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Emma: You mean?

The Doctor: Yes. I can communicate with the Master by carefully controlled breaking of wind.

Emma: ... could I be tied to a different chair?
Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death

Oh, hey, the aliens wish to communicate with us. They're speaking into the communication apparatus now...

<subject=+grandmother;belong_to_reciever+><action=sexual_stimulation_of_self's_genitalia><conditon=+bodily_position:stand+>! <subject=sender><description=+male_genital;belong_to-mother;belong_to_reciever-+>!

Much as Starfish Aliens is the polar opposite of Human Aliens, Starfish Language is the diametric of Aliens Speaking English. Whether the Translator Microbes are on the fritz or the aliens in question are communicating with Minovsky Particles, it's unintelligible to the humans, especially to the viewers (unless there are subtitles, often only present when the trope is played for comedic effect). If it's a video game, expect there to be a few branches on the Tech Tree devoted to understanding the language and eventually the aliens' culture and intent, whether it be peace, cable, cattle, the opposite sex, or just to put a cosmic smear where your Insignificant Little Blue Planet used to be.

May result in The Unpronounceable.

Contrast with Strange Syntax Speaker, where the words are understood but the language rules are not. For when the language's grammar is very similar to Indo-European languages, see Indo-European Alien Language, or, if the language has basically a one-on-one correspondence with a real world language, Re Lex.

Examples of Starfish Language include:


Anime & Manga

  • In Haruhi Suzumiya, the Starfish Non-Corporeal Thought Entity "Data Overmind" does not communicate through language. Since humans do, it created the interfaces who basically act as mediums for it.
    • The Sky Canopy Domain is even worse. At least the Overmind figured out a pretty reliable method to talk to humans. This one? Its spokesman saying "You... have... pretty... eyes..." over a period of about 20 seconds is considered a remarkable advance for it.
      • Their interface gets better at talking in the novel 10 teaser though. The reason they were unable to talk very well with humans initially is explained mostly due to the fact that they're Starfish Aliens to the Overmind itself. The interfaces of the two meeting briefly When the Cannopy Domain tries to (kill?) Kyon. and talking for a few minutes is considered an amazing leap forward.
  • In Macross Frontier, the Vajra are of the singing variety; apparently they "talk with their tummies."
    • Being a swarm lifeform normally without a need for communication, they didn't even grasp the concept of language. Their solution? Create a human/vajra hybrid; really, a human-form vajra. It took her sixteen years to realize what she was, but it worked (and she helped make another one like her in the process too).
  • In Pokémon: Destiny Deoxys, the titular Deoxys spoke to each other through aurorae, which one of the characters could translate with her laptop. They also made strange airplane engine-esque noises as well.
    • The Pokémon themselves would count as well, since they're somehow able to communicate fluently with each other despite their dialogue consisting only of the names of their given species. In one episode where Ash became separated from their Pokémon, the Pokémon spoke to each other without any trouble (complete with English subtitles).
    • Also in Pokémon 2000, Pikachu was able to communicate with the legendary lightning bird, Zapdos, through electric shocks. Strangely enough, Meowth was able to decipher what they were saying.
  • Angelic language in To Aru Majutsu no Index. Since angels carry some concepts which can't be expressed in human language, angels and angel-like beings such as Aiwass, Archangel Gabriel, and Accelerator express these concepts through this language, which is seen as a bunch of gibberish letters surrounding the kanji of the word closest to what the being means (like this: ihqDIEvbt).
  • Puella Magi Kazumi Magica has the witch-magical girl hybrid form of Airi speaking in runic letters in Chapter 6.


Comic Books

  • Hepzibah of the Marvel Universe's Starjammers comes from a race that communicates using pheromones. The kicker? Humans can't detect them.
    • But her species does have vocal chords and can learn to speak in words, although she no take candle.
  • In Alan Moore's run on Swamp Thing, Ranndians spoke in their own alphabet. He had a few pages of illegible conversations.
  • Alan Moore wrote a story for The DCU in which a Green Lantern has trouble communicating with a blind alien in a lightless region of space. The ring's Translator Microbes can't come up with equivalents for "green," "lantern," or about half of the other words in the Green Lanterns' oath. He got a unique Badass Creed that embodies concepts he can understand:

 "In loudest din or hush profound

My ears catch evil's slightest sound.

Let those who toll out evil's knell

Beware my power, the F-Sharp Bell!"

    • The Indigo Tribe also speak a language that said Translator Microbes also can't grok. Their oath follows the same rhyme and meter as the others though.
  • All-Star Superman briefly features a species of tungsten gas-based life forms with glass exoskeletons that communicate with light-emitting gestures. Some sentences in their language can cause instant blindness in humans.
  • The Ultimate Marvel version of the Vision was built to warn alien cultures of Galactus Gah Lak Tus. In a case of Crazy Prepared, she (yeah, Vision's a "she" in this continuity) can communicate with chemical enzymes, gravitational flux, microwaves, spacetime tears, and so on. All of which comes in handy when she fights one of Gah Lak Tus' components:

 "I'm going to talk Gah Lak Tus to death."

  • Denizens of Mars speak their own tongue in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics.
    • So did the alien invaders from Camelot 3000.
  • German artist Walter Moers had some friends who suggested him to write a story about some aliens landing near the house of Franz Josef Strauß (very conservative Bavarian politician, meanwhile dead) but can only communicate by belching and waving red flags.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy member Groot, a giant walking tree, can only say one thing: "I AM GROOT!" However, similar to the Pokémon example, it turns out that he's actually brilliant and is often providing solutions in Techno Babble with that one phrase.
  • The Enelsians from Astro City.


Fanfic

  • The Deltharians from the Basalt City Chronicles have two. One is their own language, which is a sign languaged due to nearly all of them being born without a sense of hearing. The other is a dialect of the only sound-based language those few who can hear ever experience: whalesong.


