 April 2005 - 05:58 PM

I recently finished the BCoC collection of Howard's Hour of the Dragon, People of the Black Circle, & A Witch Shall Be Born and was struck by the fact that Conan seems to pick up new languages as easily as if he had a Federation universal translator implanted in his ear.

I over-looked it in the first CoCtC collection, but in retrospect, he appears to need little more than to hear a few words in a new language and he's functional.  This even holds true for ancient, lost, dead languages.

Howard probably did this as a short-cut so he could just get to the heart of the story.  But, it led me to wonder, if you had to try to explain Conan's natural utility with languages, how would you do it?

Was Conan a genius?

Was he simply a keen observer of non-verbal communication and that made it easier for him to understand people and figure out what they were saying?

Ski

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Interesting Ski,
As you say Howard probably gave him this ability to speed the stories along but as a character Conan may indeed have a linguistic skill for interperating and using new language. Antonio Banderas's characher has a simiolar ability in the film 13th warrior.

One thought that does come up is there does seem to be mention in some of the stories of a common trade language which would allow for communication on a large scale among some.. the higher, more powerful nations would also influence language.. think of the modern comparison of French or English.. both widly spoken languages around the planet in fact some of our European members here may well be able to make themselves understood in several languages and fluent in others.. I believe the Hyborean world was the same..

As to Conans ability making him a genius.. yes and no.. its an ability just as being able to juggle, draw, understand people in an instinctive way etc but that doesnt necessarally make him a genius

anyone got a differing opinion/

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#3 Jery

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Posted 29 April 2005 - 06:49 PM

Well, Conan was surely genetical predisposed. He was best survivor, was the winner. He could live in different places.

He has chosen warrior's way of life because of his genetic predispositions. But we can't say he couldn't live the way of a scholar.

We can see in our reality professors who don't train. We think that best sportsmen are better at exercises than at intellectual debbates.

Conan was good at the both things. He used his intellectual possibilities to learn languages.

He wanted the crown not the title of a sage :D

Edited by Jery, 29 April 2005 - 07:32 PM.

The Cimmerian made no attempt to match wits and intrigue with Thutmekri and his Shemitish partner, Zargheba. He knew that if Thutmekri won his point, he would insist on the instant banishment of his rival. There was but one thing for Conan to do: find the jewels before the king of Keshan made up his mind, and flee with them.
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#4 korak

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Posted 29 April 2005 - 08:12 PM

I have to agree with much that has been said on this topic. One aspect I might add in is that Conan probably viewed himself as a career adventurer, and a world class one at that. So learning languages was one of the essential skills for that lifestyle. After all, the ability to communicate is a form of power, and Conan was certainly a macho dude.

Some of his linguistic ability is still startling, such as his knack for reading ancient manuscripts, something that you would think only a lifetime scholar would be able to do. But you have to remember that Howard himself had a photographic memory-- he could wolf down entire shelves of books in the library in a single afternoon, by using speed reading techniques. So he is just projecting onto Conan abilities similar to his own.

Just some thoughts.

#5 Orkin

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Posted 29 April 2005 - 11:57 PM

One look at words from different realms of the Hyborian world show that languages of many lands were much more closely related to one another than we might suspect.
? ?When I can not stand alone, it will be time to die,? he mumbled, through mashed lips. ?But I?d like a flagon of wine.?
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#6 Kane

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Posted 30 April 2005 - 12:13 AM

