This is the first part of an article about the flavor (and possible side effects) of the Elemental Languages in Pathfinder (and D&D 3rd), together with a few thoughts about the costs and consequences of deeper instruction in such subjetcs. In never managed to the see the light of the day, but maybe there's something useful here for your game. Enjoy!
Elder Tongues - the Elemental Languages
Many wrongly believe that they can hear the wind’s secrets or commune with the mountain’s wisdom. Few truly know what is like to really hear the hiding songs of the air currents or the complex and long rumbles of the deep earth. Even few can clearly understand the ever changing words of the fathomless seas or the minimal but intense passions crackled by the smallest camp fire.
The Elemental Languages are more than just weird idioms. They’re alien codes, ancient beyond the civilizations built by the humanoid races, demanding both mind patterns and pronunciations above the skills of most creatures of flesh and blood. In fact, even spellcasters and linguists knowledgeable in such esoterica speak but a crude form of each Elemental Language – the most obnoxious elemental far exceeding these mortals.
Basic Characteristics and Peculiarities (or “How does it sounds?”)
Seen as the simplest Elemental Language because of its association with air and thus the normal tongues of humanoids, Auran is one of the hardest outsider languages. The reason for that is that Auran doesn’t use words – none whatsoever. To listen to Auran is analogous to listen to a flute, a harp or other musical instrument. It always sounds melodious. The Air Language works on the similar principles of humanoid music. The otherworldly nature of Auran is perceptible not only by its strange sounds – usually impossible of executing by a humanoid throat – but also because it generates a light breeze or even weak and gentle winds around the speaker. These winds can raise stationary dust or disturb a sheet of paper, but are too ephemeral to actually move anything.
Many believe that Aquan was the first Elemental Language (a fact quickly supported by the haughty Marids), fathomless as the abyssal seas. Aquan is a dichotomous idiom. Spoken out of water it’s disharmonious, sounding as little more than a gurgle or moan. It actually hurts the throat if used for prolonged times. Spoken underwater Aquan is a powerful and deep language, producing a bass-sound disproportionably stronger to the speaker. Aquan is easier to speak underwater, giving origin to an odd superstition among sailors: they believe that speaking Aquan is a sure way of postponing death by drowning (which is false, although speaking Aquan may make the whole experience of dying by lack of air less painful… if that much).
This Elemental Language is hard to hear. It’s perceived most of the time as a constant hum. Ignan’s volume and intonation varies not due to the speaker’s tone, but to his emotions. It’s literally a passion-based idiom. Calm emotions produce a low buzz, interrupted by small snaps. Strong emotions produce alien sounds like wood being splintered as it’s consumed by flames or the crackling of a bonfire. Elemental fire creatures that become enraged reach even higher levels, easily sounding like stone shattering over the pressure of bursting lava.
Terran is, in a certain way, the oldest Elemental Language because it has the longest memory. Entire worlds of knowledge are forever marked on the primordial stone of the Plane of Earth. When spoken this language produces deep bass tones, usually accompanied by the sound of pebbles rolling or even of rocks cracking. A static and orderly idiom, Terran is also extremely complex in ways that baffle most humanoids – its smaller words easily reach ten or more syllables. Terran naturally generates echoes when spoken in caves or underground. Adventurers experienced with this language claim that, after speaking Terran underground, low grinding sounds can often be heard coming from close walls. An ancient Shaitan saying is “Stone speaks”.