Film

  • In Men in Black II, J communicates with an alien; Their conversation sounds like beatboxing.
    • There's also "The Twins" who have monitor duty in both movies. One of them has a name that is a barely pronounceable nonsense sound. His brother is called Bob.
  • The Drej (energy beings) and the Gowl (bat people) from Titan A.E..
  • Another language resembling flatulence crops up in Disney's Treasure Planet.
  • An adaptation depicts the language of the Transformers as sounding like a cross between a howling velociraptor and a burst of computer noise. This is reasonable, given that they're robots.
    • The movie proper gives them deep muttering noises. Frenzy, for some reason, has a much higher and more frenetic series of noises, though it certainly fit him.
    • One of the myriad manuals explains that spoken Cybertronian is extremely efficient - a few sounds can contain lots of information - and the prequel comics show that they are also capable of "texting" each other soundlessly (this is how Bumblebee communicated with the other Autobots after having his throat destroyed), but this is highly impersonal and typically only used for battlefield orders and such like.
    • The Mini-Cons talk in bleeps and whistles similar to the droids in the Star Wars universe. Each major Minicon has a distinct "voice," his or her range of noises being unique. Humans and large Transformers alike find Minicon-speak incomprehensible initially, but grow to be able to understand it somehow. The Minicons eventually learn to speak English as well.
  • The native language of the Tenctonese in the first Alien Nation movie resembles the popping of bubble wrap run through a synthesizer; technically, they're all sounds humans can make, but few human languages use them.
  • Speaking of nonhuman sounds, let's not forget Madison's ultrasonic native tongue in Splash.
  • And of course, the virtually indescribable language spoken by Thermians among themselves in Galaxy Quest. It's... sort of screechy. The DVD, in typical Galaxy Quest fashion, offers the option of watching the movie dubbed into Thermian. Someone at Dreamworks was having a lot of fun.
    • Sadly, however, when running the Thermian soundtrack the Thermians themselves do not speak English.
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind featured a musical Motif throughout the film, which turned out to be a variant of Arc Words. Specifically, the aliens communicate through musical notes.
    • However, this might not have represented their own language so much as the idea that music is a universal language and can thus be the first step in interspecies communication.
    • Not particularly universal in terms of sending a message, but presumably an excellent way of saying "we are advanced sapient creatures, look at this pattern we have encoded in radio waves".
  • One thing Star Wars got right (at least in episodes IV-VI) is that most aliens are incapable of speaking human languages, and vice versa. Rather than using implausible Translator Microbes, the characters are all either fluent in a variety of languages, so they can understand alien languages even if they can't speak them, or else they rely on sentient translator robots -- "Protocol Droids" -- like C3PO to interpret for them.
    • In the Extended Universe, the Twi'lek, along with the ability to learn any language that humans can, also have a completely seperate gestural language expressed by use of their lekku head tentacle thingies. Some sources describe as being subtle enough that most races can't even recognize, let alone interpret it, allowing it to function as a Secret Language.
    • Would you have taken Chewbacca seriously if the process had been forgone and he spoke English instead? During filming, he did. With a British accent. In one scene in a documentary they show a scene without the growling dubbed in; it's the one where they have a strange sort of conversation with Obi-Wan Kenobi. Chewie declares, "That man's mad." "You said it, Chewie."
    • The Geonosians in Star Wars also speak a language that's heavy on insect-like sounds. Until The Clone Wars, it wasn't even known whether they could speak English Basic at all.
  • The aliens of District 9, due to having mandibles and tentacles in place of teeth and lips, speak with insect-like clicks and chirrs, which means they can't even pronounce the human names that are foisted upon them by the Mega Corp.
  • In Return to Oz, two of the Wheelers briefly communicate in what is presumably their native language, which sounds a bit like a bicycle horn.
  • In the film Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster, Mothra, Godzilla, and Rodan start communicating with one another...in roars, chirps, growls, and various other animalistic languages. Since the human characters don't understand what the monsters are saying, they rely on the Shobijin to translate for them.
  • In Star Trek IV the Voyage Home Kirk and the gang must travel back in time to acquire live humpback whales (suposedly extinct by the 23rd century) which are the only beings capable of communicating with an alien ship that is accidentally devastating the Earth.


