An "alien language" is represented as English with a weird font
for the letters instead of the Latin alphabet. Many examples in comic books, some in video games, a few in sci-fi movies and TV. Futurama
and Star Wars
are examples of the latter use. Since this requires a visual (and lends itself particularly well to comic books), it can be considered a form of Painting the Medium
A specific subtrope of Fictionary
and Cypher Language
is a great site about this. Contrast with Con Lang
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Anime and Manga
- In Urusei Yatsura, Lum's mother didn't speak Japanese. Her alien language was represented by Mahjong tiles.
- In another story, Lum got hit on the head and suffered Laser-Guided Amnesia that wiped out only her ability to speak Japanese. Her native tongue was represented by wingdings.
- Hunter × Hunter's written "language" is just a substitution cipher for Japanese kana.
- For alien letters, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha used English characters written forward then overlaid with the same English word written backwards and upside-down. Enough to look like an exotically unfamiliar font at a glance until you take a closer look.
- The font in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann substitutes for the Latin alphabet.
- The runes in Puella Magi Madoka Magica are a sub for German. In the Spin-Off Puella Magi Kazumi Magica a witch speaks them aloud.
- Pokémon eventually started using its own symbol-cipher of English for written text (rather than just using Japanese writing as had been done earlier) in order to make localization easier.
- Two from The DCU: Interlac and Kryptonese.
- Bonus points: since Kryptonese alphabet has been introduced, readers quickly noticed that Superman's S-shield is really a stylized version of the Kryptonese cipher for the letter S, blending traits from both alphabets (the Kryptonese cipher has an 8-like shape inscribed to the shield, like the familiar S).
- The aliens in The Ultimates spoke English set in a Japanese (katakana) font.
- Marvel also does that with the Skrull language when it's left untranslated. Look for "He loves you" in Secret Invasion.
- Mr Mind's Venusian in Power Of Shazam. It has since been used by other aliens, where it often turns out to be gibberish or actually say "Alien Speech".
- For the first 27 issues of the 2005 run of the Blue Beetle scarab-speak is represented this way. It's mostly decipherable once given the code, however a fair amount of artistic license is taken with the letters, especially earlier in the comic's run, and based on Jaime's side of the conversation the scarab is actually saying a lot more than what is written. Conversely, Tiny Titans uses a straight substitution cipher for Blue Beetle's scarab, with a key at the end for readers to interpret.
- In PS238, alien tongues are represented in strange font, one font per alien language, but are readable English when deciphered. Prospero's walls of text in his introductory chapter starts off with "If you can read this" and goes on with Monty Python quotes, a recipe, etc, to avoid heavy spoilers, but in the rest of the series, his utterings are often hilarious.
- In CrossGen's Sigil-verse comics, wingding-style fonts were typically used for speech in languages the viewpoint character didn't understand, and in some cases could be figured out by readers. However, some languages were instead written in plain English but enclosed in brackets to denote the alternate language, rendering them legible by the reader, or used legible fonts for gibberish words.
- Used a lot by Marvel characters like Loki, in a font that looks like Elder Futhark, for casting spells. In Young Avengers, when he uses something that would translate to "rjerdwrbr" in Real Life Runes, he's actually saying "elsewhere," to take him, well,elsewhere. Here's◊ the key.
- The written Vogon language in The Movie of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
- This was actually a real shorthand script, it looks alien while referencing the bureaucratic nature of the Vogons: a typographical Bilingual Bonus for the clerically-minded.
- Strangely enough, given the nature of Vogons, writing things quickly seems out of character for them; as a result, expanded material states that Vogon numbers would be written in unary (so that, for example, one thousand is one thousand tally marks).
- Strangely, even though many of the characters in Star Wars speak English, all computer consoles starting with Return of the Jedi, but later including the Special Editions of the previous two films show a made-up script called Aurebesh. The idea is that while the audience hears their own language, the characters are actually speaking a galactically common tongue referred to as "Basic" in the expanded media.
- The Self-Destruct Mechanism that the Predator sets off at the end of the first movie, and earlier in the second, has a digital countdown in alien numbers.
- In Cube Zero, the Cube computer systems and written orders use both the latin alphabet and a strange alien one to display English. The characters can read both just fine.
- "Indiana Jones And The Temple Of The Forbidden Eye" has a supposedly "ancient" language written throughout the queue. It's a simple substitution alphabet. Originally, decoder cards were given out by cast members to help guests fight boredom in what was potentially a 5 hour wait.
- In fact, careful examination of the glyphs reveals that the individual characters are just the letters of the English alphabet, highly stylized. With a little practice, you can read them without decoding.
- In Tomorrowland, the photo kiosk and nearby restrooms at the exit of Space Mountain have signs in English and an "alien language," but if you compare the two, the latter is obviously just a substitution cipher for the former. Similarly, all signs near "Stitch's Great Escape" are written like this.
- Gnommish in the Artemis Fowl books is Wingdings English.
- A few of the Fighting Fantasy books have puzzles that involve working out which symbols represent which letters to read secret codes. Fangs of Fury, for example, has a prominent Wing Dinglish language which, among other things, is used to hide a puzzle-relevant name-that-must-not-be-uttered in plain sight in a recurring non-illustration image.
