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, 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.
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.
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 respective 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).
Strangely, the song "Aimo" sung by Ranka is revealed at the very end of the series to be "composed" by the Vajra: it's the signal they send to greet extra-galactic Vajra colonies. How exactly the Vajra's communications were translated into verbal form is unexplained.
In Pokemon Destiny Deoxys, 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 — combined with lots of animal noises for Pokemon species this is appropriate for in the original Japanese. 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 A Certain Magical 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). Even when speaking in a human language, they default to the angelic form when trying to say something human language cannot express:
"Although, 'born' is not quite the right word. It would be more correct to say wgkAPPEARskr... hmmm, the language cannot keep up."
Zegapain has the antagonistic Gards-Orm, Artificial Humans who speak using a variety of synthetic tones no human is capable of vocalising. The only time they are seen to "speak" is when they start to receive some characterisation. The only time they actually do speak as humans do, and is not just translated for viewer convenience, is when they speak directly to the humans.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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 EnglishBasic 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.
In 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...
The Nna Mmoy of 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.
In Robin McKinley's 2010 novel Pegasus, 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 ĆΩ∂∞." The human (for now) hero, Arthur, is unsure whether these are the names of worlds, countries, or beings.
Newspeak from 1984. 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-FascistCrapsack 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 The Wheel of Time, wolves communicate in howls and telepathy and primarily deal with smells. According to Perrin, human tongues just can't compare.
In Breakfast of Champions, one of Kilgore Trout's stories uses these to reinforce An Aesop about miscommunication. "The Dancing Fool" concerns a member of a hyperintelligent alien race which communicates through farting and tap-dancing. His first attempt at communicating a vital message to humans ends disastrously.
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 unofficial go-betweens for Oxy and Methane, speak in "matrix sentences" of words arranged two-dimensionally 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 not only use a number of colors that people cannot see but also have a number of terminologies that simply do not translate at all.
Also seen in Rama, though only used as a puzzle element.
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 "Tlön, 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 Enders 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 — and since he had his own sensory tentacles on his head, he could even speak it.
Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor features energy beings that inhabit and control a weird kind of mineral. Humans call them Melters, and they don't have any senses in common with humans. It's actually arguable whether they're even sentient. They perceive the biolectrical signals caused by organic nerves and muscles as being similar to themselves. Luke Skywalker, known for being able to use the Force to communicate with anything and anyone, has a lot of trouble connecting with Melters. He has to change his perceptions to be similar to theirs, and interprets their senses in a weird way — as if they are all floating in space and all living things are stars. Even in this state he can't clearly communicate with them, interpreting their communication as "exchanging exotic particles".
There's also the Ithorians, who have two mouths, each stretching along one side of their head and neck, and four throats. Their native language is in stereo.
Little Fuzzy (now available in a free ebook from Project Gutenberg) hinges on whether the title 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.
The Priest-Kings of Gor communicate exclusively via scent. They also have a 411 letter alphabet (yes, letters not ideograms).
Kip: I called [another alien] Joe and he called me the leitmotif that meant "Clifford Russell, the monster with the frostbite."
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) large boils.
The Yilané in Harry Harrison's West of Eden trilogy have such a complex language, incorporating sounds, body language, and skin 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 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 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. Even more strangely, the mute Puppeteer Parasite handlingers' language consists entirely of touch. Ten of the creatures, which look like disembodied hands with snakes' tails, crawl all over one another when they confer.
A major plot point in 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.
In Pandora's 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 sound vaguely insectoid to human listeners, who have mostly concluded that their language must be too degenerate 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.
In "Literature/Memoirs of a Spacewoman" by Creator/Naomi Mitchison, the narrator, a Terran linguist, is challenged by actual starfish shaped aliens, who instinctively think in terms of 5 choices, not two. Dates to 1985, and may be the original trope.
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 & 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.
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 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".
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.
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'sThe 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'sEden 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.
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 novels explain that the cat people learnt English through exposure to human pop culture and normally speak their own language, the nature of which is undisclosed. The only instance of two cats talking in the TV series seemed to suggest that in that continuity, English was preferred.
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!
The Zarbi communication in "The Web Planet" is a mixture of a shrill, pulsing chirping noise created by rubbing their legs together, and dancing. The fact that it is not translated is Justified as they have intelligence roughly equivalent to that of cows and show occasional cowlike behaviour.
The Third Doctor shows off at one point by 'speaking' in the Delphon language, which uses only eyebrow twitches.
The Fourth Doctor is shown writing a letter in Old High Gallifreyan in "The Deadly Assassin". It seems to be read left-to-right and isn't as inexplicable as the new series' Circular Gallifreyan, but resembles a mixture of arcane mathematical symbols, musical notation and Arabic-like shapes.
The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey in "Shada" is written in a Gallifreyan language so ancient that not even relatively educated and worldly Time Lords can interpret it as anything other than gibberish, and apparently partly temporally-based as it can only be interpreted when it is travelling through time in a certain direction. Whatever it says gives it the properties of time moving backwards over it and imperviousness to damage, and turning the pages inside a TARDIS immediately causes the TARDIS to travel to the location of a Lost World Time Lord prison.
Parodied in the parody film The Curse of Fatal Death: The Doctor and The Master are primarily fluent in a fart-based language (see above).
Circular Gallifreyan, which is just that: different arrangements of circles and circular patterns, with some highly complex designs meaning entire sentences.
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.
In the Big Finish Doctor Who audio "Bang Bang-a Boom!", one contestant in the Intergalactic Song Contest is part of a gestalt organism that communicates in a language only his aide can understand.
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 sub-plot in the Star Trek: Voyager episode "The Void" involves a race of these. They do not speak, but can hear, so Seven teaches them a language based on various tones. Later, when a group of them is conversing, Captain Janeway mistakes the conversation for music.
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 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. It doesn't help that Kosh is deliberately obscure and metaphorical when he does bother to speak, either just to be vague and cryptic, to intimidate, or just because it's part of his sense of humor. The second Vorlon on the station is very clear when he speaks, and has nothing nice to say.
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.
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.
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.
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. Sleeperscannot 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.
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.
Aaaand in Dead Space 3 it's revealed that nope, there is no miscommunication. The Markers' sole purpose is to trigger Convergence, and kill everyone. Everything they do is a trap that serves to ensnare sentient life and aid in the creation of more Markers: some people are smart enough to replicate the Markers (thus spreading their signals and plague) while most fall in reverent awe and kill themselves.
Meanwhile, the actual aliens found on Tau Volantis are theorized to have created a form of communication based on the gills in their necks that sounds like a series of horn blows. However, it is also theorized that this is not their native language, but a second language created so they could communicate with other life forms.
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 CentauriExpansion PackAlien 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 toodifferent 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.")
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 theirTranslator 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.
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 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.
...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.
At one point, Karkat suggests (not entirely seriously) that stabbing people might be Jack Noir's way of greeting them. Later, another iteration of Jack Noir stabs Jane with the Unsound Effect "*greet*".
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.
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.
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.
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 JusticeInvasion 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.
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 wierd 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.
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 along with rests, and lengthening/accents for plural/feminine respectively. 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 ○ | ⌒ \ ― C /. 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!").
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.