Literature

  • In Ursula le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven some aliens believe that the nuclear missiles being directed at them from Earth are a form of communication, and respond appropriately. of course this changes once George Orr goes to sleep...
  • In Robin McKinley's 2010 novel Pegasus, the titular Pegasus' language consists of much whuffling, tilting of heads and/or ears, body language/limb placement and gesturing with 'alula-hands' (tiny vestigial "fingers" at the joint of the wing) as well as a modified form of telepathy with certain humans. Humans, leave us say, are not...terribly good at learning it, though it is required for certain ceremonial occasions involving royalty.
  • In the second installment of Garth Nix's Keys to the Kingdom--(Grim Tuesday)--the Mariner, Captain Tom Shelvocke refers to the starship Helios as having probably been copied from "๑๑๑๑๑๑๑๑ or ÆΩ∂∞ƒ‡." The human (for now) hero, Arthur, is unsure whether these are the names of worlds, countries, or beings.
  • Newspeak from Nineteen Eighty-Four. It's a grossly simplified version of English with just about all of its words being compound words. And it has no parts of speech; a word can be a noun, verb, adjective, or an adverb. Also, it has no articles and words can be interpreted in many ways.
    • Of course, this is justified because its goal is to keep people stuck in a Mind Rape happy Communist-Fascist Crapsack World and they need to be able to speak, perform, and hear two paradoxical concepts at the same time without being weirded out by the Mind Screw. Its only saving grace is that it uses English grammatical structure.
  • Several from the Star Trek Novel Verse. The Vahni Vahltupali communicate visually, flashing patterns across their skin. They can even "sing". The Citoac, meanwhile, communicate by using sounds of a pitch that stimulates the brain of another being, directly influencing their neurology. Efrosian language is music-based, and they can describe complex equations, schematics and diagrams by humming. The languages of several aquatic races such as the Alonis are also musical.
  • In the Dragon Below Trilogy, the Daelkyr with no mouth communicates using telepathy, but it happens to be completely incomprehensible to people who are not stark raving mad (Dah'mir, Vennet, and Medala are the only ones who ever actually manage to understand what he is saying), and listening to it for too long is probably going to drive you stark raving mad anyway.
  • In Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time, wolves communicate in howls and telepathy and primarily deal with smells. According to Perrin, human tongues just can't compare.
  • Kilgore Trout (a.ka. Kurt Vonnegut) loved using these to reinforce An Aesop about miscommunication. Among the more egregious examples is an alien who communicates through farts and tap dance, killed while attempting to warn of a house fire.
  • The Nna Mmoy of Ursula K. Le Guin's Changing Planes have a totally nonlinear language. One character actually uses the metaphor of a starfish to describe it (for comparison, English is a snake). Also, it shorts out a "translatomat". The same character hypothesizes that their language evolved this way to counter the severe homogenization of their plane by Precursors - the Nna Mmoy's home plane is incredibly boring, with only a small number of species, all of which are useful and harmless to humanoids.
  • Unicorns, in the Apprentice Adept series, understand human speech just fine, and can speak it when in human form (Those that bother to learn, anyway). In their natural state, they use "hornspeak", communicating through musical notes blown through their horns. (In Phaze, unicorn horns are hollow and produce sounds similar to musical instruments.)
  • This article includes some interesting notes on very foreign languages and an index of science fiction stories that have tackled the idea of alien languages.
  • The language of the Knnn race in The Chanur Saga, which consists of whale song-like vocalizations. Their language is so alien as to be completely incomprehensible to oxygen breathers, and even the methane-breathing T'ca and Chi have trouble with it. The T'ca and Chi are themselves only half comprehensible in turn- the T'ca, most comprehensible and friendly of them and unnoficial go-betweens for Oxy and Methane, speak in "matrix sentences" of words arranged two-dimesionally with no particular reading order or discernable grammar.
  • The Chur, from Katherine Kerr's Snare, typically speak at a frequency so low humans cannot hear it, and also have their own well-defined body language.
  • The Octospiders from the sequels to Rendezvous With Rama. Not only are they actual starfish (well, starfish-like) but they speak with colors, colors that come out of their 'heads' in a little fountain, and working out a way to translate said colors into people speak is a major plot point (and turns out to be both very difficult and remarkably ineffective) due to the fact that they use a number of colors that people cannot see, and have a number of terminologies that simply do not translate, at all.
  • The Vhlani in Tangled Strings of The Marionettes "speak" via dancing. Humans, lacking tentacles, have considerable difficulty understanding them.
  • The languages of Tlon described by Jorge Luis Borges in "Tlon Uqbar Orbis Tertius" have no nouns but only verbs or adjectives, reflecting the philosophy of its speakers (they see the world not as a set of objects with continuity in time, but a succession of events and transitory qualities). To speakers of these languages, a story about one man losing some coins and another finding them becomes a paradoxical Mind Screw.
    • For instance: one Tlonese language would translate "the moon rose above the river" as "upward behind the onstreaming it enmooned" while another would come up with something like "silver-bright-high cold-wet-flowing-low."
  • The linguist protagonist of Ted Chiang's "Story of Your Life", studying an alien language, gets a clue from the writing system that is large pictures: the structure isn't linear, the whole structure is simultaneous. Learning it properly means reorienting your own psychology in such a way that you experience your entire life at once.
  • The amphibious Betans in Poul Anderson's The Avatar have two different languages, a musical one spoken underwater and another spoken on land. The Betan the crew take back to Earth with them learns Spanish, but not English.
  • H.P. Lovecraft's aliens tend to have modes of communication radically different from that of humans. For example the Elder Things communicate by making piping sounds with their multiple breathing tubes, and the Great Race of Yith click their claws together to produce their equivalent of speech. The Mi-Go use a buzzing sound emitted from their wings as well as rapid color changes of their ciliate heads.
    • The followers of Great Cthulhu have their own language, barely pronounceable by human voiceboxes and singularly awkward to transliterate. Generally though, communication with the Great Old Ones generally involves the human party going incurably mad, one way or another.
  • At the very end of Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game series, the protagonists encounter an alien species that communicates at least partially via neurotransmitters: the first radio message they get from the aliens are instructions for an opiate. Nobody's sure whether it's meant to be debilitating or pacifying.
    • Don't forget that the entire reason for the war with the Buggers was (1) our radically different conceptions of individual personhood and (2) our inability to communicate that prevented the Buggers from apologizing and trying to make peace once they realized the mistake they had made -- a rather dark take on this trope.
  • In the Star Wars Expanded Universe, we find that Twi'leks - the humanlike aliens with twin braintails on their heads in place of hair - use their braintails in conversation much the same way humans use our hands, though they have a vocal language and can speak Basic (English) quite well. In "X-Wing: The Krytos Trap" Wedge is taught to use his hands to make specific gestures while trying to bargain with a Proud Warrior Race Twi'lek. There is actually a language of braintail signals which apparently makes a running commentary, which comes up rarely. Oola was surprised to find that C-3PO understood it, and during the Clone Wars Aayla Secura tried to conceal her attraction to Kit Fisto by claiming it was just that he was one of the few people who bothered to learn braintail.
  • H. Beam Piper's "Little Fuzzy" (now available in a free ebook from Project Gutenberg) hinges on whether the titular species possesses language. As it turns out, They do, but it's at a frequency level out of the range of human hearing.
    • The short story "Naudsonce" hinged on trying to make sense of a new alien race's speech. It's based on the tactile sensations of specific frequencies - in essence, they feel speech rather than hearing it.
  • H.G. Wells' lunar-dwelling, insectoid Selenites communicate through piping whistles and cricket-like chirps in The First Men in the Moon, along with hints of telepathy. Their language is impossible for their human prisoner Cavor to understand or even mimic, but the Selenites themselves quickly decipher English and devote two specialized members to speaking to and understanding Cavor, respectively.
  • A species of Little Green Men from Dan Simmon's Illium and Olympos communicate by a sort of biological telepathy with the side effect that when they're done they shrivel up and die, much to the horror of the man who discovers them. Presumably they were created artificially.
  • The Boov in The True Meaning of Smekday. Their written language is bubbles and their spoken language, apparently, would require sheep and some bubblewrap if a human wanted to do it. One of their major cultural figures is called "Sound-of-a-crying-baby-riding-on-a-duck-which-is-talking-with-its-mouth-full".
  • The Ents speak an incredibly complex language that is entirely incomprehensible to all other creatures (with even the Wizards and the wisest Elves being unable to make any headway with it). This is partly due to the tonal nature of the language (it appears to consist not of words, but of extended fluctuating sound), partly because of cultural conventions (there is no such thing as a simple statement; even something as simple as a negative answer includes the entire reasoning and thought process behind the Ent's position) and partly because the language possesses no common nouns (every individual thing is given a unique name that consists of a description of its entire history). Ents acknowledge that their language is impractical for casual conversation, typically adopting a variation using the syntax and grammar of Elvish languages (while still using their own vocabulary, meaning the language is still incomprehensible). They are also reasonably fluent in most other languages.
  • In the book Planet of the Apes the apes spoke a completely different language (since it wasn't Earth All Along) which the protagonist had to learn. It was a normal vocal language, however.
  • The Priest-Kings of Gor communicate exclusively via scent. They also have a 411 letter alphabet (yes, letters not ideograms).
  • The Mother Thing from Robert A. Heinlein's Have Space Suit - Will Travel sings when she speaks, and only the person she is speaking to can understand what she's saying.
  • A partial example: The Widget, the Wadget, and Boff is written as if partially translated from an alien language. The occasional word or phrase appears surrounded by double square brackets, intended to convey that it represents the closest approximation to the (literally untranslatable, referring to objects, situations, or actions completely outside our frame of reference) original.
  • Bruce Coville's My Teacher Is an Alien series has fun with this -- many could speak audibly, but some communicated in weird ways like reflecting light off of their bodies. In addition the stories point out that even vocal languages use gestures, which their Universal Translator was also able to work with.
    • Other examples from this series include communicating with tinkling music, armpit farts, extremely loud screeching, waving or tugging on your nose, and rearranging (or popping) the various boils that cover your pickle shaped body.
  • The Yilané in Harry Harrison's Eden trilogy have such a complex language, incorporating sounds, body language, and color, that even many Yilané never manage to learn it. Mastery of the language is a factor in social status.
    • The one human who has learned the language is only able to speak a pidgin version of it, lacking a tail which is required to get certain ideas across.
  • The Rambosians from Jasper Fforde's Nursery Crime books speak in Binary. While they helpfully render it as 0's and 1's for humans, full-speed binary sounds like cloth tearing, and humanity's foremost expert converses as well as a programmable toaster.
  • The undead inhabitants of High Cromlech in China Mieville's The Scar "speak" a language called Quiesy. As many of the residents lack vocal equipment due to the mechanisms of their reanimation, or simply had their lips sewn together as part of a mummification process the language makes use of carefully timed periods of silence, eye rolling and presumably other facial body language, though at least one form does include spoken elements that sound like coughing something up from the back of your throat.
    • In China Miéville's other novel, Perdido Street Station, the khepri (humanoid people with giant scarab beetles for heads) communicate with each other by emitting scents. To communicate with humans, they have to use sign language.
    • A major plot point in China Miéville's Embassytown. The resident Ariekei have two mouths, and speak different streams of language out of both at once--every word consists of two sounds overlapping. On top of this, if the words do not have a conscious intent behind them, the Ariekei perceive them as meaningless noise, so they are unable to understand computer-generated speech or recordings. The only way humans can successfully communicate with them is via pairs of psychically linked clones, each speaking one of the two layers of dialogue at the same time.
  • The giant insectoid Reavers from The Runelords books 'speak' by pheromone scents (and anti-scents, since they have to erase the previous 'word' before they can say anything else), and can 'see' energy and electricity. Their death cry, the scent they produce when killed, is said be be something like burned garlic. They have neither ears nor eyes that can see visible light wavelengths.
  • The Ra'zac from the Inheritance Cycle talk to each other in clicks and whistles, but are also fluent in human languages and can pronounce them, with an noticeable hissing accent. Brom mentions that he has no idea how they even manage to speak the human language.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events: The weird noises that baby Sunny makes are treated like this, with her siblings understanding her perfectly.
  • In Pandoras Star and Judas Unchained, Ozzie meets a Starfish Alien that is thought to be mute by all the people caring for it. He discovers that it actually communicates by projecting UV shapes that form a pictographic language.
    • Also, the Primes, being a hive-mind, are linked directly brain-to-brain. To the humans, their radio signals appeared to be just unintelligible garbage.
  • The Graycaps in Jeff VanderMeer's Ambergris-books speak mostly in rapid clicks and whistles that sounds vaguely insectoid to human listeners, who have mostly concluded that their language must be too dengenerate to properly deserve the title - as it turns out, it's in fact far more complex than any human language and utterly impossible to translate accurately. They understand human speech perfectly, but only begin to use themselves it in the third book, Finch. They are also implied to communicate by breathing spores of their symbiotic fungi on each other.
  • The aliens in the Isaac Asimov short story Playboy and the Slime God (a.k.a. What is This Thing Called Love?) communicate by changing their color.
  • In Stranger in A Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein, Martians speak in a "throat-scratching" language with many concepts that can only be expressed within it. A phonetic script devised for it has over eighty characters. Humans can, in fact, speak and learn it; it's the key to enlightenment.
  • In Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, two dead soldiers who are reanimated can communicate only in hideous screams, which are identified by their animator as the language of Hell.
  • Inverted in The Bromeliad Trilogy, in which the tiny nomes can't understand humans because our speech is too slow and deep for these fast-living creatures' miniscule inner ears to make out. They refer to the sounds made by humans as "mooing".
  • The mantas from Piers Anthony's Omnivore communicate by beaming radio waves at each other.
  • In John Scalzi's The Android's Dream, the race of aliens who have benignly colonized Earth can speak English but their primary form of communication is through pheremonal mixtures far too subtle for humans to pick up. In an interesting take on this, at the start of the novel, a politician who has been gravely insulted by the primary alien diplomat figures out how to speak this language himself so he can insult the alien in an important meeting without being detected. He does this with a device that alters the chemical composition of his farts.

