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?
Oh, hey, the aliens wish to communicate with us. They're speaking into the communication apparatus now...
- ♪♩ ♪♫ ♬ ♪ ♪ ♬♩♫.
Much as Starfish Aliens
are 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
, 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
No matter how weird a language like Georgian may seem to an English speaker, or how weird Xhosa might seem to a speaker of Vietnamese, all natural human languages make sense to those that speak them, and are in principle learnable by other humans. Conlangs are fine in their own separate folder, as are animal means of communication. Any language will seem like this to a native speaker of an unrelated language family, and often even to those who speak a related language.
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
- 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 cords 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:
- 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 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 movie tones down Groot's intelligence, but he still can communicate a lot through the simple sentence "I am Groot". Only Rocket is able to make out what he's saying.
- 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.
- "Fancy" in Code: Pony Evolution is one, according to Word of God. However, for the readers benefit, it all gets translated into Gratuitous French. Which is a little strange when you realizes that the "English" dialog is translated French.
- Parts of Kyon Big Damn Hero are narrated by Kuyou, one of the Sky Canopy's interfaces mentioned above. At first, her narration is barely English, peppered with astronomical references/analogies and a few words standing in for some apparently untranslatable concepts ("spin", "string", "song", "chorus", etc.) and plain confusion with humanity's culture (for example, she considers the simple act of cooking a magnificent, awe-inspiring process). Over chapters, her inner dialogue becomes more understandable as she learns more about humanity and her character develops.
- In the Ah! My Goddess fanfiction Haloes resident Fetish Fuel Station Attendant Urd has a nasty bout with aphasia that, Truth in Television, prevents her to express verbally and in written words. While at first she has to resort to complex charades just to be (barely) understood, eventually she develops the ability to put her thoughts in music, essentially communicating by notes. In this way she manages to score with Keichi and heal, translating her Starfish Language in human words again. Even later, is noted that music has effectively become her first language.
- This My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic video, and its sequels. And the show, too, with a certain amount of Translation Convention for the audience.
- Renko from the Gensokyo 20XX series partially communicates in chirps and warbles, like a wren does, despite the fact that she can use real words (to which she does). It was noted that she lived with Maribel and what she calls "tweety birds".
- In Men In Black II, J communicates with an alien; Their conversation sounds like beatboxing. (Said alien happens to be played by beatboxer extraordinaire Biz Markie.)
- 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.
- 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 who are partnered with Mini-Cons learn to understand their partners (although the English dub didn't really make this clear). The Mini-Cons 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.
- 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.
- 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, it is not clear whether it 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.
- Star Wars
- One thing it 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. Out of universe, the Geonosian tongue was created by having a voice actor speak the lines in English, then playing merry hob with the recordings: speeding up and slowing down sections of the line, interspersing foley effects, etc.
- 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 his crew must travel back in time to acquire live humpback whales (supposedly extinct by the 21st century) and transport them to the 23rd century because whales are the only beings capable of communicating with an alien ship that is unwittingly devastating the Earth.
- In Date With An Angel, the angel's speech resembles birdsong, though she can understand human speech just fine. At the end of the movie, she takes on human form and speaks English.
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 note .
- Harry Potter:
- Parseltongue apparently can only be spoken by reptiles and by mages who are born with the specific ability to speak it. Interestingly, Ron at one point does manage to simulate the sounds Harry made when speaking Parseltongue despite not being a Parselmouth himself — apparently it is comprehending the language that can only be accomplished with inborn magic. (Noam Chomsky would have a few kind words about that.) Alternatively, seeing as the simulated sounds only served to open a magic door and not to actually converse, it is possible the door was simply enchanted to react to the sounds themselves, not the actual language.
- Mermish might qualify: when spoken above water it sounds like painful screeching, but underwater becomes comprehensible English (or perhaps any language the speaker knows?) Some humans can apparently understand the screeching, though, including Dumbledore.
- 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 protoceratops 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.
- In Donald Moffitt's The Jupiter Theft, the Cygnans speak a complex musical language based on absolute pitch of a tone instead of the relative pitch.
