BUILD YOUR OWN WORLD Like what you see? Become the Master of your own Universe!

Remove these ads. Join the Worldbuilders Guild

Universal Translation Spell

When you first step onto te surface of an unfamiliar world, the first thing you want to do is be able to communicate with the folks who live there. And what better way to do so than through a quick and simple spell so easy, it's often the first one a prospective mage learns?  
He laid his hand on his forehead and then let the hand drop away. Suddenly, the confused mess of syllables miraculously crystallized into words and phrases.   "I asked, my friend, if you wanted to look at something incredibly powerful deep in our vaults?" And, well, coming from someone like him, how could I refuse?

Breaking Down Barriers

The Universal Translation Spell (often referred to as translation charms or translating spells) takes the words of a sentient creature - that is, any creature that can be affected by the Mind Form - and transforms them into comprehensible speech irregardless of the language's origin. If one speaks, for example, Grequin and someone else casts the spell who does not understand that tongue, the Grequin will change to reflect their native tongue.   One of the beauties of such a simple spell is that it works whether the castor knows the language to be translated or not. That's where the Mind magic kicks in; the spell causes the target's intended meaning to be translated more than the actual words. Whether it's a rare dialect of a language or its most widely spoken standard, complex business jargon or even the ramblings of a millennia-old magical statue, the words suddenly change and warp to make the most sense to the person casting the spell. 

But Not Without Its Disadvantages

UTS's are not always perfectly reliable or a cure-all. For one, they do leave minute magical traces that powerful or perceptive demons can catch the scent of. This means field agents often are natives of the area or hire local guides or translators to prevent detection. In addition, the following problems can arise:
  • idioms and very specific words that have no equivalent in the target language might not translate over perfectly, as the spell translates words and rearranges them in a comprehensible order, but doesn't deal with cultural translation in that sense;
  • common performance mistakes (such as stutters, lisps, repetitive phrases, or mispronunciations) in speech will confuse the spell. This can cause it to reproduce the mistaken sounds in isolation then artificially adding in the rest of the sentence around it. This can be rather jarring or even cause the spell to fail completely; and
  • the speaker's tongues, vocal chords, lips, teeth, etc. will still move in their natural patterns irregardless of the translated words. This is actually a common way to tell that someone is using a translation spell, as actual speakers of one's native tongue will speak normally, but translated speakers will have their mouths move incorrectly. 
Lastly, a UTS is hardly permanent. It needs to be recast regularly in order for the effect to continue at full strength; if it begins to wane, the native sounds and diction will begin to increase in volume and replace the translated speech until it completely dominates once more.
Related Form
Mind
Somatic Classification
E to reverse E

The Most Important Spell

Naturally, in strongly multicultural places like Limbo, this spell becomes of utmost importance. In fact, the Sunless City has a permanent Universal Translation Spell woven into the rituals of the Argent Wards in order to facilitate the running of such a diverse city. Other planetary hubs might have guilds of translators that fulfill this role, or have mages learning at international academies learn this spell before attending.
Now all we need is something that can do this for writing and we're all set!
— Overheard at the Circum Academy

What About Writing?

Sadly, no easy spell of this sort exists for textual forms of communication. While it is possible to interweave a version of this spell into the pages of a manuscript so that it can be read by anyone (see Universally Translated Books), it is a much more involved and monetarily-taxing process that involves an expert in the language of the book and many months of careful focused work to function properly.

Remove these ads. Join the Worldbuilders Guild

Comments

Please Login in order to comment!
13 Dec, 2020 11:21

Such a neat take on translation spells! I really like that it has advantages and disadvantages, and that even some places have woven it into their city wards.   I am a bit intrigued however at the translation issues. Initially, the article states that the spell "causes the target's intended meaning to be translated more than the actual words". However, later on we get "the spell translates words and rearranges them in a comprehensible order, but doesn't deal with cultural translation in that sense".   It seems to me that if it translates the intended meaning, this should not be an issue, but I'm perhaps missing something. Either way, really cool article!

13 Dec, 2020 21:13

Thanks for this! Basically it can't really translate idioms - "it's raining cats and dogs" would translate literally to the confusion of everyone who isn't English speaking, for example. Words that don't have good equivalents in the target language also won't be translated, as the "intended meaning" would be that specific word. Like "pizza" wouldn't be translated if a language doesn't have any idea what pizza is. Hopefully this helps!

13 Dec, 2020 14:58

This is a lovely spell article! I love the details you've highlighted, especially the possible problems and inconveniences of such a spell. Great article!

Author of Arda Almayed - check out my SummerCamp articles here!
13 Dec, 2020 21:14

d'awww, thanks!

28 Aug, 2022 00:14

Very interesting. Love the advantages and disadvantages. Similar to a previous comment, I'm curious to know what "translating the intended meaning" means. Is there a situation where a sentence would not be translated word for word? I'd also like to know if places like Limbo, which have the spell built in, also have extra wards against demons, since that was listed as a disadvantage. Really enjoyed this article, thanks!

Reading Circle Temple Because magic isn't just fiction