 Dirk Moeller didn't know if he could fart his way into a major diplomatic incident. But he was ready to find out.

  • Larry Niven's Known Space setting contains several examples. The Outsiders communicate with colored light, and the Pierson's Puppeteers have a highly complex musical language[1].
  • Harry Potter's Parseltongue, which apparently can only be spoken (through magic) who were born with the specific ability to speak it. Interestingly, Hermione at one point does manage to simulate the sounds Harry made when speaking Parseltongue, despite herself not being a Parselmouth - apparently it is comprehending the language that can only be accomplished with in-born magic. Noam Chomsky would have a few kind words about that.
    • Also in the HP universe, Mermish might qualify as a starfish language. As do Troll, which sounds like random grunting, but apparently qualifies as a language despite the low intelligence of HP trolls.
  • Most of the saurians in Dinotopia have languages of various grunts, growls, squeaks, clicks, ect. Prosauropods have a form of musical language as well, often accompanied by a human partner on an instrument. Humans can learn them, and the translator protoceraptops can speak many of them, but sometimes larger species' tongues are tough-carnivores, for example, have deep, gruff vocalizations that don't mix well with human throats. (Note that this didn't come up as much in the digest novels, probably to make it easier for young readers to comprehend.)
  • In Lovely Assistant (by Geoph Essex), Jenny experiences non-linguistic sensory signals that help her "appointments" (she's a newly minted Grim Reaper) decide which path to take through the afterlife. This comes in handy later, when it turns out the not-actually-Cthulhu creature goaded into destroying the world communicates using the same language of mental concepts.
  • Played with in "Aftermath", a short story from The Dresden Files told from Murphy's POV. In it, Murphy repeatedly points out her fluency in Martian ... which is merely the "language" of grunts, mumbles, snorts, postures, and facial expressions used by human males to communicate unspoken, manly messages to one another. Without even realizing they're using a Starfish Language while doing so.
  • The Etiquette section of Nanny Ogg's Cookbook includes some information on Discworld's version of the "language of flowers" tradition. Being written by Nanny Ogg, it not only explains that flowers could once be used, like navy signal flags, to say all sorts of things, but goes on to describe some NSFW gardens.
  • The Voynich Manuscript, a 15th-century book discovered in 1912. Though the illustrations are similar to most medieval European drawings of the time, the language it is written in is unlike any other written language found anywhere else. It's structured similar to old English, but the words and alphabet are completely incomprehensible. Scholars, cryptographers and code-breakers the world over have tried and failed to decipher it. Some believe it to be some kind of secret code, a case of Glossolalia (speaking in tongues), or just an elaborate hoax.


Live Action TV

  • Red Dwarf gives us a writing system employed by The Cat's species based on scent. They speak English fine, though.
    • The trope is also played with in the Red Dwarf episode "Thanks for the Memory", when Rimmer suggests an alien language consisting of breaking people's legs and completing jigsaw puzzles.

  Cat: I wouldn't like to be around when one of these suckers is making a speech!

