If you’re like me, D&D brings you to worlds that allow you to immerse yourself in vast fantasy realms.
The more lore and detail provided and shared between the players and the DM as you contribute to the storytelling process, the more immersive of an experience you walk away with.
Today we’re going to be looking deeper into a language that can easily be forgotten. We’ll be looking into the Sylvan language and all that it can bring to your table.
If linguistics and lore peak your attention, this is the one for you.
What Is the Sylvan Language?
Sylvan is a language spoken by many fey creatures throughout the many worlds of Dungeons and Dragons.
It is often referred to as a precursor to the many dialects of Elvish, much as Latin is the precursor of Spanish, Italian, and many other languages in our world.
Although Sylvan is one of the core 16 languages in 5e and has been present in all D&D works since the dawn of the famous TTRPG, it isn’t as well-rounded as some other fantasy languages might be.
This guide isn’t a duolingo course in Klingon (yes, those exist), it’s a discussion of this language and the impact it can have on your world.
With that, there isn’t much else to say about the straightforward “rules” for this language. We are given that Sylvan is an exotic language, much like Celestial or Draconic.
How Is Sylvan Written?
We are also told that when it is written, it uses the same script as Elvish. The two tables below show a few sample scripts for Elvish as they appear in various 5e works.
Sample Elvish Script
Espruar Elvish Script
The first table is just a sample of what the translation for an elvish script might look like.
The second is Espruar, a script created by moon elves. According to the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, this is accepted by most subraces elves as the common script.
If you’re looking to write out some elegant scrolls, inscribe some enchantments or mottos on magical blades, or you’re just in the market for a fancy font, the elvish script is a great place to start.
While there are many other incarnations of this script in different editions of D&D, they all share the common bond of being a graceful script, consisting of flowing lines that could just as easily be hieroglyphs.
As with anything in D&D, you’re free to come upon your own interpretation of the script for the worlds you create. When doing so, remember that the way people write often reflects elements of their nature.
Elves, and by extension, fae creatures, are depicted as wise, graceful, and connected with nature.
A script should reflect this, but if your idea of a script for the fey is more connected to their chaotic trickster nature, perhaps those elements might show up more frequently.
How To Speak Sylvan?
There is no “right” way to speak a fantasy language.
Okay, maybe someone might get mad if you mispronounce Tolkien’s elvish, but we don’t treat our own like that at a D&D table. Here, you’re free to make your own choices.
Of course, some of us still want to sound cool.
Saying “I ask the dryad how to navigate the forest in Sylvan,” is a lot less fun than “Jen kar sal sehan Tel’Vandor.” Now that is a rough elvish translation for “How do I walk the forest?”
Sounds pretty cool, but it’s not quite what we’re going for. If you want to get into elvish, check out this amazing dictionary someone painstakingly put together.
We’re here for Sylvan, and while the script is elvish, the sound should be something different entirely. At the very least, it should sound like a precursor to elvish. Which is where you come in.
When we go through the effort of bringing actual languages to life at our tables, there are a few ways we do it.
One option is to completely make up our own new language. Another is to scour every available source putting together enough “official” words and syntax to sound believable.
The third option, and my favorite, is to just use a language that exists.
Typically, we use the language we speak as Common whenever we’re talking around the table. If there is a group out there who generates new languages just to roleplay Common, I need to meet them.
The rest of us pretty much just talk as normal until we want to be creative and try throwing new languages into the mix.
An amazing solution to not just Sylvan, but any language that isn’t common, is to find a language on our plane of existence that fits the vibe you’re going for and use what little of it you can.
On a bit of a side note, some of my favorite stories are those of bilingual D&D players in school-sanctioned groups using the inclusion of a secondary language to allow students to feel more comfortable. It just warms my heart so much. Okay, back to the article.
The example I used above of how Latin influenced the formation of multiple languages is one of my favorite options for Sylvan.
Use one of the romance languages (French, Italian, Spanish, Romanian, and Portuguese) as your Elvish language, and pull in some good ol’ fashioned Latin as Sylvan.
Trust me when I say it is far easier to find a Latin translator online than it is to find a Sylvan one.
Your language could be anything though, and that’s for you, your DM, or the table as a whole to decide.
This entire option is going to be pretty much based on what you and your friends want to do and how much effort you want to put in.
If all else fails, you can always just resort to saying, “I say this in Sylvan,” and calling it a day.
If I could throw just one more option into the mix, let me just say that Welsh is an absolute ringer for me as far as how I would imagine Sylvan sounding.
There is something about the way each syllable rolls of the tongue that brings dryads, faeries, and eladrin to the forefront of my mind.
If you want to go the extra mile with this, try researching the Welsh poetic tradition of Cynghanedd. Something like the poem here is a really beautiful option if you just absolutely need your Sylvan to sound majestic and graceful.
Using Sylvan in D&D 5e
So you know how to write it, you’ve got an idea on how to speak it brewing in your mind, now it’s time to actually use the language in a session.
You’re either a DM planning a fey encounter or a character who chose Sylvan as one of your languages and is just itching to use it. Either way, I commend you.
Bringing Sylvan into an actual game requires bringing in creatures that speak it. For a full list, use the language filter over on DNDBeyond here.
Below is a small list of creatures that stand out as great, common options to bring this language to life.
What’s interesting is that most of these are referred to as sylvan creatures.
Fun fact time – in our world, the word sylvan just means “consisting of or associated with woods.”
That’s right, this is quite literally the language associated with nature. What’s perhaps a bit more exciting is the in-game etymology of the word.
While your pantheon may consist of any gods you wish to employ, one rather interesting god of the Forgotten Realms is Silvanus.
Silvanus, also sometimes spelled Sylvanus, is the god of wild nature.
An immigrant belonging to the Celtic pantheon, this god oversees the natural forces of the wilds and the savagery and grace that inhabit the wild woods his worshippers call home.
The god and the native speakers of this language all point to one thing – you’re going to be spending some time in the woods.
Sylvan has such a deep connection to this side of nature it may even be the origin of Druidic in your world.
If you are planning a trip to the Feywild, or are even just going into a deep patch of forest said to harbor Satyrs, Pixies, and the like, now’s the time to start thinking about what fun Sylvan phrases you want to toss around.
If you happen to have an eladrin in your party or even any elven subrace with some knowledge of their race’s history, you might want to brush them up on some key words as well.
Having a bit of rehearsed speech, even if it’s entirely gibberish, will give so much enjoyment to every single player sitting at your table. After all, isn’t good roleplay kind of the point of this game?
I hope this has cleared up any questions you have about this language.
Rest assured, I scoured through every book I own both digital and physical to find some more concrete answers for both of us. Sometimes, it’s just up to us as players to tap into our own creativity and let it go wild.
As always, happy adventuring.