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Starfish Language

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D'awwwww... I think.

Emma: You mean... ?
The Doctor: Yes. I can communicate with the Master by carefully controlled breaking of wind.
Emma: ...Could I be tied to a different chair?

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

♪♩ ♪♫ ♬ ♪ ♪ ♬♩♫.

Um... Yeah.

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.

If weird symbols are used to denote normal letters in otherwise understandable text, that's Wingdinglish. 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, Cypher Language.

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.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Mobile Suit Gundam 00V, Setsuna manages to communicate with a group of Innovators by firing his beam rifle at them. Since the beam is made up of GN particles, it acts as a medium for quantum brainwaves, allowing him to communicate with them telepathically.
  • In Macross Frontier, the Vajra are of the singing variety; communicating through Fold Waves via a special kind of bacteria in their digestive tracts. Being a swarm lifeform in constant mental contact with each other, they didn't even grasp the concept of verbal or visual 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 Pokémon: 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. (Even in the English version they sometimes make animal sounds-for example, Tepig "oinks"-but it's much rarer.) In one episode where Ash became separated from their Pokémon, the Pokémon spoke to each other without any trouble (complete with subtitles in the dub).
    • 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.
  • Puella Magi Kazumi Magica has the witch-magical girl hybrid form of Airi speaking in runic letters in Chapter 6. Most of what Bebe says in Rebellion is nonsensical "mojumejuubacha" noises, conveniently translated by Japanese kana flying out of her face whenever she talks; the only comprehensible words she ever says are "cheese," which she pronounces "camembert," and "Kyubey."
  • 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.
  • Little Witch Academia (2017): One of the magic school professors, Professor Pisces, is actually a fish, and only speaks in bubbles. Her class is by far the hardest on campus, since the language is so difficult. Akko had been taking the class the entire semester, but only finds this out the lecture before the final exam. She had been treating it as a slack-off class. Her ridiculous attempts to butter up Professor Pisces for a better grade result in Professor Pisces getting lost, almost killed, and finally rescued by Akko half-shapeshifted into a fish. Somehow this results in Akko learning the language.
  • In chapter 20 of Kaguya-sama: Love Is War, to demonstrate the language barrier, all unfamiliar French from Shirogane's point of view is portrayed as various shapes in the speech bubbles.
  • Heterogenia Linguistico has the tagline "An Introduction to Interspecies Linguistics", and is all about exploring how different species of monster can cross the language barrier when none of them can make exactly the same sounds (if at all) and all of them use different senses to perceive the world, plus how that all interacts with cultural differences regarding how and when those languages are spoken. Lizardmen can speak werewolf pretty well, but not the other way around, and they physically can't do the olfactory parts. On the other hand, werewolves are illiterate in lizardman writing, since it's based on combinations of colors and they're colorblind. (Lizardmen incidentally have no concept of visual art — they just try to read it and get confused.) However, this means lizardmen get along well with kraken, who communicate by changing colors, and...
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (2016), the Oocca's Sky Language is rendered as cursive scribbles, although the words are written phonetically when Shad speaks to Ooccoo.

    Audio Plays 
  • Big Finish Doctor Who': In "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.

    Comic Books 
  • Hepzibah of the Marvel Universe's Starjammers comes from a race that communicates using pheromones. The kicker? Humans can't detect them. However, 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 the 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.
  • Ultimate Marvel
    • The Ultimates: The Chitauri can speak in English with no problem, but when they are among themselves they use their own language. Which is kind of a problem when the Ultimates get their Doomsday Device, but the instructions to turn it off are written in alien.
    • The Ultimate Vision was built to warn alien cultures of Gah Lak Tus. In a case of Crazy-Prepared, she (yeah, Vision's a "she" in this continuity) can communicate with chemical enzymes, gravitational flux, microwaves, spacetime tears, and so on. All of which comes in handy when she fights one of Gah Lak Tus' components:
    "I'm going to talk Gah Lak Tus to death."
  • 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" (and even more so with "We... are... Groot"). Initially, only Rocket is able to make out what he's saying but by the second film all the Guardians understand him without issue.
  • The Enelsians from Astro City. Their speech amongst themselves is represented by alien glyphs... which are actually part of a cypher in English. Translating what they are really saying is a fun little puzzle, if you have the time.
  • 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.
  • 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 the 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 Natives of Copperhead speak in harsh runes that are never translated and don't even get speech bubbles; it's treated like a sound effect in an alien language.
  • The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye: Chirolinguistics is an obscure Cybertronian language "spoken" by holding hands and stimulating the nerve-circuits in each other's fingers, palms, and wrists through tiny movements of the same.
    • There's an earlier example, too, appearing in Wheelie's Spotlight issue. Stranded on a planet whose natives' language seems untranslatable for a time, it turns out they can only understand people who talk in rhyme.

