Ghost Discovers Languages
© 24 Apr 2013 Luther Tychonievich
Licensed under Creative Commons: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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In which Lazarus’s hopes of a translator are ruined by Ghost’s good mood.


Ghost had become accustomed in her ten days at the Last Ditch with all kinds of people coming in at all hours. The centaur standing at the bar was the first centaur she had seen inside any building, which was a little odd, but the other guy seemed quite unremarkable. Still, the centaur and all three of the Last Ditchers seemed to be focussed on the fellow and seemed perhaps a bit frustrated.

“‍Oh, what have we here?‍” she asked as she joined the group.

“‍Sorry, what did you say?‍” asked Axe. Simultaneously the man asked “‍Say what?‍”

This united request seemed odd, since she had spoken clearly and said nothing interesting, but Ghost was in a cooperative mood. She had just had an unexpected and lovely chat with one of the trees in the wall that, unlike most of those gruff guardians, was happy to engage a stray dryad in conversation. It had proven a remarkably humorous and unaffected raconteur.

“‍I said ‘‍what have we here‍’,‍” she replied. Axe made a sort of “‍You did? OK, if you say so‍” expression but the visitor looked even more anxious. “‍Why, is there something wrong with asking ‘‍what have we here?‍’?‍” she asked him.

Well, this question evoked quite a large reaction and, once Ghost got the five people to stop talking all at once, it became clear that she was the only one who could understand and be understood by this human. This resulted in a conversation of unexpected length because Ghost’s model of languages was threefold: the spoken language of people, the intoned language of plants, and the twitched language of animals. Each had many different tones and styles, but she had not previously realized that there were distinct people-languages. Once she understood this she started quoting various people she had met and having people tell her what language she was quoting; she was absolutely delighted by it all.

Everyone else was getting frustrated. Ghost just kept at it. Consider for example the following portion of their exchange.

Lazarus: “‍Ask him where he came from.‍”

Ghost: “‍‘‍Ask him here he came from‍’—what language is that? Elfin?‍”

Lazarus: “‍Yes, it’s ‘‍Elfin‍’ Now would you please ask him?‍”

Ghost: “‍What do you mean by saying it like that, ‘‍Elfin‍’? Is Elfin not a language?‍”

Lazarus: “‍No, it’s not. I’ll tell you all about it later, OK? Now please ask him where’s he’s from!‍”

Ghost: “‍Wait, wait, I remember hearing a vendor say ‘‍where are you from‍’.‍” (turning to the visitor): “‍Did you understand that, ‘‍where are you from‍’, like that?‍”

Visitor: “‍I don’t understand almost anything. What’s all the talking about? Where am I?‍”

Ghost (to Lazarus): “‍He doesn’t understand that language. What was that language?‍”

Lazarus: “‍We already knew he doesn’t understand it; we tried it out before you arrived. Would you ask him in a language he does understand?‍”

Ghost: “‍But what language was it?‍”

Lazarus: “‍If I tell you will you promise to ask him the question?‍”

Ghost: “‍Oh, I’m going to ask him. But what’s the language?‍”

Lazarus: “‍It’s called Dorethean. It’s a common trade tongue, kind of a pidgin. Now please ask him where he’s from?‍”

…and so on.

Quite a long time into this the visitor interrupted. “‍I’m tired and hungry. Could we possibly get some food and rest before we continue this whatever-it-is?‍”

“‍He’s hungry,‍” translated Ghost, who sympathized with the pressures of hunger and the joys of eating. “‍I’m hungry too‍” she added as an afterthought.

“‍Axe,‍” said Lazarus, “‍would you get Ghost and this man—whose name we still don’t know—some food?‍” He glared meaningfully at Ghost as he added the bit about not knowing a name, but Ghost wasn’t paying attention.

Here Axe had a brilliant idea. “‍Wouldn’t it be nicer if Ghost took our guest out to eat in the town? That way she could get to know him without use being here to distract her, and then she could give us a summary later.‍”

Lazarus immediately saw the wisdom in this, handed Ghost some coin, and sent the two out to eat and visit together on their own.

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