Leo M.R. asks:

Oh hey, we’re back to questions time? Awesome! I’ve got a linguist-y question I’ve been mulling about for some time: do you reckon mute Trainers exist in the Pokémon world? If so, how do you suppose they give out commands to their Pokémon in battle? Would using sign language be effective in commanding Pokémon in real-time? Do you think Pokémon could even *understand* sign language? What about sightless Pokémon like Roggenrola?

Interesting. Pokémon is historically not great about disability representation. The only named disabled character I know of in any official Pokémon media is Howard Clifford from the Detective Pikachu movie, a paraplegic whose evil plan is explicitly motivated by his desire to overcome his paraplegia, which… y’know, I wouldn’t mind that if Pokémon had lots of other disabled characters, but when he’s the only one it’s a “yikes” from me. Searching on Bulbapedia I have found exactly one semi-canonical minor character who is deaf: an unnamed trainer who battles Ash in the 2000 stage musical Pokémon Live! His partner Pokémon is a Jigglypuff, and he’s immune to its enchanting song, which is traditionally a major hazard to friends as well as foes. And I think that’s a good example of the cool $#!t Pokémon is missing out on by not having more characters who are blind, or deaf, or use wheelchairs, or have prosthetic limbs, or really anything else that reflects the diversity of human physical capability.

But yeah, the point is, certainly there must be trainers who are unable to speak – and honestly, I don’t think it would be that big a problem for them. I’ve always kinda liked the idea that most Pokémon don’t really understand human language per se, but can learn a few commands and are good enough at empathy, body language and context clues to fill in the rest, at least once they know you. To bring up Detective Pikachu again: “You don’t need to talk for us to understand you; we can feel what you’re saying.” The limiting factor isn’t literal comprehension, it’s magical friendship bull$#!t. That’s almost canonical even in the games, ’cause the games have a system where Pokémon “remember” when they’ve been traded from a copy of the game in a different language, and they don’t have any difficulty adjusting to commands in the new language; in fact, they gain experience even faster than Pokémon traded from a same-language copy.

I think if you picked up a Pokémon that was used to taking verbal commands – maybe you got it in a trade – there would maybe be a learning curve in switching to non-verbal. If you’re starting with a wild one, though… well, there are lots of Pokémon that don’t really “speak” to each other in the wild (Beldum naturally communicate through electromagnetic pulses, for goodness’ sake), and are already kinda doing humans a courtesy by even bothering to listen for commands in that form. So I think you’d probably be able to work it out; you might need different methods for different species, but they’re clearly willing to work under less-than-ideal conditions for people they like. Maybe sign language is tricky in battles when your Pokémon can’t look at you all that time, so you work out some kind of rhythmic system, where you clap your hands, snap your fingers or tap your feet to give commands. Maybe you even use a musical instrument! Maybe you have some kind of device they can wear that gives them little “taps” on the shoulder (or equivalent body part) when you send a signal from a transmitter (after all, Pokémon trainers in general are not above using all kinds of gadgets to make their lives easier). Maybe one of your other Pokémon can relay orders for you – like, maybe you have a Chatot that speaks for you, or a Psychic Pokémon that can send telepathic messages. I think if you’re sufficiently creative the sky’s the limit.

[This question was moved to the front of the queue because the submitter is supporting me on Patreon! I don’t give my patrons a lot but I can give ’em this!]

6 thoughts on “Leo M.R. asks:

  1. I’ve actually thought about this for a project I’ve been working on, and the way I did it was that in this world mute people are given all forms of Unown as a disability aid, they don’t count as part of the party sort of like how a service dog isn’t technically a pet, and Mute trainers use them to spell out attacks or commands then the Unown communicate that to the Pokémon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Could be really any Psychic type, honestly? The Psychic type could connect to both the trainer and the fighting Pokémon telepathically and channel the commands between them? Again,you could say that the Psychic Pokémon is not a part of the Trainer’s team and the Trainer thus can’t use it in battle as per Pokémon league rules.


      1. The Rotomdex even gives a rather belated precedent for Pokémon that are blatantly yours and helping you but don’t participate in battles.

        On the other hand, your seeing-eye ‘mon or whatever has probably been with you the longest and leaving it as your sixth and a trump card is also valid. In most adaptations only League Championship matches actually use the full six anyway, and in the games you basically wake up in the nearest Pokémon Center whenever you lose.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. A long time ago I planned out and wrote about 1/10 of a fic with this exact premise. The main character was mute, and while initially she was given a Pokedex with a text to speech function it very quickly proved less than useful (and then got broken in a cave in) so she taught her team to respond to a combination of basic gestures at first and then moved on to using a flute so she could give out more complex commands so the babs didn’t have to keep an eye on her constantly. She also wound up travelling around with Roark for a while during the pokedex being busted period because he and the miners he worked with used sign language so they could communicate without needing to take off their ear protection.

    I should go find that fic and maybe polish it…

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I’ve been meaning to leave a comment for a while but I kept forgetting! Sorry!

    Yeah, you point out very good alternatives in your answer; I don’t know why I didn’t think of those. In fact I am now reminded of… I wanna say his name was AJ? The guy in the original series of the anime, the one with the Sandshrew and the 99-battle win streak who issued his commands through the cracks of his whip! Maybe a bit extreme, but I suppose you could argue even *back then* the franchise had already considered possibilities of Trainers giving out non-verbal commands.

    Also, I think this (non-verbal commands) could be a really cool angle to explore Red. The canon one in the main games you meet atop Mt. Silver and at the Battle Tree, the one who I don’t think has ever said a single word but is clearly positioned as almost a mythically powerful Trainer.

    Liked by 1 person

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