  • Parodied in the Doctor Who parody film Curse of the Fatal Death: The Doctor and The Master are primarily fluent in a fart-based language (see above).
    • Played straight in Who proper, however, with the Hath in new series episode "The Doctor's Daughter." Strange, considering the series has (with few such exceptions) relied on Translator Microbes for the entirety of its televised existence.
    • Then there's the Delphon language, which uses only eyebrow twitches.
  • A couple of Star Trek episodes across the board have defied the series' Rubber Forehead Aliens standards, incorporating this trope in the process.
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation had "Darmok," which involved a race whose language translated incompletely: they appeared to speak entirely in metaphors whose significance was unknown to Starfleet. The automatic translator could translate the phrases literally, but without the historical or mythological context the meaning was lost. (Yes, yes, an entire race of tropers.)
      • Another had a race of highly advanced Starfish Aliens that had a completely untranslatable language. Fortunately they were able to learn a number of alien languages and just spoke to the crew in English.
    • Star Trek: Enterprise had an episode where Hoshi Sato and friends tried to translate a tough alien language. She never succeeded. The Enterprise was about to just give up when it turned out that the spacefaring aliens had been spending that time learning English.
    • A number of Star Trek episodes have overlapped this trope, with languages so alien that the translators took some time to figure out, usually just as long as drama required.
  • The Vorlon language in Babylon 5 sounds like nothing spoken by humans; it consists of a series of musical chords. It's translated into English via machines built into the Vorlons' encounter suits, but even then, the translation is often so opaque as to be incomprehensible to humans.
    • Actually the incomprehensibility of Vorlon speech had more to do with Kosh being deliberately obscure and metaphorical, the better to obfuscate everyone. It was also useful as intimidation. When the new Vorlon arrives, he is very clear when he speaks. He has nothing nice to say.
      • It is implied in one scene that this is also part of Kosh's sense of humour.
    • Besides the Ambassadors and their aides, who have a reason to speak English--since Babylon 5 was built by humans which made English the trade language of choice--most aliens do not/cannot speak english and use translators, much like those little computers you see tourists use, except their look like glowing spheres. Once, an ombudsman called for a translator to be brought in for a recalcitrant defendant.
      • The alien in question had no mouth.
    • Another example, the crew of the White Star did not know English. Ship operation required one member of the command staff fluent in both English Minbari--in fact probably the Minbari Religious Language since it was a religious-caste crew and Delenn mentions each caste has its own language. Lennier or Marcus would usually take that role, the latter to Ivanova's dismay. Ivanova makes a conscious effort to learn Minbari. It's not easy.
    • There is also a reference to Interlac, an artificial language (like Esperanto) that is supposedly easier to decipher. On First Contact, ships transmit Interlac language codes. In the one example seen, the Drakh actually respond (through a translation computer) in Minbari. This is a critical clue, in that it proves the Drakh had had previous contact with some Minbari.
  • The Unas from Stargate SG-1 provided one of the few chances for Daniel to actually flex his translation muscles in a series otherwise filled with Aliens Speaking English. The Goa'uld also have their own language, but they also speak English.
    • What about the Asgard? They actually speak English backwards.
  • Crystal Balls, a one-off programme where Griff Rhys Jones riffed on old examples of science fiction prediction, included a short piece from The Fifties in which a scientist explained this possibility and suggested communication with such aliens based on creating the shapes of recognisable constellations using magnets or onions (if they 'saw' in terms of magnetism or smell, that is). Of course, why then would they recognise the shape of a constellation?
  • Farscape uses the old Translator Microbes, so for the most part everyone speaks English. While sometimes Played for Laughs with unfamiliar concepts (a comment about Ice Cream prompts the outburst "What in blazes is izes green?") there're three notable exceptions. Moya (the Living Ship) and her kind are too huge and complex for the microbes to properly work, and can only communicate through strange, whale-like calls or their Pilots. The Pilot race and the Diagnosians have languages so complex that the microbes just give the hell up. In order to be understood by others, they have to speak "incredibly slow and simply, like speaking to a particularly ignorant child," though Grunchlk was fluent enough in Diagnosan to translate, and finally, Sikozu's species can't tolerate the translator microbes and must learn a language from scratch every time (although that may apply only to her and not the entire species because she's an android.)
  • Angel had some demon species who spoke in tongue clicks.


Tabletop RPG

  • The Hivers in Traveller have extensive body language. Since their bodies are so different from ours, this makes it nearly impossible to understand or make known the full nuances of either species' intended meaning.
  • Just about every system with Eldritch Abominations, often overlapping with Black Speech.
  • The Vespids from Warhammer 40000 apparently use a language like this. When the Tau first made contact with them, all attempts at communication between the two species failed. The Tau were able to solve the problem by developing translation devices, though.
    • Although the Eldar speak a vocal language that can ostensibly be learned by humans and others, it's described as incredibly complex and difficult; since every single word and phrase and can embody multiple complex concepts, which are context-dependent on several levels -- not only on the specific context of a statement, but the usage and positional context as well. The same word can have dramatically different meanings in colloquial speech, formal speech, political speech, trade banter, mytho-historical ballads, psychic spell-casting, etc.; as well as a particular word or phrase's position relative to others in the overall body of discourse. Turned Up to Eleven with their writing system.
    • The Adeptus Mechanicus have a secret language called Binary, completely unspeakable by anyone outside the priesthood (much to the Inquisition's irritation).
    • Additionally, the Imperial Guardsmen use so much military terminology (kloms, APCs, NCO, FNGs, and other TL As (Three Letter Acronyms)) that at least one Inquisitor wonders if it should be declared its own sublanguage.
  • Back in the day, Dungeons and Dragons actually had alignment languages "wherein people of the same alignment could communicate through insinuations and intimations that only really make sense between those of like-minded affiliation with an aspect of a universal standard of ethic and morality". Meaning a lawful person could speak Lawful, a chaotic person could speak Chaotic, and so on. And if your alignment changed you forgot how to speak it, but could now speak the language of your new alignment. What.
    • Would the Dabus from the Planescape setting count, too? A language requiring vision to understand because they speak in rhebus puzzles (presumably a visual representation of Common) that appear over their heads seems like it would qualify.
    • A few monstrous races have been described as having a Starfish Language, as with will-o-wisps' communicating by making their glowing bodies emit patterns of different-colored light flashes.
      • Saurials are described as having a language that is outside the range of human hearing, so either subsonic or ultrasonic, and also having a component based on chemical scent emissions.
  • Mage: The Awakening has the High Speech, which may or may not be the same as Atlantean. It is, as far as most mages can determine, a language which accurately describes the fabric of reality itself and is used to empower spells by more precisely defining their parameters. Sleepers cannot perceive it at all in either its written or spoken forms, and other supernatural creatures can perceive it for what it is but not understand it. Even most Mages only know enough to empower their spells - only a select few obsessives even know enough of it to hold a basic conversation. Mages theorise the language may be "broken", missing some essential component.


Video Games

  • In the Half Life series, the Vortigaunts speak a language that involves both the participants in a conversation speaking and listening to each other at the same time, implying that the language centre of their brains is much more highly developed than that of humans. Vortigese is totally incomprehensible to humans; something of the feel of it is conveyed in the Episodes, where groups of Vortigaunts speaking English tend to step on the ends of each other's lines.
    • They're also implied to use extra dimensions (both in space and time) to communicate with each other over great distances; one apologises for using this method in front of humans, claiming "It is rude of us to commune by flux shifting in front of those whose vortal inputs are impaired."
    • They're also seem to have a telepathic link across their entire species. The Nihilath used it to enslave them all, while La Résistance in Half-Life 2 uses it to gain vital intelligence on Combine installations whenever a Vortigaunt is captured. Furthermore, one even suggests that they can "reincarnate" into a new body after they die, using the link:

 The All-Knowing Vortigaunt: "What seems to you a sacrifice is merely, to us, an oscillation. We do not fear the interval of darkness".