    Comic Strips 
  • The Mercurians in Dan Dare have mouths that can't form consonants, so their language consists of vowels being sung at different notes. Professor Peabody somehow manages to learn the entire language in about half an hour.

    Fan Works 
  • 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.
  • How Friendship Accidentally Saved Magical Britain: Tom meets the Weasleys' Ford Anglia on the Hogwarts grounds by pure chance, which has become fully sentient during its months spent living in the Forbidden Forest with the other creatures, and he winds up becoming fluent in "car", a language that consists of headlight blinks and horn honks, as it regales him about its life in the forest and assures Tom that he need not learn how to drive, because it knows how to drive and fly itself, thank you very much.
  • In Intelligence Factor, Ludicolo communicate through dancing, while Roserade convey simple messages through scent. Porygon2 communicate with each other through encryption that even the Universal Translator has trouble understanding. Malamar communicate by flashing lights on their bodies.
  • 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, 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".
  • Shadows over Meridian: The Lurdens' and Mogriffs' respective natural languages are composed of growls, roars and shrieks that are unintelligible to the more humanoid races.

    Films — Animation 
  • 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 Croods: A New Age has Guy revealing he speaks the language of the Punch Monkeys, only he prefers not to because "it's an ugly one". And given it consists of hitting and getting hit, he has a reason for it.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Heptapods in Arrival communicate using circular characters with subtle and complex variations in their patterns. By learning their language one can begin to experience time in a circular, rather than strictly linear, fashion. Unlike the original short story, the linguists never manage to decipher their spoken language, as this would likely take away from the suspense and the uncertainty about the aliens' intentions. It turns out their written language is their gift to us in order to allow us to perceive the future. They already know that, in 3000 years, they will need our help in return, making this a Stable Time Loop.
  • Men in Black II:
    • J communicates with an alien through beatboxing. The alien is 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.
  • Men in Black 3 also has O giving an alien-language eulogy that's a bunch of shrill cries something like a cross between howler monkeys and various tropical birds.
  • 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.
  • Splash: Madison's ultrasonic native tongue can shatter glass.
  • 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 C-3PO to interpret for them.
      • The most prominent (and famous) example would be the conversations between Han Solo and Chewbacca. Humans are physically unable to speak Shiriwook (the language of the Wookies) and vice-versa, Wookies cannot properly vocalize Galactic Basic. Han and Chewie know both languages, though, so they just answer to each other in their respective languages.
      • Solo has Han actually use Shiriwook to convince Chewbacca (whom he has just met) to not kill him. The subtitles indicate that Han's grammar is at You No Take Candle levels; he just barely gets his point across to Chewie using metaphor. It is hard to say if Han's grasp of the language was just that elementary or if Han's could not pronounce it right, but the noises Han would have to make to speak the language regularly would surely begin hurting his throat.
    • In the Extended Universe, the Twi'lek, along with the ability to learn any language that humans can, also have a completely separate 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 Peter Mayhew's natural 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 old 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.
    • Certain droids like R2-D2 and BB-8 communicate with a series of high-pitched beeps of varying pitches, but most main characters can still understand them, the Running Gag being that Finn is the only one who can't. It is considered its own language, however, as C-3PO can interpret and translate the droid-beeps when necessary.
  • 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 MegaCorp. By the time the movie takes place, however, the humans who regularly work with the aliens have apparently managed to learn their language, and vice versa, so the film is full of Bilingual Dialogue.
  • 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 (extinct In-Universe by the early 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. Originally, no one knew what the ear-piercing screeches that the probe was emitting were, until Spock had the bright idea of running them through a water environment filter, making them sound like whale song.
  • 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.
  • The Human Aliens and their Ridiculously Human Robots in Moscow — Cassiopeia initially communicate through a series of short whistles that are incomprehensible to humans. They are, however, understood by the translation devices worn by humans. It's stated by one crewmember in her log that the human ear is incapable of telling the whistles apart. Fortunately, the aliens and the robots are quick learners and switch to Russian fairly quickly (to the point where all robots communicate in Russian even if they're talking to one another with no humans present). The robots also quickly pick up human mathematical symbols, even though (a + b)2 should look like gibberish to them without proper references. The aliens' own written language looks like a series of lines, crossing one another at 45- and 90-degree angles. When reading them, an alien appears to use his palm as a reading aid by turning it to follow the line.
  • In Battle Beyond the Stars, Caymin has two henchmen of the Kelvin race who communicate by radiating heat. Their excitement to greet Nanelia causes them to almost burn her, and they later weaponize it against a Malmori tank using sonic cannons (since the Kelvins also have no ears).
  • The Marvels (2023): The people of Aladna can only communicate by singing and can't understand normal speech. Prince Yan is "bilingual" for being able to speak plainly to the heroines.

