First Encounters Language Barriers?

For many of these posts I’ve discussed quite a bit about how we at BlackCherry are very much concerned with making First Encounters as historically accurate as possible. Recently, it dawned on me how there is one particular dynamic in the game where being faithful to the past will likely be impossible: the issue of verbal communication between members of different cultures.  To be clear, we’ve set up the game so that the characters in contrasting cultures in each time period can linguistically understand each other when they interact – hence, there is no language barrier that impedes communication between them.  Now, as you can imagine, linguistic barriers to communication were very much the reality during those initial encounters.  Much of the interaction in that time was likely done through demonstration and providing examples through actions – much like we all do when we’re in a foreign setting and can’t speak the local language. A lot of pointing, gestures, and facial expressions to get our point across.

During those first encounters, therefore, we can imagine that interpreters were very valuable individuals (or should I say commodities?).  La Malinche, for example, was an extremely important Nahua slave who translated for Hernan Cortes during the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire.  Or take Jacques Cartier, who, on his first trip to the Americas ‘kidnapped’ (this is debated – some say that perhaps they wanted to go, or were encouraged to go) a couple of the Stadacona chief’s sons and brought them to France for about a year so that, among other things, they could learn French and translate for him when he returned.

For our game interpreters don’t really factor in, or at least we haven’t really explored that concept  yet – though likely to keep things less complicated for game play we’ll have to pretend that these cultures were able to verbally communicate with each other.  And this, unfortunately, was just not how things were during the initial contact between Europeans and Canada’s First Peoples. It does make me wonder, however, about how differently the European arrival to North America would have played out if everyone spoke the same language.  I wonder if things would’ve been a lot less hostile?  I wonder if differences would have been more easily resolved and tense situations more easily diffused?  These are clearly things we’ll never know, but either way we hope that this historical inaccuracy we’re incorporating into the game doesn’t take players away the entertaining learning experience that awaits them.

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