A language game

Check out Dialect, a tabletop role-playing game based on linguistics!

I’ve never tried it myself, mind you. But it certainly looks intriguing — for the right set of players. The question is, who has the time and the interest to play an entire game? I would have had both the time and the interest when I was a teen, but the world has changed since then. Read the capsule description in the instruction manual and you’ll see what I mean:

Dialect is a story game about an isolated community, their language, and what it means for that language to be lost. It’s for three to five people and runs in three to four hours.

Hmmm… Three to five people? That’s OK? But three to four hours??? Sounds like a cricket match. Of course I could be completely wrong, as I’ve never played D&D, and there are some obvious similarities here. A review by one surnameless David does make it sound intriguing. Here are some excerpts:

Before I give my opinion on the game itself, there are a few things I would like to mention. The first is that the Isolation does not have to be literal. It can be as simple as a boarding school, or even a website where people go to congregate. I even noticed some parallels to a few of the Isolations and the early LGBT movement. Not that the LGBT movement is dead, but that the language of it has changed since the early days.

The second thing I want to tell you about is a story from the test game I ran before writing this review. The players were members of a thieves guild in early 19th century London. They were con-men, swindling rich aristocrats out of their money by selling them ‘Mummy dust’ that was actually just dirt scraped up off the side of the road. One of the words the came up with was the word ‘Stone’ to refer to a bad omen. Named after the newly discovered Rosetta Stone, the word took on new meaning in a few turns, and began to be a term for anyone who wouldn’t fall for their tricks. It became one of my personal favorite words that session. When the game ended, I realized that the word was dead. Only a game like Dialect could make me feel that way about a simple word.

Dialect is an amazing game. I highly recommend it for people curious about language, those who are looking for a tool to help flesh out their own worlds, or for anyone just looking for a unique, fun game that doesn’t require a lot of set-up. Everything from the art design to the rules to the cards all helps bring the main focus of Dialect into perspective: What is lost when a language dies? Are dying languages worth saving?


Categories: Linguistics