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Languages in Uplift

This is a supplement to the notes about languages included in the information about character creation.

With twelve Galactic languages, and three "Wolfling" tongues that may appear in T5G, I'd like to establish a few conventions for posting your characters' speech in different languages.

First, the convention that the players came up with all by themselves seems to work best; when conversing among Galactics, precede your first line of dialogue with "slash-number-colon", e.g. if speaking in GalSeven:

/7: "I am Metacalthing, a junior diplomat of the Tymbrimi. My clansman has already recited our lineage for you."

It isn't necessary to include the language indicator before every line of dialogue in the same post; only when you switch from one language to the other. If the character in the above example continues speaking in GalSeven for the entire post, then only the first "/7:" is necessary.

In the case of Terragens, since they will usually be using Anglic among themselves, it isn't necessary to indicate this in every message. However, in a group/scene where Galactic speech is frequently being mixed with Anglic, you should mark Anglic the same way as Galactic languages:

/A:"Hi, you bloody bastard!"

Primal and Trinary are marked with special characters as in Brin's novels, noted below.

Another point to address is that each Galactic language has its own "flavor". Brin has given us a little bit of this, particularly in Brightness Reef. Unfortunately, most of the Galactic languages haven't been covered (in Startide Rising, the Soro and Tandu were probably speaking to each other in GalEleven or GalTwelve, but since their scenes were written from the viewpoint of the Galactics, no special style was conveyed in their dialogue.) I don't expect everyone to memorize the linguistic structural differences between each Galactic language, even if I was to make some up in more detail, but if you could try to preserve the style of those we have seen in Brin's novels, I think it would make the use of multiple languages more interesting. If speech in languages not indicated below becomes more common, you may feel free to start developing your own conventions for how a sentence is structured in, say, GalTen.

Below are some brief notes and samples of a few of the languages, all taken from Brin's novels.


Primal, of course, is the pre-sentient language used by fallow dolphins. Modern fen rarely use it, as it is somewhat like humans speaking in "caveman"; "Him go. Him angry. Bad, bad. <grunt>" However, it remains deep in their psyche, and may surface during bouts of stress atavism, or to convey primal emotions. It is not suited for any kind of complex speech, as the vocabulary is pretty much limited to words applicable to fallow dolphin packs; hunt, swim, danger, sex, etc.

ex: (from Startide Rising)

# Find, Find,
Find and Kill,
# Kill Soft-skin human
Hairy ape
# I wait, wait
# Wait Here- #


The language used by modern, uplifted fen. It is as sophisticated as any human language, and like any fully-developed language used by sentient beings, is capable of expressing any concept. However, some concepts are more difficult than others. It is possible, but very difficult, to describe such things as mathematics or computer operations in Trinary. (As an example, try to describe the simple mathematical equation "2 + 2 = 4" with no words for numbers or math symbols. "A pair of something that you count, grouped with another pair of something that you count, together becomes a group of a couple of pairs." This is not necessarily a precise analogy, since Trinary *does* have words for numbers, but you get the must use very awkward circumlocutions to describe concepts in a language not suited for dealing with those concepts.) Trinary is very good at expressing the "three-level logic" used by fen. It isn't necessary for you to try to understand exactly what that means (you're human, after all <g>), but trying to put Trinary dialogue in the forum of rhyme, or free-verse poetry, conveys something of the feel and difficulty of expressing technical terms.

ex: (from Startide Rising)

* Cold water boils
When you scream
* Red-jawed hunger
Fills your dream.
* Harpoon slew
The whales,
* The nets of Iki
Caught us,
* Yet you, alone
We feared at night
* You alone--


The conventions below are mostly taken from Brightness Reef. It should be remembered that while every sentient race in the Five Galaxies- with the exception of Terragens- speaks only one of the twelve Galactic languages as their "native" tongue, there is such a thing as dialectal differences. I.e. the way a Synthian speaks GalSix isn't necessarily exactly the same way a Thennanin speaks GalSix, though they are mutually comprehensible. Though many Galactics would deny it, slang and language drift and cross-pollination does occur in Galactic languages, albeit very slowly, and the Library Institute, with its universal, standardized body of knowledge dispered to all of Galactic civilization, retards most significant linguistic evolution.

On the one hand, Galactic languages have been described as being perfectly logical and uniform; the paradoxical statement "This sentence is a lie," or "I'm lying now" simply does not make grammatical sense in any Galactic language. On the other hand, puns and word games are possible in some Galactic languages (multi-lingual puns in particular), and obscenities certainly exist. (Obscenities are most likely to be race-specific; any speaker of GalTwelve might understand the phrase "Cold-blooded male!", but it's only a curse to a Soro..... Likewise, a human could translate an Anglic insult directly into GalEleven and call a Tandu an "asshole, but the Tandu would merely wonder why illogically equating a Tandu with an anal cavity, which it clearly is not, is supposed to be insulting, even as it kills the human for the insult (just on general principles, must keep up apppearances after all....))


Syncopated pops and clicks. Cannot make puns and word games. Used as a "formal" tongue by the inhabitants of Jijo in Brightness Reef. Adjectives and adverbs tend to be positioned before their modifying nouns or verbs, in a distinct group.

ex: (from Brightness Reef)

/2: "(Simple) scientists we are. Surveys of (local, interesting) life forms, we prepare. Harmful to anyone, we are not."

/2: "Poor Castaways are we. Poor castaways, ignorant and stranded. Delighted are we. Ecstatic at this wondrous thing. Advent of rescue!"

(Note the dialectal differences above; the first paragraph was spoken by Galactics, using "proper" GalTwo, whereas the second paragraph was spoken by colonists on a backwater world that had been isolated from Galactic society for centuries.)


Cannot make puns and word games. Favored by urrs (a race in "Brightness Reef" that has a split upper palate, thus sounding to humans like they speak with a heavy lisp.)

ex: (from "Brightness Reef")

/6: "I am glad in my pouches that you, my friends, could come so soon. Now swiftly to Uriel's observatory, where she has, for several days, been tracking strange objects in the sky!"


In "Brightness Reef" it is a formal tongue favored by the humans of Jijo. Not surprisingly for the preferred language of the Tymbrimi, you CAN pun and make word games in GalSeven.

ex: (from "Brightness Reef")

/7: "We are minors, friend. Besides, the border law is meant to thwart illicit breeding beyond the permitted zone. Our gang has no such intent!"


The only example I found was in Brightness Reef where a human tracker is speaking with a member of a devolved race that is now effectively pre-sentient, so the simplicity of the dialogue below doesn't necessarily reflect a normal GalEight conversation.

/8: "Pain exists. Marginally." /8: "Regrettable. Endurance suggested. Better than death." "Better?" "Sorry about the pain." "Not blamed. Dour melody. Now ready to eat."

I hope the above descriptions of the languages of the Five Galaxies will help add some flavor to the game. You don't have to carefully follow all the syntactic patterns given above, but trying to preserve a bit of the style of each language will make it more interesting than writing exactly the same way regardless of what language you're speaking, and just pasting the appropriate number in front of the dialogue, IMO.