- In the Doctor Dolittle books, it is explained that animals communicate not only by sound, but by movements of noses, ears, tails etc. The film adaptation sadly shied away from showing us the good doctor faithfully reproducing animal-speak in this fashion.
- The Turusch in the Star Carrier series exist as pairs of organisms. When they speak, each member of the pair speaks a different line of dialogue simultaneously, and the harmonics between the two conveys another line altogether. The translator device the humans develop to communicate with Turusch prisoners of war renders the three lines sequentially.
- In Stanislaw Lem's Eden the aliens communicate in frequency-modulated acoustic noises and write in static electric charges (which also allows them to animate their drawings). Crash-landed humans manage to jury-rig a "navigation calculator" to translate their speech. While they have no problems with mathematical concepts, linguistics, or other natural sciences (and use them to teach the calculator), when they start talking about the alien society, the calculator keeps saying "no term" for half the words. Humans set the calculator to create new words as needed (one character says "talk like a schizophrenic"), and it invents words like "selfpres" for self preservation instinct or "procrustics" (from Procrustes) for science of controlling society with careful dosage of information, which forces citizens to form isolated groups and enforce strict conformism within groups. As it turned out, this all was a fairly recent invention, result of several decades of planet-wide dictatorial rule.
- In Joe Haldeman's short story "A !Tangled Web," the alien !tang (who look like "ambulatory haystacks") speak in a language that consists mostly of glottal clicks, and their native tongue is a thicket of convoluted metaphors and nonhuman concepts. Their equivalent of "I'm sorry" is especially amusing.
- Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany is built around the idea how language affects thoughts and perception. The eponymous Babel-17 is a language without 1st person pronouns ("I", "me", "my"...) and turns out to be used for programming humans. It has a side effect of improving mental capabilities of people using the language. But despite its oddities it isn't truly alien; it was probably created by humans. The alien languages are mentioned in passing and described as very hard to comprehend. For example: an alien saw a power plant, liked the idea (they never had anything like them) and described it to another alien in 5 words. The other alien built a working power plant. On the other hand, they need tens of words to translate the English word "home" (temperature is mentioned several times). And that is the easiest to understand species.
- The Uplift series has twelve different Galactic languages to accomodate the wide variety in vocal apparati, humans can only speak Gal 7.
- And then there's Trinary, which is spoken by uplifted dolphins and translated as haiku. Though many of the human characters understand the clicks and whistles.
- On the other hand Aliens tend to see Anglic as either a horrifically messy primitive language, or charmingly ambiguous.
- The language of the insectoid Thranx in Alan Dean Foster's Humanx Commonwealth books is based on clicks, whistles, and hand gestures. Humans can speak it passably, though not having spiracles, mandibles, or four arms makes it difficult; Thranx have similar difficulties speaking human languages without lips or lungs. Eventually a common language is developed that both species can pronounce.
Live Action TV
- 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 40,000 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 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. They also rely heavily on non-verbal communication, to the point where they can hold conversations using body language alone. Turned Up to Eleven with their writing system.
- The Adeptus Mechanicus have a secret language called Binary, completely unspeakable and untranslatable by anyone outside the priesthood, (much to the Inquisition's irritation). It's described in different books as high-pitched twittering or grating static, which leaves dial-up noise as a potential interpretation of what it sounds like. Reportedly, even the most primitive forms of binary are vastly more efficient and precise than regular speech.
- Additionally, the Imperial Guardsmen use so much military terminology (kloms, AP Cs, NCO, FNGs, and other TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms)) that at least one Inquisitor wonders if it should be declared its own sublanguage.
- Back in the day, Dungeons & 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" (making it a literal example of Evil Cannot Comprehend Good and Good Cannot Comprehend Evil). 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.
- The Dabus from the Planescape setting speak a language of rebus puzzles (presumably a visual representation of Common) projected over their heads. A possibly-related race, the Phirblas, instead project legible written script in the native language of whatever creature they're trying to speak to.
- 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.
- The illithid communicate telepathically, which is automatically translated into the hearers' language. Their written language, however, consists of six parallel horizontal lines with breaks, and is nearly impossible to translate because it consists of multiple simultaneous trains of thought.