  • The Markers from the Dead Space series communicate with humans by showing them visions of their departed loved ones. It is implied that whatever lifeform designed them was radically different, and that this is the best they can come up with to bridge the language gap. It doesn't help that humans almost invariably go insane in their presence.
    • Dead Space 2 reveals that it's more a matter of intelligence and education. Stupid people go insane from the signal, while smart ones see diagrams and symbol patterns, and are consumed by an irrepressible urge to recreate the Marker for "Convergence" or otherwise do the artifact's bidding. It's speculated that the whole EarthGov project dedicated to the Markers is actually under this influence.
  • All aliens speak their language in Marathon.
  • The Martians in UFO: Afterlight, being Plant Aliens, "speak" by finely modulating their individual electromagnetic fields. It takes quite a long time until you figure this out and begin to communicate with them.
  • The Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri Expansion Pack Alien Crossfire gives us Progenitors, who communicate primarily through the modification of electromagnetic fields and must research human psychology (or the other way around) before diplomatic relations can be opened.
  • Star Control's Orz are just too different to think in compatible categories. Here is a sample sentence after being run through the universal translator, the segments in asterisks being "best-fits": "I am *expanding*! It is so *squishy* to *smell* you! *Campers* are the best! I have *anticipation* and then what? Better *parties* in the *middle* to be sure!" However, they understand you enough that asking too many questions about the Androsynth may make Orz *frumple* ...
  • In Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, Darth Nihilus is shown to speak a bizarre language (suggested by some fans to be Ancient Sith) which the PC is incapable of understanding, even though they can understand all other languages they come across in the galaxy.
  • In Halo 1, the Elites' language is unintelligible, but in the latter two games they are heard "speaking" English, due to improved Translator Microbes. Jackals on the other hand remained unintelligible throughout the entire trilogy, and Grunts always "spoke" English.
    • Though in Halo 1 the Elites were really just speaking back-masked grunty English.
  • Free Space has the Vasudan race, whose language sounds mainly like a bunch of very deep grunts (a mechanical translator provides a spoken English translation about a second after the Vasudans speak, so Terrans can understand). The game's files say that the Vasudan language is incredibly complex, containing multiple alphabets and dialects, with syntax, grammar, and vocabulary depending on a wide variety of factors including but not limited to: one's age, relative social status, continent of origin, and spatial distance from the Vasudan Emperor. The Shivans, on the other hand, don't seem to communicate through any kind of means even detectable by humans. A "rudimentary and crude" Shivan communications device (Project ETAK) is unveiled in the end of the second game, though we do not ever get to hear what comes out of it, and humanity doesn't get much chance to use it anyway before we are cut off from the Shivans.
  • The character Geno from Super Mario RPG is a star being possessing a doll called Geno. He uses the name Geno because his real name, ♥♪!?, is "hard to pronounce".
  • In Voyage: A Journey Beyond Reality, most Selenites initially speak in incomprehensible musical notes. Winning a minigame lets you learn their language via a teaching-machine, after which their speech is accompanied by English subtitles.
  • In Wing Commander Prophecy]], the invading Insectoid Race initially communicates with unintelligible buzzing sounds until around the third mission, when their Translator Microbes kick in and they begin to speak English. (A wingman's response: "I think I liked it better when I couldn't understand them.")
  • The Aliens in the DLC for Fallout 3.
  • The geth in Mass Effect communicate by transmitting data at the speed of light, which comes out as a "stuttering" sound. They are capable of speaking English and other galactic languages, but they rarely see any reason to do so.
    • The Overlord DLC provides a bit more information: the geth vocalize a highly complex math-based language for verbal communication when downloaded into mobile platforms. A human mathematical savant is actually able to understand and reproduce these vocalizations, allowing him to communicate with the geth in their native language.
    • The rachni communicate telepathically and refer to it as "singing", and colours also appear to be part of their language. The only way they can communicate with other species is by possessing asari.
      • Not quite, they can only possess either recently dead or about-to-die organics. It just happened that Shepard and co. had just killed a bunch of Asari Commandos
    • On another track, the elcor are perfectly capable of speaking English with the aid of Translator Microbes. However, the intent of what they say to one another is expressed through miniscule body language and pheromones, which the translator apparently can't interpret. As a result, elcor sound like they speak in a mumbling monotone and have to state the emotion that precedes a statement whenever they speak to someone who's not elcor. Such as, "Nostalgic delight: Ah, good to see you, old friend.". Naturally, an insane/genius human producer decides to make a production of Hamlet using an all-elcor cast. Hilarity Ensues. "Insincere endorsement: You have not seen Hamlet until you have seen it performed by Elcor." Another elcor hacks its translator so it can control the intent of what it says, which normal translators display automatically.
    • The hanar normally communicate through bio-luminescence, and have to have a device that translates their light-flickering into speech in order for people to understand them. Even then, their voices come out with a very noticeable echo.
      • Thane claims that he can understand hanar light-speech without a translator, as he's lived among them all his life. Even then, his eyes had to be altered so that he could see the full range of colors the hanar use, including a few in the ultraviolet spectrum.
  • The Shroobs in Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time.
  • Knights of the Old Republic in spades, practically every alien spoke their native language. This was due to either a limited budget or limited time though, since all the alien speak was pretty much the same gibberish looped over and over with virtually no attention to the amount of actual dialogue it was meant to represent (taking nearly a full minute to say one sentence).
  • "Old" Hylian in some of the The Legend of Zelda games, particularly A Link to The Past and The Wind Waker uses an entirely different alphabet.
    • It is actually just a Japanese cipher. Some of the newer games use an English cipher instead.
    • And then there's Twilight Princess, which has Sky Writing -- the language of the ancient race called the Oocca. Only one guy in the entire country understands it. The player never sees more of the writing than a few isolated characters, but you do get to hear Shad say part of it out loud.
  • In Spore, some creatures will use this language, depending on what mouth they have. This will continue up to the Galaxy Stage.
  • In Rayman 2, the player may select one of several langages for the characters to speak during dialogue events... including their world's native language, termed "Raymanian". Mortal characters of course speak Ramanian with actual voices, but Ly the Great Fairy instead uses mystical sounds. See this vid at 5:48 for an example.
  • In the second episode of Strong Bads Cool Game for Attractive People, the insane non-sequiturs of Homsar ("Pucker up, Dice Man! I'm as upholstered as I wanna be!") are implied to be a form of this.
  • The Septentriones in Devil Survivor 2 speak in a very cryptic language portrayed in the textboxes as a bunch of symbols.