Just some random thoughts regarding Conan's abilities with language.
From material in the original stories we know that Cimmerians, Picts, Vanir, and Asir tended to raid in each others lands. So, it does not seem, at least to me, unreasonable that Conan was able to pick up some of those languages at a young age. More so if we assume that because the Aser and Vanir came from the same root race they would have a similiar language. Learning one might enable you to somewhat speak and understand the other.
When Conan first ventured south, he was captured and held by the Hyperboreans. Depending on the length of time he was held there he may have picked up some of their language. Now Hyperborea is the first nation created by the Hyborians on their southward migrations. Without knowing it Conan could have been learning the basic foundations of the languages spoken in Aquilonia, Brythunia, Corinthia, Koth, Ophir, Nemedia, and the Border Kingdom. Think of it as learning Latin, and then traveling to Italy, Spain, Mexico, areas of South Amercia, and the Phillipeans. You would not be fluent in the languages of those areas. Technically you would not even be speaking the languages of those areas. But, since you knew the foundation of those languages you would be able to add to the knowledge you already had by learning the local variations and be able to pick them up quicker then someone without that knowledge.
This could explain Conan's knowledge of the Nemedian language in the story, The God in the Bowl.
Next he travels to Zamora. Now he's in a nation where he has no knowledge of the language. However, the Road of Kings passes through that nation. Being THE major trade route of the entire(known)world, we can assume, with some safety, that the market places were areas where several different languages could be overheard by anyone walking down the street.
Remember, at the start of The Tower of the Elephant, Howard describes a tavern where peoples of several different nations gather. If these were the types of places Conan spent his non thieving time he would have heard numerous languages being spoken and been able to add to his knowledge of the Hyborian root language. In addition this would have given him a common language to compare Zamorian with and help him speed up his understanding of that language.
One aside at this point. In TotE Conan meets the thief Taurus, a Nemedian. I belive that when the two were speaking to each other they were doing so in Nemedian. Conan already knew this language and it was Taurus' native tongue. Not making an issue of it was a matter of dramatic license.
While in Zamora, Conan may have also picked up his first few words of Hyrkanian, either from Turanian merchants or caravan guards.

I'll add more to this after I've gone through some more of the stories.
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#7 Ironhand

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Posted 30 April 2005 - 02:23 AM

I pretty much agree with Korak. Conan probably learned Pictish and Nordheimr as a child, and Aquilonian soon after that. The latter would have been the key to a whole family of languages. Generalizing from Aquilonian probably taught him the principle of cognate languages.

Note that Conan is frequently described as speaking whatever language with a "barbarous accent".

It is my belief that since he was raised in a pre-literate culture, he grew up with a talent for memorization, which is the only way pre-literate people have of keeping histories and records. This would have aided him in learning new languages.
"Did you deem yourself strong, because you were able to twist the heads off civilized folk, poor weaklings with muscles like rotten string? Hell! Break the neck of a wild Cimmerian bull before you call yourself strong. I did that, before I was a full-grown man...!" - Conan, in "Shadows in Zamboula", by Robert E. Howard
"... you speak of Venarium familiarly. Perhaps you were there?"
"I was," grunted [Conan]. "I was one of the horde that swarmed over the hills. I hadn't yet seen fifteen snows, but already my name was repeated about the council fires." - "Beyond the Black River", by Robert E. Howard

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#8 korak

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Posted 30 April 2005 - 02:59 AM

Plus, you can get by with about a 1000 word vocabulary. I tried that approach when I went to Senegal and had to learn french, and I had an easy time talking TO people. LISTENING to them was a different matter, unfortunately. A 1000 word vocab puts you on about a five year old level.

#9 Buxom Sorceress

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Posted 30 April 2005 - 05:36 AM

unless u want to make language differences a special part of your story, there is no point in even mentioning them. most readers will assume there is a kind of 'common basic language' in most areas, unless told otherwise.

thanks for all your interesting info in this thread.
--
hey KORAK, thanks for your revelation [to me] about Howards PHOTOGRAPHIC MEMORY.
that is amazing, + explains a lot more to me!
did REH have any other remarkable /rare special abilities?
:)

#10 korak

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Posted 30 April 2005 - 06:52 AM

Buxom Sorceress writes-unless u want to make language differences a special part of your story, there is no point in even mentioning them. most readers will assume there is a kind of 'common basic language' in most areas, unless told otherwise.

Some things are a fairly basic language universally, such as... YOUR AVATAR! :D

BuSos writes-
hey KORAK, thanks for your revelation [to me] about Howards PHOTOGRAPHIC MEMORY.
that is amazing, + explains a lot more to me!
did REH have any other remarkable /rare special abilities?


