The most common language of Chaldea Proper is dwarven. As various other intelligent races immigrated to this planet they found dwarven populations and culture already established and useful in international trade. Amongst communities dominated by some race or origin the immigrants’ native tongue would stay in use and in some areas became the dominant language for an entire region or kingdom. But for the most part, and especially throughout the heart of the Kordavan Empire, the dwarven language maintained critical mass and became the de facto language of humans.
Shortly after becoming emperor, Kordaava decreed that this language would henceforth be called Kordavan by non-dwarves and would be the official language of the empire. This is the language taught in schools and used in churches and governments and is on all public signage.
Characters will automatically know their racial language unless they were raised in captivity or some unusual circumstance. Elves know elven, dwarves know dwarven, and orcs know orc. For humans, it depends on where you were raised. By default, humans are raised speaking Kordavan (aka dwarven) unless they were raised in Perrin, The Mountains of Chaos, or the Somacian Desert, in which case they speak Perrin, chaos tongue, or Somacian. Some lifepaths may expose you to another dominant language. Perhaps an orc is held captive by humans, or a Somacian serves in the Kordavan Imperial Army. In these cases you’ll pick up the language dominated by that lifepath.
For newly created player characters, if after considering all the factors above, you don’t know Kordavan, add it for free. If you do know Kordavan and if it’s the only language you know, pick any language as something you picked up along the way and incorporate this into your back story somehow. In other words, every player character will by default have Kordavan (aka Dwarven) in common, their racial tongue, and at least two languages. Of course special circumstances apply for characters with unusual backgrounds; confer with the GM in these cases.
Each language is considered a unique trained skill. Like armor training and other trained skills you either have it or you don’t. Rank and shade are not tracked. During character burning additional languages after the two freebies can be learned at a cost of 2 general skill points per language. Consult with the GM on how you gained access to these languages. During play, characters can learn a new language by finding an instructor using the normal rules for learning a new trained skill. The root stat is perception.
There are special language rules for Dorsang Bards.
The following are the languages of available to player characters:
Asianic. The human language of the Asianic continent, with roots in elder dragon.
Elder Dragon. The language of dragons and dragonkin.
Dwarven. The language of dwarves and dwarvenkin. It’s also the language of the humans of nearly all the Kordavan Empire, except for the kingdoms of Perrin, Somac, and the Mountains of Chaos.
Elven. The language of all elves and elfkin.
Humanoid tongues: orc, gnoll, bugbear, goblin, kobold (an abbreviated ghetto version of elder dragon), ettin, cave wight
Kordavan. The language of humans throughout the Kordavan Empire except for the kingdoms of Perrin, Somac, and the Mountains of Chaos. This language is nearly identical to dwarven although there are subtle differences.
High Egyptian. The hieroglypic language employed by clergy serving the Egyptian pantheon. Found primarily in temples, crypts, monasteries and other religious facilities.
Sylvan tongues: pixie, sprite, nymph, brownie, satyr, halfing, gnome.
Agitar The language of the agitars. Pegasi understand it, but don’t speak it.
Perrin. The human language of the kingdom of Perrin.
Somacian. The human language of the kingdom of Somac.
Chaos tongue. The human language of the Mountains of Chaos.
Languages are trained skills. The system doesn’t track how efficient one is with each language, you either have it or you don’t. However, characters will have only one “native language” (the language of their birth). When conversing in any other language the character will have a noticeable accent unless the character makes a successful disguise test versus the listeners perception test.
Song of the Arbors and Low Speech are available on as per the standard BW character burning rules. Auldic is available to Dorsang Bards.
Burning Wheel treats Read and Write as separate skills for humans but I really don’t like this notion. I realize that this is “realistic” in terms of our world’s medieval history but I have trouble getting my modern mind around the notion that you could do one without the other. So, henceforth, consider this new skill, “Read and Write”, and consider the skills “Read” and “Write” to no longer exist.
Furthermore, use your read and write skill to apply to every language you know. That’s for sure a big simplification but the notion of tracking read and write by language is just ridiculous. Let’s just assume that when you learn a new language you learn how to read and write that language to the same degree as your languages. And when you read and write skill advances, well, let’s assume you’ve been practicing all your languages.
Now, dwarves already have a skill called dwarven rune script which is read and write combined into one skill. Use this as your read and write skill in all languages. But now the skill’s name doesn’t make sense. If you’re using some online software just make a mental note that this applies to all languages you know. If you’re using pen & paper or formatting your character in Excel or something similar then I’d rename dwarven rune script to read and write. For elves, elven script becomes read and write.