Jan
8
2015

DIY Sci-Fi Language

A Guest Post by W.J. Cherf

You probably know them all: Klingon, Vulcan, Elvish (both the Sindarin and Quenya dialects), Old Tongue, Huttese, Dothraki, Parseltongue, Aklo, Mangani, Newspeak, Nadsat, Simlish, and of course, the tried and true UN experiment - Esperanto.

But have you ever tried to build one of your very own?

As a former prof of ancient history and archaeology, languages have always been a big part of my life. So it was little surprise that they also played a major role in my award-winning time travel series, most often as various dialects of ancient Egyptian, with sprinkles here and there of German and French. But when I introduced an extraterrestrial element to the series, my brain started brain storming.

Up front, I knew that I needed to devise something that was totally practical, flexible, and yet so unique that my readers would gasp and say, “Yeah! That’s totally perfect!!”

Here’s how I went about it.

These aliens that you have just created, what are their physical and mental capabilities? If they don’t have audible speech, then you’re in a pickle. Yes, they could be telepathic, but how would they write down or record their marvelously alien thought processes?

These aliens of yours, do they have a cultural tradition that includes humor? Record keeping? Or heaven forbid, even something like history? Their written language will reflect these proclivities.

I had a team of aliens: organic and crystalline silicon-based. They were galactic surveyors. That meant their message content was sophisticated, a mixture of numeric coordinates, coded words and expressions, and free text. Imagery was digitized and sent on as is. In short, it was a system with a surveyor coding at one end and a dedicated editor deciphering at the other. Additionally, these messages were transmitted across vast distances at the speed of light, and had to provide a sure fire way to prevent their messages from degrading.

These requirements aced out a radio or audio-based language. That meant that it had to be a script of some kind, one that had to be highly visual, and rugged enough to survive potential blue-shifts.

That left light itself. A beautiful spectrum of various frequencies. Each of which was assigned a specific sound and/or numeric value. To accommodate the various species, each message was produced in triplicate: ultra-violet, visible, and infrared. And with such a packaged, parallel message, damage to any portion could be reconstructed by just consulting the other two.

With my colorful script plotted out, a simple grammar had to be put into place to make it all work. Again I used light, or more precisely, its total absence. So complete thoughts, also known as sentences, were delimited by bar with a null frequency value - black.

So what did the script look like? Imagine this: vertical or horizontal smears of color across a page, all broken up into discrete information packets, separated from one another by a simple black line.

This is just one man’s solution for an intra-galactic communication system. Now, what’s yours?

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W. J. Cherf is an enthusiastic and engaging author, ancient historian and archaeologist, who has been there and dug that. He created the award-winning time traveling series The Manuscripts of the Richards’ Trust to fulfill a life-long desire: “to write books without footnotes,” and to share his love of ancient Egypt.

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