- While not examples of extraterrestrial alphabets, there are several Redwall books in which the heroes must decode some ancient writings that are the same as English, only the letters look just different enough to make them unrecognizable.
- Somewhat subverted in The Lord of the Rings, it contains several inscriptions (most notably the title page and the writing on Balin's tomb) that, when deciphered, turns out to be phonetically written English. This is in fact part of the book's Translation Convention - Tolkien pretends that the whole book is really translated from an original Westron manuscript by himself, and includes the inscriptions.
- The Cirth at the top of the title page reads "The Lord of the Rings, translated from the red book" while the tengwar at the bottom continues, "of Westmarch by John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. Herein is set forth the history of the War of the Ring and the return of the King as seen by the Hobbits."
- The map in The Hobbit also has an English text, but that uses real Anglo-Saxon runes, not Cirth.
- On the other hand, some fans play this trope depressingly straight. Since Tengwar doesn't even have a one-to-one match with the Latin alphabet even in the orthographic mode for English (let alone for other modes in other languages), in most Tengwar fonts the key you press doesn't correspond to the sound of the Tengwar. So if you just download an "Elvish font" and type away, be assured you'll get gibberish.
- Not a language as such, but in one of the The Dark Tower books Stephen King presents a Line of Eld symbol (think, "descendant of King Arthur" for a rough equivalent). It's the copyright symbol set in Windings.
- The ancient language known by Golems in the Discworld novels Going Postal and Making Money is Wingdinglish based on the "angelic alphabet" created by John Dee.
- Averted: James Gurney's Dinotopia picture books has a Cypher Language, not Wingdinglish, despite modern English being only several centuries old compared to the dino civilization of millions of years. Acceptable Break from Reality considering it was designed for children and their parents.
- However, the Chandaran Transitional Alphabet is like this, English made to match Footprint latters.
- In 'The Ogre Downstairs' Diana Wynne Jones has some characters from Greek Legend speaking ancient Greek, that the characters don't understand. However the written text is English transliterated into the Greek alphabet, letting the readers know what the characters are saying.
- In Myth Alliances, a native of the computer-obsessed dimension of Kobol greets some visitors by saying a smilie-symbol.
Live Action TV
- The Ancient language in Stargate SG-1 is faux-Latin with different characters instead of the Latin alphabet.
- "The Impossible Planet" in Doctor Who.
- Also, Old High Gallifreyan in "The Deadly Assassin" and "The Five Doctors," and what can only be described as "Dalekese" on a display in "Remembrance of the Daleks."
- In the new series, the various panels on Gallifreyan consoles (such as on the TARDIS) display circles with smaller circles and lines in them. They look like generic graphics, but are actually meant to be Gallifreyan text.
- In an episode of Community Abed writes unrecognizable symbols in his notebook, but when Troy asks him what language it is he shrugs and says "Probably Arabic." (It's not.)
- BIONICLE used circular and later hexagonal characters, but the written language was mostly English. These were most often used to hide easter eggs in various media.
- The text in the Unown Ruins in Pokémon Gold and Silver falls under this.
- Technically, the Unown are just stylized versions of the English alphabet, and later punctuation. Although interestingly, this would make the words in the Unown Pokédex Gratuitous English in the original Japanese.
- Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire) used braille for this (the player's guide had the translations in it). The only place it was used was in a puzzle to unlock some of the legendary Pokémon.
- Fire Red and Leaf Green also used riddles in braille to unlock certain locations.
- Hylian in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was a cypher for Hiragana, while The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time used one for Katakana. By The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, it was merely stylised Latin letters in English (though the mirroring used undermined this).
- The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword'' uses one too, but the text isn't actually translated. It turns out everything with the ancient text just has the cypher in alphabetical order, though it's either incomplete or reuses symbols for multiple letters. Either way, it's unreadable.
- The Standard Galactic Alphabet in the Commander Keen games.
- In Master of Magic, the names and descriptions of still-not-researched spells in the spell book are in English but written in unreadable "magical runes" font.
- Characters that speak "borginian" in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney do so by using a wingdings font. Or at least a font that looks like a lot of symbols put together.
- The Shroob aliens in Mario & Luigi: Partners In Time.
- The Daedric script from The Elder Scrolls games. If you read it carefully, the words even look quite like English words.
- In Quake IV, the Strogg control panels are marked with odd looking letters◊ that later on in the game (after the Player Character received a neurocyte during his Stroggification) look like normal English alphabet (with the exception of the letter E, which, like in Quake II, is horizontally inverted).
- Bubble Bobble had this in the secret rooms.
- The NES version of Bubble Bobble Part 2 had the word "Bonus" in this font in its Bonus Stages.
- Ultima had a bunch of such scripts; even That Other Wiki has an article on them.
- Simlish from The Sims has a substitution cipher, too. It resembles Greek, and also uses astrological symbols and such. Enterprising modders have created a TrueType font for it.
- In The Sims 2, TV programs and commercials clearly use the Wingdings font.
- The Mr. Saturns in EarthBound use this, along with several verbal tics.