Yes, he did. He was really a genius at writing great American literature! :lol:

#11 Speelie

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Posted 30 April 2005 - 07:30 AM

Some people have already touched on this, but how many truly different languages did Conan need to learn? The Hyborians were earlier versions of the same Nordic-Germanic sorts who in Conan's time were still living in Asgard and Vanaheim. So it is likely that he early on learned Aesir, and that gave him a foundation for when he reached Brythunia. I imagine (you might disagree) that all the Hyborian languages were much the same, with regional differences, but that Conan would be able to get by in Nemedia, Aquilonia and so on. There were probably adopted words from Zingaran in Argos, and Shemitish words in Kothic, but he could pick up on these differences after spending a while in those areas. And there would have been "trade tongues" spoken widely, Nemedian seems a likely choice based on the many scholars found there. This would have made communication easier too.

So, Conan would have had to know Aesir, and perhaps needed some effort to master "basic Hyborian," depending on how much that differed. He later would have learned the rudiments of Turanian/Hyrkanian, and Zingaran, and perhaps Shemitish and Ku****e.

This isn't that unusual when you study the history of the American west (or even the eastern frontier). Many explorers and fur traders learned a variety of Native American languages, and of course, in most cases certain tribes had relatives. Thus "Sioux" was widespread, whether the speaker was Dakota, Nakota, or Lakota. Knowing one was enough to get by with all three. Pawnee was much the same as Arikara. Comanches were offshoots of the Eastern Shoshoni. Cheyenne and Arapaho were related, and most of the Northern branches of those tribes spoke some Lakota, while most of the Southern branches spoke some Comanche and Kiowa. It was only that last language that was isolated, the Kiowa language may have distant roots to Nahuatl (Aztec), but they were the only ones in their region to speak it (perhaps like Zamoran).

An experienced trapper/explorer likely knew some Cheyenne, some Sioux, maybe a bit of Pawnee and Kiowa. That, along with the sign language that the tribes used to barter among themselves allowed sufficient communication in most cases. It was probably the same in other parts of the world I haven't studied, such as Africa. The point remains that I believe there were plenty of historical figures who could match Conan's fictional linguistic accomplishments.

#12 Buxom Sorceress

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Posted 30 April 2005 - 08:26 AM

He later would have learned the rudiments of Turanian/Hyrkanian, and Zingaran, and perhaps Shemitish and Ku****e...

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

i see the new site censor engine is still as 'dumb' as the old version!
it still censors the hyborian name 'K u s h i t e', if u type it normal. :lol:
--
good points Speelie.
:)

#13 Buxom Sorceress

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Posted 30 April 2005 - 08:38 AM

Some things are a fairly basic language universally, such as... YOUR AVATAR!  :D
...

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

i enjoy ALL the various oral interractions... of languages, + 'common tongues'..
but my faves are using touch + signs!
ooooh yeah! ;)
:D

#14 Speelie

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Posted 30 April 2005 - 06:00 PM

BS, I can imagine that Conan was much like the guy Deep Purple sang about. You might remember their song "Knocking at Your Back Door" : So we put her on the hit list of a common cunning linguist, a master of many tongues. Now she eases gently from her Austin to Bentley, suddeny she feels so young... :lol:

#15 korak

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Posted 30 April 2005 - 06:53 PM

When I was over in Dakar, most people could speak at least four languages, sometimes more. They could usually speak Wolof, the most prevalent tribal language, plus their own tribal language, plus French the official language (they have required public school there so they can read and write), as well as some English (spoken in neighboring Gambia, plus by a lot of tourists.) However, the price of being familiar with so many tongues was high-- as "jacks of all trades" they were generally master of none. Their overall vocabulary was fairly limited, with the exception of their own tribal tongue.