Web Comics

 ...the vast majority of sentients cannot directly communicate with each other. Some species operate on different time lines, or are out of phase with the four dimensions we can perceive, are too small or too large or, if they had to acknowledge us, they would have to kill us. So even when an atomic matrix life form that feeds off the microwave hum left over from the Big Bang and excretes time lines is in the same solar system with your typical silicon-based life form that eats rocks and excretes hydrogen, communication between the two may be close to impossible. Luckily it's not really a problem, because they usually don't have anything to talk about. Or so it appears, right up until said atomic matrix life form begins a simple operation to make the local sun go nova in order to harvest neutrinos and, to their surprise, are vigorously opposed by those gritty little creatures clinging to the orbiting rocks who have had to start throwing anti-matter around to get their attention. Things usually deteriorate from there.

 You think you will try to keep conversations with Becsprite to a minimum from now on.

  • From DMFA, you get the Insectis language.
  • The page picture comes from Grim Tales from Down Below. The language used seems to be that of the demonic Nergal symbiotes that both Junior and Minnie possess.
  • In Harbourmaster, entomorph language isn't just auditory (not that humans could hope to imitate it, having vocal cords and tongues instead of mandibles), but also olfactory, relying on pheromones as well. As Wayward has pointed out, this lets entomorphs communicate more quickly than humans, but it definitely isn't something humans or Aquaans can take advantage of. The barrier is circumvented with PDAs, although the entomorphs like them for more than just communicating with humans (q.v. long-distance communication between even just entomorphs).

Web Original

  • Bionicle: "The Search for the Mask of Light" depicts the Matoran language as a deep and distorted, mechanical rumbling. Appropriate, considering all the Matoran Universe residents are biomechanical.
  • Land Games: The Woken communicate by vibrating the air with electromagnetic waves, and clicking bits of their shells together.
  • Pay Me Bug: "Bugtalk" is "a binary language that starts with the total sum of all knowledge and drills down through it until it isolates the specific thought or concept the bug is trying to say." This is emphasized in the story by the fact that Ktk, the titular bug, is never quoted directly.


Western Animation

Real Life

Constructed Languages

  • Ithkuil is an (in)famous artificial language first published in 2004 designed to "express deeper levels of human cognition overtly and clearly, particularly in regard to human categorization, yet briefly". In order to achieve this, its initial incarnation featured a phonological system of 65 consonants, 17 vowels and a god-awfully complex grammar. Even its own designer wasn't a fluent speaker of the language. To quote a troper's thoughts on the original:

  "It has so many consonants that even someone who's fluent in Abkhazian will have trouble. It has so many vowels even a native Hawaiian speaker will have trouble. It has stress and tone. The grammar is so complex that every single word is packed with more meaning than an English sentence would: "Oumpeá äx’ääluktëx" means "On the contrary, I think it may turn out that this rugged mountain range trails off at some point." The less said about the writing system the better. Simply understanding the principles that define the rules on which the grammar is based requires formal linguistic training. It's Your Head Asplode: The Language."

    • Its later derivative, Ilàksh, was somewhat easier, but that wasn't saying much. The phonology was cut down to 30 consonants and 10 vowels, but there were new grammatical functions to consider that replaced old ones, and apparently all urges to be needlessly obtuse were funneled into the writing system. The current (and final) version isn't much bigger in terms of phonology, and it's grammar has been subtly streamlined, with evocative visual aids and explanations. Still, good luck learning to form even the simplest sentences in this beast. Check it out...if you dare.
  • If aliens try to contact us, they might avert this by using a mathematical sequence to communicate, or show that they're intelligent. We have done that too: the Arecibo Message beamed into space by SETI is in binary.
  • K­ēlen has no verbs. You have to imply actions by declining your nouns.
  • Lojban isn't too bad if you're good at programming computers. If you're expecting nouns and verbs, though, you'll have to get used to the fact that words change from one to the other depending on where they are in a sentence. That's why all the writing on the language uses non-standard grammatical terms derived from Lojban itself, like "selbri" and "sumti"--wouldn't want to let people think that there are any nouns around these parts.
  • Solresol contains no official letters or phonetics, just the 7 notes of the solfège scale[2]. It's meant to be "spoken" with musical instruments, although it can be hummed or whistled. Thankfully though, it can be transcribed with the pronunciations of said solfège scale, with the 7 colors of the rainbow, or with a set of 7 symbols[3].
  • Klingon is modeled after Navajo, but adds a bunch of extra complications just to mess with you. The subject of a sentence always goes on the end, for example.
    • Not entirely. Spoken Klingon actually started out as gibberish--James Doohan was tasked with coming up with a few sufficiently alien-sounding syllables for the Klingons at the beginning of the first movie, which he did without any real regard for syntax or grammar. It was only later that linguist Marc Okrand took those sounds and expanded upon them to create a working Klingon language. Amusingly, written Klingon is still very much a starfish language--there is absolutely no correlation between the written and spoken languages; indeed, the former is more or less a random collection of "letters," and attempting to translate them is impossible.
  • The preferred method for speaking Vulcan, according to the few actors who have done so onscreen, seems to be "Speak English, then dub something alien-sounding that matches your lip movements in post-production."
  • Rikchik is a sign language for tentacled aliens (rikchiks) with no sense of hearing. Humans can't speak it, though they could theoretically learn to understand it. From the rikchiks' perspective, human languages are even more of a Starfish Language - we communicate over a completely foreign medium.
  • Many esoteric programming languages tend to this, with the most extreme example likely being Piet, whose programs contain no letters or numbers at all - it is written with colours.