- Final Fantasy X uses an extremely stylized script in some places, such as the screen when choosing a destination for the Fahrenheit.
- Aquaria does this; clues are given on the opening screen, where the 'runic' alphabet is slowly replaced by the Latin one. Players who didn't want to translate the script could overwrite the graphics file for the runic text with the Latin variant, at the expense of immersion.
- In Tales of the Abyss, signs on shops and inns, as well as a subtitle under the name of any new area you enter, are written in a weird script with curly foreign letters. Said script can actually be downloaded as a typeface.
- Similarly, any time you enter a new location for the first time in Tales of Vesperia, the location name has a subtitle written in the game's written language under it. Said language is actually stylished English with the letters rotated 90 degrees.
- The marker/unitology text from the Dead Space series.
- Rescue on Fractalus!: The low resolution makes it not immediately obvious, but the Jaggi lettering is English turned sideways.
- The glyph tablets in Golden Sun: Dark Dawn appear to use this for the language of the ancients, though by the time you see much of it, you have the Glyph Book to translate it automatically. One fan tried to make a useable font of it, but couldn't find a Q-equivalent glyph.
- Alpabe runes in Unicorn Jelly partially follow this trope, since they include a mixture of Latin, Greek and Hebrew characters (and possibly some other real-world alphabets).
- In The Adventures of Dr. McNinja: Death Volley, the inscription on the plaque in front of the temple, translated from dwarf runes, reads: "This sphinx will shoot fucking laser eyes if you donat (sic) ..."
- The Racconan script from Tales of the Questor
- The language of magic in Arthur, King of Time and Space is English written in Greek script. Translating the incantations reveals them to be appropriate lines from 20th century sources.
- The same thing happens in Bar'd, but this time Vas is merely filtering his speech to sound more animal-friendly.
- clanBOB comic Grumble features this in all characters, sounds, sound effects, and titling. It's kinda the whole point.
- Sorcerous incantations in Keychain of Creation consist of the spell's name (in English) written in Old Realm script.
- Alien Santa and his assimilated elves in Sluggy Freelance used a glyph language similar to Predator.
- Homestuck trolls' language is a reversed Daedric font. Which is unintentionally appropriate, considering how closely they resemble the Dremora from said games.
- There was some kind of demonic ritual/summoning with this in And Shine Heaven Now. It transliterated to something like, "If you can read this you're a nerd."
- The Order of the Stick has Instant Runes in this strip The runes in the first panel reveal a secret message. The message? Bet you thought you had found a secret message in this didn't you?
- The Homestuck Fan Fic A Complete Waste Of Time has, in addition to Alternian Daedric, the Ithican script, which is very flowy and calligraphic. cT initially sets the entire Act 5 recap in it, before realizing the readers wanted a legible version.
- In Roommates English written in runes represents the language of the magical beings. Der Erlkönig speaks this way mostly but his son can use it too (but mostly just swears in it). Odin also used the same alphabet but spoke in German.
- In The Mansion of E, the pidgin language used between Ichyoids and English-equivalent speakers is depicted in this manner.
- In Sinfest, aliens occasionally have this in their Speech Bubbles.
- The Prometheus and Bob alien subtitles, which look like crop circles.
- Futurama had two alien alphabets: One was one-for-one to English, and one was more complex.
- The second was devised when the first one became "too easy".
- Transformers gives us Cybertronix. This was used to insert Easter Eggs or crude jokes; one sentence in Beast Machines said, "If you can read this, seek help." Beast Wars would at times even flash obscenities on screen.
- The Disney film Atlantis introduces us to the protagonist by showing him giving a presentation demonstrating that expeditions to find the book that says where Atlantis is failed because the only piece of evidence was mistranslated, and corrects the substitution cypher from "Coast of Ireland" to "Coast of Iceland."
- This is vaguely excusable since it goes by quickly and is actually unimportant, but less excusable since they had linguist Mark Okrand (of Klingon fame) involved with the film to create the Atlantean language.
- And because it's actually true in real life. The spelling of Iceland and Ireland is in fact off by just one rune.
- My Little Pony series as a whole tend to wobble between the English alphabet and Wingdinglish. Occasionally they'll have English words but at other times they'll have made up letters.
- Friendship is Magic goes with script that looks just enough like the Latin alphabet that it parses as letters, but no so much that it's legible.
- Used in the world of Storm Hawks. Sometimes, if you look closely and you know what it's supposed to say, you can make the connections between the symbols and the Latin letters they represent.
- Certain Japanese characters look like other things if you squint really hard, like windowpanes or swords (Kanji was crated from simplified drawings, actually, and some resemblance remains). Ad execs there know this too, hence stuff like this◊ and this◊.
- Similarly, computer-savvy Chinese teenagers use certain words (or word-like symbols) as emoticons.
- Somewhat related is the fact that quite a few real-life languages use multiple scripts, either systematically like Japanese or depending on the speaker like Hindustani. Indeed, one of the most important ancient languages, Sanskrit, has no fixed script at all and can be correctly written (at the very least) in Brahmi, Devanagari, or Roman writing.
- In English, we have the phonetic scripts of the Shavian alphabet and the Deseret alphabet.