  • The Basque language of the Pyrenees is unrelated to any other language on Earth, and notoriously hard to learn. According to the Basques, who take great pride in its near-Starfish qualities, the Devil himself once tried to learn the language and mastered only three words, presumably the words needed to express his opinion of the effort. One account holds that the three words were "Amore ematen dut"—I give up.

  • Ursula K. Le Guin has a couple of examples:
    • 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 Pegasus (2010), 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 Keys to the Kingdom (Grim Tuesday), the Mariner, Captain Tom Shelvocke, refers to the starship Helios as having probably been copied from "๑๑๑๑๑๑๑๑ or ÆΩ∂∞ƒ‡." The human (for now) hero, Arthur, is unsure whether these are the names of worlds, countries, or beings.
  • Newspeak from Nineteen Eighty-Four. It's a grossly simplified version of English with just about all of its words being compound words. And it has no parts of speech; a word can be a noun, verb, adjective, or an adverb. Also, it has no articles and words can be interpreted in many ways. Of course, this is because its goal is to keep people stuck in a Mind Rape happy Communist-Fascist Crapsack World and they need to be able to speak, perform, and hear two paradoxical concepts at the same time without being weirded out by the Mind Screw. Its only saving grace is that it uses English grammatical structure.
  • Several from the Star Trek Novel 'Verse. The Vahni Vahltupali communicate visually, flashing patterns across their skin. They can even "sing". The Citoac, meanwhile, communicate by using sounds of a pitch that stimulates the brain of another being, directly influencing their neurology. Efrosian language is music-based, and they can describe complex equations, schematics and diagrams by humming. The languages of several aquatic races such as the Alonis are also musical.
  • In The Dragon Below, 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 The Wheel of Time, wolves communicate in howls and telepathy and primarily deal with smells and images. According to Perrin, human tongues just can't compare. For instance, his name to them is given as "Young Bull", but it's actually an image of a huge bull with the blade of the axe that he uses for much of the series in place of its horns, as well as a series of smells, and the wolf "Hopper"'s actual name is a memory of a wolf pup jumping and snapping at birds, trying to learn to fly.
  • 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.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy:
    • To Arthur Dent, the Vogons' spoken language initially sounds like somebody trying to gargle with mouthwash while fending off a pack of howling wolves. Then Arthur has a Babel fish put into his ear, and it suddenly becomes intelligible.
    • Dolphins' warnings of the earth's impending destruction were mistaken for their trying to perform tricks.
  • 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.)
  • Alliance/Union:
    • The language of the Knnn race in the Chanur Novels, 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.
    • In Forty Thousand in Gehenna, the native inhabitants of the world humans call Gehenna communicate using patterns made by arranging the ground itself, both small stacked pebbles and massive earthworks.
  • 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 that come out of their 'heads' in a little fountain, and working out a way to translate them into speech 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. Interestingly, their spoken language is far simpler but doesn't provide nearly as much insight into their worldview. The short story has been adapted into the film Arrival.
  • 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.
    • In At the Mountains of Madness, the Elder Things communicate by making piping sounds with their multiple breathing tubes.
    • In "The Shadow Out of Time", the Great Race of Yith click their claws together to produce their equivalent of speech.
    • In "The Whisperer in Darkness", 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 involves the human party going incurably mad, one way or another.
    • In "In the Walls of Eryx", the native Venusians communicate by waving the tentacles that hang from their chests and can even "laugh" with them, for lack of a better term.
  • Ender's Game:
    • 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. To be sure, the higher-ups in the International Fleet suspected that the Buggers may be trying to communicate, but without an ability to understand them, they have to proceed as if they're not.
    • In Children of the Mind, 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.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • 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.