#16 Strom

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Posted 30 April 2005 - 06:56 PM

i enjoy ALL the various oral interractions... of languages, + 'common tongues'..
but my faves are using touch + signs!
ooooh yeah!? ;)
:D

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Smoking hot avatar (how did you know green was my favorite color) complimented by a very hot post; oral interactions.... touch + signs...better watch out Buxom, no lack of imagination on this site. :P


Back on topic - I've read the posts and I believe it was mentioned, but the importance to Conan's livelihood to speak a passable form of the language cannot be overlooked. It was something that he would of attached the utmost significance to learn because it would be a matter of survival and livelihood. Under those circumstances and the understanding that there was little differences in each language, it would not be surprising that Conan picked up these languages. I would equate it to learning to drive today; to most of us - regardless of intelligence - we realize the importance of driving to our livelihood and can usually pass the requirements - some better than others - and get our license. That was the importance Conan would've placed to learning the language of the country he was in. Was he a genius? He was a genius to know that conforming would get him farther than not taking the time to learn what he needed to accomplish his goals, so I would say he was a survivor who utilized all his strengths be they physical and/or mental.

Edited by Strom, 30 April 2005 - 06:57 PM.

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#17 Orkin

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Posted 30 April 2005 - 11:51 PM

So, Conan would have had to know Aesir, and perhaps needed some effort to master "basic Hyborian," depending on how much that differed. He later would have learned the rudiments of Turanian/Hyrkanian, and Zingaran, and perhaps Shemitish and Ku****e.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I agree, though I'm puzzled as to why Ku****e is blanked out on this board. :blink:
? ?When I can not stand alone, it will be time to die,? he mumbled, through mashed lips. ?But I?d like a flagon of wine.?
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#18 Dragon Girl

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Posted 01 May 2005 - 12:47 AM

It is my belief that since he was raised in a pre-literate culture, he grew up with a talent for memorization, which is the only way pre-literate people have of keeping histories and records.  This would have aided him in learning new languages.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


I don't know how familiar everyone is with the Vedas, which are the primary texts of the Hindu religion. I've never read them myself, but I know there are four of them--the Rig Veda, the Sama Veda, the Yajur Veda, and the Atharva Veda--and there were, at one time, men who had memorized all of them, thousands and thousands of pages of poetry, stories, hymns, rituals, and allegory. People used to memorize vast quantities of knowledge--myths, geneologies, morality stories, you-name-it--because this was the only way to pass on information. I would imagine this is so in Conan's world, where literacy levels are low, requiring people to use their memory well. Memorization skills, like any other, must be used or they will be lost. In that respect, the invention of writing has actually diminished human intelligence; for why should we memorize stories when we can simply write them down?

Furthermore, just think of all the things that someone like Conan must remember in order to survive: where water holes are, what plants are edible and which are poisonous, how to find water when the rivers and lakes dry up, which canyons lead to dead-ends, what direction the local streams flow, what animals are available to eat in different seasons, how to read animal tracks, how to tell if a mountain slope is safe to climb or if it's liable to collapse in an avalanche, and a hundred other things. I should think this ability to learn and remember survival knowledge would also mean a better ability to learn other types of knowledge. And isn't the ability to learn languages just another survival skill? If your life depends on being able to communicate with people of different nationalities, then you're much more likely to learn to speak their language quickly, I should think.
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#19 Bear

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Posted 01 May 2005 - 01:10 AM

Once again one of my many questions has been answered. Ive learned more from all of you in two months than the last 20 years reading about Conan. No I havent read but maybe half. No joke this is a great site and all of you are the best. Conan also seems to never have a problem getting His point across or finding out what He wants to know either by tossing a few coins or cracking a few skulls.

#20 Buxom Sorceress

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Posted 01 May 2005 - 02:39 AM

hey SPEELIE, i've always been a fan of 'big hard Purple',...+ rock music too! ;)
nice lyrics.
1 of my other fave songs is 'eroginous zones' by Genesis - clever + fun.
----
hey STROM, glad to hear your 'imagination' is alert + can keep up with me. :D
thanks for your compliments.
----
hey DRAGON GIRL, good points about memory + writing, thanks.
----
hey KORAK, what were u doing over in Dakar?
researching 'kush-ite' mating customs?
----
hey BEAR, glad u are enjoying our hyborian hospitality + stories.
now give me a hug while we all snuggle round the campfire with our wineskins..
*** :)

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"So I took to a life of adventure and daring
leaving most warriors drooling and staring.
After I danced with my exotic flesh baring
I would vanish into the new Sunrise glaring."