- Although never mentioned in an official game product, a Dragon article on the mechanics of AD&D infravision surmised that drow eyes must emit a small amount of heat to allow them to see in cool environments. Therefore, two drow could "speak" at a distance via silent Morse code simply by blinking their eyes.
- 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.
- 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 Meiers 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* ...
- This goes both ways: the Orz several times seem very confused by what the Captain is saying. They say they don't understand why people always greet them when they meet (but they've observed that people greeting each other makes people happy, so they'll play along), sometimes they realize that the Captain doesn't share their senses ("Maybe you cannot *smell*? That is sad."), and they also seem confused when the Captain asks them about who and what they are ("You are a *silly* *camper*. I am always Orz. If I were not Orz, then I would not be, but of course I am Orz.") The Orz are the physical component in this world of an extradimensional entity calling itself Orz. Much of their confusion makes more sense when you realize, no matter which of the Orz you're talking to, you're always speaking to the same person.
- In 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: Combat Evolved, the Elites' language is unintelligible (though really just speaking back-masked grunty English), but in the latter two Halo 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.
- FreeSpace 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 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 recently dead or about-to-die organics.
- 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 decided 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 Legend of Zelda: 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 the second episode of Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People, the insane non-sequiturs of Homsar are implied to be a form of this. Apparently, "Pucker up, Dice Man! I'm as upholstered as I wanna be!" translates into "Why should my people risk open war for you and your considerable style?"
- The Septentriones in Devil Survivor 2 speak in a very cryptic language portrayed in the textboxes as a bunch of symbols.
- The characters in Q*bert speak a Starfish Language that's supplied (in the arcade version, at least) by a voice synthesis chip programmed to output random noise.
- Done with at least four different species in the X-Universe series. The Boron, an aquatic species, communicate with a mixture of clicking and a pheromone cloud, while humans lack the vocal structures necessary to pronounce Paranid words properly. The Khaak, a vaguely insectoid species, communicate using gestures and pheromones. Downplayed with the Split: humans can learn the spoken language but not the sign language that complements it since that would require having an extra digit on each hand.
- The aliens that live on Lastar/Candelor in Meteos use a strange language that consists of rapidly twirling around and reflecting light off their bodies to communicate with each other.
- The Luminoth of Metroid use dots and lines on a 3-D grid to form the "letters" of their written language. A single word forms one cluster of these lines and dots, letters being connected to each other by a bright dot that is part of both. You can see it in holograms, stone carvings and plants if you look carefully enough.
- In Star Trek Online the Tholians speak using a language consisting of clicks, whines and shrieking noises that is subtitled in the user-chosen language.
- This in Buck Godot: Zap Gun for Hire:
...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.
- The Anthelerix Polygmeon in Starslip, whose spoken language looks like this.
- Prospero in PS238. One of the other students is able to communicate with him; it's unclear whether she actually understands his language or just is a kindred spirit.
- Ants talk by releasing pheromones into the air. I will leap to say it's like if we farted to each other to speak!
- From Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures , 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).
- Outsider has the insectoid Umiak, whose natural language is describes as "a barrage of clicks and ticks." Even the Translator Microbes can barely translate it into something understandable, and the end result is depicted as a Wall of Text that is similar to a bad Babelfish translation.
- The succubus' language in You Suck consists of triangles.
- In Educomix, Venusians communicate by generating magnetic fields. Even Peggy's dad, who has the power to speak and understand any language, needs a magnet to communicate with them.
- In one comic of Schlock Mercenary Petey says he can't pronounce the native name of a planet, "my arms don't bend right and the clicks don't sound right above water." He needs a genetically modified squid to act as an interpreter.
- 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.
- The language used by the Vakhi, which are fully robots rather than biomechanical, constructed to act as law enforcement, was originally believed to be a starfish language because it was outside of normal range of hearing, and could only be translated with a special device that only the ruler of the city had access to. The Toa Metru were shocked when they returned to the abandoned city and encountered malfunctioning Vakhi who spoke normally. They theorized that the Vakhi had secretly been speaking in normal language all along but in ultrasonic.
- 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 eponymous bug, is never quoted directly.