Natural Languages

  • Firstly, the most alien languages absolutely are those which require completely different methods for how they are used. For example, a spoken language conveyed by sound versus a sign language conveyed by sight. The strangeness grows for people who are impaired in ways that stop them from being able to even comprehend the medium. For example, blind people, having no concept of sight, could not comprehend sign language, just as deaf people, not even being able to experience sound, would be completely unable to understand sound language. This can be circumvented with time and specialized teaching, but the users are still unable to perceive the responses back.
  • Languages can vary a lot and have a lot of weirdness between them. At the least, this can be minor features, like one language not having articles. More extreme would be a language having a completely different syntax and grammar, like branching in different directions and having different parts of speech with very different alignment and morphological rules. A common lament of linguistics students is, "Go home, language, you are drunk."
  • Languages from different and unrelated families are this to speakers of unrelated languages. For example, Arabic for hello, "Salam", is completely unlike the Japanese for hello, "Konichiwa".
  • Language isolates, which have no known links to any other languages, are this to all other langauges. Examples: Basque, Zuni, Korean, Sumerian, Khmer, Japanese, Hadza, Busa, Cuitlatec, and everyone's favorite freak language, Piraha.
  • Object-first languages, which, by default, place the object of a sentence before the subject thanks to having a word order of OSV/OVS/VOS. Yes, that's right, these languages tell you the whom of the sentence before they even tell you what they're about! For example, you wouldn't say "Balloon knife popped." or "Balloon popped knife." or "Popped balloon knife.". Yeah, well, in object-first word orders, that's what you say when you want to say that a knife popped a balloon. Object-first languages are very rare. The most common object-first order, VOS (Verb Object Subject), makes up only 3% of languages. The next most common object-first order, is OVS, which only makes up 1% of languages. The final, rarest order is OSV, which is not even found in 0.5% of languages. Oh, and the last two alignments are found exclusively in languages of isolated tribes in the Amazon Rainforest.
  • Imagine that someone says hello to you and you reciprocate, but your vowel sound is modulated slightly differently, resulting in them getting furious at you because you just inadvertently called their sister a whore. Sounds crazy? Welcome to the world of lexical tone!
    • Whether based on absolute pitch, like most African examples, or on pitch contour, like most Asian examples, tonal languages distinguish between different different words based on very slight variations in the same exact vowel sounds. While roughly 40% of all languages are tonal, apart from Chinese, none of them have gone on to achieve global prominence or be adopted outside as the primary language of any group outside of their core population, and in these departments, even Chinese has only very doubtfully achieved either of these, although Songo, an African creole trade language, counts as a regional example. Tonal languages tend to be bound very closely to their originating populations. Because different groups have different manners of speaking as well as accents, tonal languages do not work well for empires. Again, Chinese is a kind of exception, but that is because approximately 90% of Chinese are of the Han ethnic group, which speaks the very rigorously standardized Mandarin Chinese.
  • Syntactical alignment is how you know which words go with what.
    • It is nominative-accusative in most languages. In this system, the subject of a intransitive verb (S) and the agent (doer) of a transitive verb (A) are treated the same while the object of the transitive verb (O) is treated different. {S=A; O}. Next most common is Ergative alignment, which is a bit strange, treating the subject of a intransitive verb (S) the same as the object of a transitive verb (O), while the agent of a transitive verb (A) is treated differently {S=O; A}. Ergative alignment makes a passive voice impossible, and many ergative languages display this through a special grammatical case. The other alignment types get progressively wierder, especially the Austronesian and Triparte alignments. The Austronesian alignment is known for being very weird and confusing, even often being contradictory. Triparte can be summed up as using a different case for each part of grammatical agreement while blending different parts of nominative and ergative allignments.
  • Most languages have two basic tenses, present and past, with some special construction allowing the creation of a functional future tense. For example, English present tense is unmarked, past tense is formed with [e]d (usually), and future tense is formed with will+unmarked verb form. Some languages have more tenses, like Latin with its six tenses. And then there are languages with absolutely no tense marking whatsoever. Normally, if someone tells you something, you know about the temporal component; if it happened, currently happens, or has yet to happen. However, languages without tenses lack this information. If someone says that they go to the store, they could mean right now, twenty minutes into the future, or even eight years ago.
    • Aspect systems. Aspect is the status of completion or incompleteness of action, whether it will happen again, and or if it was unusual or routine. English does not have official grammatical aspect, but there are significant differences in meaning between doing something, having done something, having been doing something, and having had something done. In Russian, there are grammatical and tense differences between its two aspects. One is used perfectively, for things that are done completely and just once, and the other is imperfect, which means that something is routine or perhaps was not finished. While imperfective can exist in any tense, perfective can only exist in past or future. Guessing this correctly can be a real headache and different versions of verbs have the same meaning but different aspects.
  • Speech registers and hierarchical elements. Imagine having to use the language entirely differently depending on whom you are speaking to and to what you are referring.
  • Navajo is considered a very strange language. It has lexical tone. It has freaky phonetics. It has politeness elements. It has tons and tons of grammatical categories. It has ergative alignment. It has a ridiculously complicated tense-aspect system. It is virtually impossible for outsiders to learn to speak Navajo with any kind of skill.
  • Vietnamese is a horribly brutal language with strange phonetics (Nguyen, anyone?), stress-accent, and SIX FREAKING TONES! Oh, and to top it all off, it has no pronouns.
  • Hungarian, being one of the few non-European languages in Europe, is considered moonspeak. It behaves a bit like an agglutinative language, it has odd grammar, and attempting to figure out is a good way to give yourself a headache. There's a reason why media loves to use it for an alien language, and they usually get it so horribly wrong that native Hungarians can't understand it.
  • Basque is a language isolate. Part for the StarfishLanguage course, it's ergative and even has the ability to lump affixes onto words until they form one massive word that can function as an entire sentence. Attempts at linking Basque to other languages have all ended in failure. Keep in mind that one of the more convincing attempts at linking it to other languages tried to tie it into the Niger-Congo family, found an entire ocean away on the far side of the Sahara Desert!
  • Japanese. So much so that it's classified as an ultra hard language for English speakers and cannot be convincingly linked with any other languages. Well, there's a reason why there's so much Engrish and TranslationTrainWreck involving Japanese.
  • Sumerian, the oldest attested language. To sum it up, it looks like absolutely nothing else at the time or since.
  • The Caucasus is the most linguistically diverse region on earth, with three entire language families in one small region, with a common fact of life being that people from neighboring villages speaking entirely different languages. It has a few real clusterfuck StarfishLanguages.
    • Chechen: Ergative grammar, very strange phonetics, huge inventory of both vowels and consonants, high amounts of irregularity.
    • Abkhazian: Epic consonant cluster fuck and hardly any vowels. If German can be a bit of mouthful, Abkhazian is a throat obstruction.
    • Ubykh: World record 86 consonants without any clicks. How many vowels? Only 2! Also a world record. Small wonder it went extinct.
  • Salishan languages of the North American Pacific Northwest bamboozled linguists so hard they had to invent a new symbol just to transcribe them. What's a consonant?
  • Piraha is claimed to have no words for time, number, or color, but it does have modifiers to identify sources of information, the capability to be whistled, an object-first word order, non-recursive sentences, different phonemes for men and women, and no nasals (n/m sounds). These are all rare traits that any language may have one or two of, but the lack of nasals is considered unique. The queerest thing is that all these rare features show up in the same language.
    • Piraha is only attested by one scientist and nobody else has bothered to do field work to examine his claims. He has claimed, for example, that the Piraha are unable to learn how to count or use numbers, or even identify colors regardless of attempts at instruction. Due to the sheer outlandishness of one language being such an epic WierdnessMagnet, these claims should not be taken as gospel truth.
  • Semitic Languages (Arabic, Syriac, Aramaic, Hebrew) build their words from consonant stems onto which vowels are added to further refine the meaning. When these languages are written in their native scripts, the vowels are correspondingly not written.
  • Polysynthetic Languages give each little morpheme a meaning equivalent to a word and then string them together to make enormous compound words, each one of which is packed with enough meaning to be an entire sentence, which it is.

Animals

  • Dolphins. Studies show that their cute sounds and clicks show signs of language, and each uses a unique greeting that no other dolphin copies, similar to sharing a name. The only problem is figuring out how to decode/learn this language, since it seems to be related to echolocation, a realm still notably beyond us.
  • Bees communicate through a dance language.
  • Ants and termites communicate with each other by the use of chemical signals.
  • Cephalopods, such as octopus, squid, and cuttlefish, communicate by changing the chromatophor color patterns on their skin.

Notes

  1. note that musical does not necessarily mean pleasant to listen to, as it has been described as sounding like "an exploding steam calliope" or "a church choir being burnt alive"
  2. along with rests, and lengthening/accents for plural/feminine respectively
  3. ○ | ⌒ \ ― C /


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