    • The Ssi-Ruuk language mostly consists of whistles, clicks and hisses, but is extremely tonal, to the point that the same sound at different pitches or modulated in different ways can represent completely different phonemes. One human character wears himself to the bone trying to combine music notation and text to create an alphabet which can be used to write Ssi-Ruuk for human consumption.
    • Muun supposedly consists entirely of two sounds, "um" and "eh", said at various pitches to create compound words. It's similar to droid Binary and Muuns consider it to be "mathematically perfect." It didn't evolve naturally even In-Universe, though, and most Muuns are also fluent in Basic.
  • H. Beam Piper:
    • Little Fuzzy 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.
  • In The First Men in the Moon, the lunar-dwelling, insectoid Selenites communicate through piping whistles and cricket-like chirps, 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 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".
  • In The Lord of the Rings, 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).
  • Robert A. Heinlein:
    • The Mother Thing from Have Spacesuit Will Travel sings when she speaks, and only the person she is speaking to can understand what she's saying.
      Kip: I called [another alien] Joe and he called me the leitmotif that meant "Clifford Russell, the monster with the frostbite."
    • In Stranger in a Strange Land, 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.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events: The weird noises that baby Sunny makes are treated like this, with her siblings understanding her perfectly.
  • A partial example: "The [Widget], the [Wadget], and Boff" by Theodore Sturgeon is written as if partially translated from an alien language. The occasional word or phrase appears surrounded by double square brackets (as in the title), 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.
  • My Teacher Is an Alien has fun with this — many aliens can speak audibly, but some communicate 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 is also able to work with. Other examples from the 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 West of Eden 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 Nursery Crime speak in Binary. While they helpfully render it as 0s and 1s for humans, full-speed binary sounds like cloth tearing, and humanity's foremost expert converses as well as a programmable toaster.
  • China Miéville has a few examples:
    • 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.
  • Commonwealth Saga:
    • 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 Ambergris 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.
  • The alien protagonists of "What Is This Thing Called Love?" communicate by changing their color. Translation Convention is in effect for the audience, but to communicate with the human test subjects, one alien demonstrates their ability to make "modulated sound waves".
  • In Memoirs Of A Spacewoman by Naomi Mitchison, the narrator, a Terran linguist, is challenged by actual starfish-shaped aliens, who instinctively think in terms of five choices, not two. Dates to 1962, and may be the Trope Namer.
  • 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 Nomes 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.
  • John Scalzi has a couple of examples:
    • In The Android's Dream, the race of aliens who have benignly colonized Earth can speak English, but their primary form of communication is through pheremonal mixtures far too subtle for humans to pick up. In an interesting take on this, at the start of the novel, a politician who has been gravely insulted by the primary alien diplomat figures out how to speak this language himself so he can insult the alien in an important meeting without being detected. He does this with a device that alters the chemical composition of his farts. It helps that the alien diplomat in question is known for frequently attacking humans, whose scents he misinterprets as insults, refusing to believe that humans can't modulate their smells (all human diplomats are instructed to shower and scrub themselves before meeting these aliens and to avoid using deodorant).
      Dirk Moeller didn't know if he could fart his way into a major diplomatic incident. But he was ready to find out.
    • The Yherajk in Agent to the Stars communicate exclusively through very strong odors, although some have learned to produce sound with their gelatinous bodies and speak English. They are considerate enough to make noseplugs for any human who visits their ship, and even those can be overwhelmed by "loud" conversations of thousands of crewmembers. They also have something called "tivis", which are "smell paintings" of sorts, and are designed to trigger certain emotions in all those who sniff them. Surprisingly, they also work on humans despite our completely different biology.