- A race in Treasure Planet communicated by making fart-like sounds through various orifices. Hilariously, Doctor Doppler actually studied "Flatula" for a couple of years, and was able to communicate with the alien by blowing raspberries and making fart noises with his armpits.
- Ookla the Mok from Thundarr the Barbarian communicates largely in growling noises.
- South Park : Welcome to Marklar, home of the Marklar.
- On Gilligan's Island: Gilligan's Planet, the Professor successfully invents a Universal Translator. At the end of the episode, after the conflict is solved, he attempts to use it on the speech of the Small Annoying Creature Gilligan has befriended. It breaks instantly.
- The Clangers speak in whistles, but they're whistling in English since the script was written in English and the whistles followed that.
- The Transformers: The Decepticon animal cassettes Ravage, Laserbeak, Buzzsaw, and Ratbat speak in animal noises (growls, squawks, etc.) and yet the Decepticons seem to have no trouble understanding them. The Autobot Animal cassettes mostly use animal noises too, though occasionally Ramhorm speaks.
- Meap, the ridiculously cute alien from Phineas and Ferb, only says the word "Meap" until he gets hold of a translator mustache.
- In a anime parody segment in Futurama, there's a race of hostile aliens who can only comunicate by dancing. And when the humans try to convey a peace message by dancing their way, it all gets worse.
- The strange dialect Bubi Bear has on The Hair Bear Bunch proves useful in "No Space Like Home" as he uses it to talk with the inhabitants of an alien planet.
- Ugly Americans feature the Man-Birds, a race which learned to speak by imitating New Yorkers...meaning their entire language is based on the words "Suck my balls!" shouted over and over again. However, the Man-Birds developed subtle nuances that make those three words mean all sorts of things, which humans can imitate with some effort.
- Young Justice Invasion the Kroloteans own language are screeching noises, and the Reach's own language are clicking noises. Miss Martian notes that the Kroloteans are "too alien" for her to have any easy time reading their minds without effort.
- In Mighty Max, there was a race of small alien insects who send a giant robot to wipe out all life on Earth because they deemed that there's no intelligent life on it. One of the aliens was able to communicate with Max in some sort of dancing, Max does the same thing to communicate with the robot to convince it that the life forms on Earth are intelligent, which causes it to abort its mission.
- Zombies in Monster High only speak "Zombie" language (consisting of moans and groans). All other characters seem to understand them, though.
- Programming languages such as C++, Java, etc. etc. etc. are a layer of abstraction intended to allow specially-trained humans to "communicate" with non-sentient machines that "think" in binary and are mind-numbingly literal.
- Greshnik is a rather weird case. All the nouns are developed from Turkish, but all the verbs are developed from Georgian. The adjectives come from Latin of all things, and the misc words are all pulled from English. The alignment is ergative and the grammar combines the most painfully dickish features of the various languages. The word order is verb-subject-object, and it is very strict about this. It features a god-awful complicated noun case system derived from Finnish, the hellishly complicated verb system of Laz, grammatical bits that the author might as well have made up, and a tendency towards either consonant or vowel cluster fucks. All vowels must been pronounced individually, unless a diphong is given, and diphong symbols look totally different from their constituent letters. Oh, and a diphong can count as either a consonant or a vowel depending on context, and a diphong is treated only as a single vowel or consonant. Nouns have to be given different categories and classifications, which makes words often very long, leading to frequent dropping of additions designed to give meaning. The same can be done with verbs depending upon the level of precision and formality the speaker is trying to convey. So depending on how formal and precise the user is being, it can look like anything from Hungarian to Tagalog. The writing system is also designed to fuck with just about everybody who tries to learn it. It combines symbols from many different alphabets, but seldom keeps them faithful to their original sounds. Here are a few examples. "Do you love me?" is "UJVROSYKAӠI ᏄYO ЖჱVO" (Ujvrsykazi uyo mevo)? Literally: You love you for me? "I kill you" is AKVЛOSIKA Պ UYO (Akvlosika I uyo). Also for example: water love, Zumizusaiuus (ӠᏄЖIӠUSAტUUS) is not the same as love water, zusaiumiyuus (ӠᏄSAტUЖIӠUUS). The former means a love of water. The latter means that the water is an agent that causes love.
- 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:
- Its later derivative, Ilŕksh, 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.
- The 2011 newly revised version of Ithkuil has 45 consonants and 13 vowels, which is in between the 2004 version and Ilaksh.
- 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.
- Which is more logical than what English does: you make an adjective from a noun with suffix, then add another suffix to make it an adverb; you can add suffixes or not to make nouns into verbs and vice versa... And when those derived words are built into the language, all bets about their meaning are off (a document is the result of documenting, but a cook is not the result of cooking!). In Lojban, instead, all content words (selbri) act "by default" as a verb, and can be used as different parts of speech in systematic ways.
- What might seem indeed starfish to the casual observer is how Lojban uses space and time in exactly the same way. Alright, in English and many languages you can say in France like you say in March, but Lojban has "spatial tenses". But don't worry, in Lojban you never need to mark tense, spatial or temporal, so you don't have to use this in every sentence.
- Solresol contains no official letters or phonetics, just the 7 notes of the solfčge scale note . 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 solfčge scale, with the 7 colors of the rainbow, or with a set of 7 symbols note . Strangely, it was created as a language for the deaf.
- 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.
- 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 (i.e., the visuals of the supposedly native characters, NOT the Roman-alphabet transcriptions) 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.
- 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.
Note: Animals don't have anything quite as complex as what humans could term a proper language. There are various means of communication, but nothing that we could term a proper language as we'd recognize it.
- 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.
- Whale song probably qualifies as this, too.
- Prairie dogs have a large vocabulary of chirps, squeals and whistles, most of them used to indicate the presence, position, and nature of potential predators. While it probably falls short of a language, translating these simple exclamations is made difficult by the fact that many of their sounds are too high-pitched for human ears' detection.
- They can also make up new calls to describe novel sights, such as black ovals on pulleys, and like the meerkats below, are capable of describing humans' clothes to differentiate between people; they also discriminate between coyotes and domestic dogs, both in the sound of their alarm calls and in their response to it. They also have regional dialects, with calls for specific predators being similar across all populations but most similar among neighbors.
- Meerkats' communication is complex enough to differentiate between humans' gender, general size, and clothing color when they approach the meerkats' dens.
- Honeybees dance to convey precise information about the direction, distance, and abundance of patches of flowers.
- Not just honey bees, of course, most bee and many wasp species do the same thing and also use scent cues. Their cousins the ants take the scent cues to a much higher level and some of the more sophisticated species can convey quite complex concepts with patterned biochemical emissions. Pheromones are a big part of this, but not the only tool they use.
- Cuttlefish and other cephalopods have been observed to communicate with each other by varying the colour and shape of their bodies.
- Horses have an extremly complex body language they use to communicate with one another, involving the exact postioning of the ears, lips, tail, and so on.
- Notable aversion in the case of wolves and dogs: humans and canines have an almost-instinctive ability to understand each other's body language, which is one reason why dogs were able to be domesticated so early on. It's enhanced further in the case of dogs who have been bred over thousands of years to encourage this trait.
- Somewhat zigzagged with cats, the other common pet. While most humans can easily learn that a slow blink is a sign of happiness, a headbutt is hello, and a lashing tail is agitated, cat body language is nearly the opposite of dog body language: a cat hunching down and arching its back in annoyance with one paw raised to swat looks an awful lot like a dog's play bow patting at the air, meaning that many dogs will refuse to associate with cats simply because their language is so alien ("You said you wanted to play and then you bit me hard!").
- Unfortunately averted with real starfish, who generally don't communicate with each other in any meaningful way. Unless their language is so alien, we can't even identify it as communication at all!
- Corvids have been shown in at least one experimental study to be able to communicate enough detail that a crow with second-hand knowledge of the incident can identify a human who threw rocks at another crow... Even when the human was wearing a mask and different clothes while doing the rock-throwing. This Cracked article has more info.
- While not animals, some plants emit chemical signals that other plants could detect and interpret, usually as warnings or sometimes instructions. According to an episode of Through The Wormhole, it was complex enough to identify threats by species to other plants. This system was used in that episode as an example of a means of communication that wasn't even recognized as communication until recently and encouraged people looking for extraterrestrial signals to think outside the box.