  • Known Space setting contains several examples.
    • The Kzinti's Hero's Tongue is a fairly sedate example, in that it's got a fairly regular structure despite consisting of a series of hisses, screams and snarls — a heated argument between four Kzinti is described as sounding like "a major cat war, with atomics".
    • The Outsiders communicate with colored light.
    • Pierson's Puppeteers have a highly complex musical language note  meant to be spoken/sung with two throats at the same time.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Parseltongue is the language of snakes, and a few humans known as Parselmouths can understand and speak it too. This ability is usually hereditary but can also be transferred via magic — for example, Voldemort accidentally shared his Translator Microbes (via a fragment of his own soul) with infant Harry when trying to kill him. Some non-Parselmouths like Albus Dumbledore have also learned to understand the language, and Ron Weasley manages to mimic the Parseltongue password to the Chamber of Secrets at one point (though his imitation of the password just sounds like unintelligible hissing to Harry).
    • Mermish normally sounds like painful screeching, but water functions as Translator Microbes and allows humans to understand it. As with Parseltongue, humans can also learn to understand Mermish without the use of Translator Microbes; one such human is — you guessed it — Albus 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 that 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 Side Jobs 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.
  • Discworld: 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 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. Earlier in the same novel, humans at one point muse that if they were in an SF novel, they were in a perfect place to meet an alien with a universal translator, or better yet, a telepath.
  • In "A !Tangled Web (1981)", 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 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 accommodate the wide variety in vocal apparati; humans can only speak Gal 7. 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 Humanx Commonwealth 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.
  • The Jan in Alien in a Small Town have a natural sonar sense, and communicate by projecting a rough approximation of the echoes that different objects would give off. The author acknowledges that the idea first appeared in the novel A Deeper Sea by Alexander Jablokov — a novel in which this is how whales and dolphins communicate.
  • From Peter Pan and most adaptations, one particularly iconic example of this trope is Tinker Bell's fairy language, which sounds like... well... a tinkling bell.
  • The Starfish Aliens discovered under the surface of Amalthea in Venus Prime communicate through various clicks and booms, being an aquatic species. Sparta's vocal cords have been modified to allow her to make those sounds, and she has been taught the language. The Big Bad, however, is forced to use his hands to make some of the sounds by snapping his fingers and clapping his hands. He's still pretty fluent in the language.
  • The language developed in Janusz Zajdel's story "Paradyzja" is a heavily bastardized language spoken on a supposed space station. Due to the place being wired with an all-seeing, all-hearing AI which filters "disloyal" words, residents cobble together something known as "koalang" (associative-allusive language). The words have no inherent meaning, and everything is based on loose associations: for example, the sentence "I dreamt about blue angels last night carelessly" means "Police tried to search my place last night, but they were careless and woke me up". As one of the characters says, "everyone becomes an abstract poet by neccesity".
  • Cakes in Space: Astra notes that the Poglites' language, when she turns her translator off, sounds like belching.
  • The Director from That Hideous Strength talks to the eldils using a language that causes a primordial, heart-felt longing in Jane for a day long past the she doesn't remember. She can't recall the sound of it, but a reader of the rest of the The Space Trilogy should be able to figure out the language is Old Solar, the lingua franca of the Solar System that humanity corrupted and forgot millennia ago.
  • Aliens in Axiom's End have three kinds of language: a "vocal" one made of clicking sounds spoken through the vents in the sides of their neck, a sort of telepathy that they usually prefer, and the incredibly intimate High Language, a more evolved form of telepathy that Ampersand (the main alien in the book) can’t even begin to explain to Cora. When Cora similarly fails to explain what a piece of music she plays expresses, Ampersand takes that as the closest point of comparison.
  • Lensman:
    • Played with. The Lens is the perfect translator, especially when dealing with those races which are exclusively telepathic and have no spoken language at all, but sometimes it comes across a concept that simply doesn't translate between two species and then it will form a neologism which is forever after associated with that concept.
    • Played more straight in Triplanetary, in which the Nevians finally realize why their attempts to communicate with their human prisoners are getting nowhere and build a frequency changer to make each side's speech audible to the other. For his part, Costigan dips out on trying to teach the Nevians "the senseless intricacies of English", settling for the common constructed Triplanetarian language already agreed between humans, Venusians and Martians.
  • Haruhi Suzumiya:
    • Starfish Non-Corporeal Thought Entity "Data Overmind" does not communicate through language. Since humans do, it created the interfaces who basically act as mediums for it.
    • The Sky Canopy Domain is even worse. At least the Overmind figured out a pretty reliable method to talk to humans. This one? Its spokesman saying "You... have... pretty... eyes..." over a period of about 20 seconds is considered a remarkable advance for it. Their interface gets better at talking in the novel 10 teaser though. The reason they were unable to talk very well with humans initially is explained mostly due to the fact that they're Starfish Aliens to the Overmind itself. The respective interfaces of the two meeting briefly when the Canopy Domain tries to (kill?) Kyon. and talking for a few minutes is considered an amazing leap forward.
  • 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."
  • In Karl Schroeder's Permanence, aliens can only communicate with humans *and other alien species* with the assistance of artificial intelligence. This is a major plot point, as it's one reason different species cannot get along and are destined to war with each other. Except for a few exceptions, hidden by the powers that be.
  • In The Divine Comedy, Nimrod can only speak and understand gibberish that not even the other giants can understand. This is presumably his punishment for trying to build the Tower of Babel and confusing the world's languages.
  • In Incandescence, the Splinterites are insectoid aliens who communicate by drumming their legs on their stomachs.
  • In Transpecial, all ky'iin languages rely on movements as well as sounds, making them impossible to decipher with audio recordings alone. Unfortunately, most humans instinctively respond with fear and aggression to the ky'iin's body language. It's hoped that Suza, who doesn't respond to the ky'iin the same way as other humans because she's autistic, can help develop a pidgin that consists entirely of sound so all humans can communicate with the ky'iin without wanting to attack them.
  • Book of the New Sun: The Ascians are humans who speak English (that is, whatever language is analogous to English a million years into the future), but they communicate exclusively by quoting excerpts from political literature approved by their totalitarian government. Only young children still speak normally. This is because the Ascian government believes that Language Equals Thought, and therefore that turning regurgitated propaganda into a language makes dissent psychologically impossible. It also means that Ascian is a highly contextual language that's generally only intelligible to people who spend a lot of time with Ascians.

    Live-Action TV 
  • An Angel episode had a demon species who had no lips or tongue, and communicated with teeth-chattering similar to Morse code.
  • Several examples from Babylon 5:
    • 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 Shadow language is appropriately insectlike, with inclusions of otherworldy whistling, whispering and rustling. The species' true name supposedly has 10.000 sounds in it.
    • The one onscreen appearance of the Vree (in the first-season episode "Grail") establishes that they speak a language that involves both visible symbols and very difficult-to-interpret (for humans, anyway) speech. The Vree language requires a specially trained translator; as humans are still suing over their ancestors' supposed kidnapping and experimentation by the Vree, they are presumably in high demand.
    • The pak'ma'ra and the Gaim seem unable to speak any other language and they communicate using electronic translators. Probably because their mouths are very different to most humanoid species (the Gaim's head looks like that of an ant and the pak'ma'ra like a squid, the sounds they make are coherent with their look). This becomes a problem when a pak'ma'ra joins the Anla-Shok (esentially Knights IN SPACE!) as they are expected to be fluent in at least three languages, not including their native tongue.
  • One episode of Charmed reveals that Whitelighters have their own clicking language, although apparently "Piper" doesn't get translated. This is never referenced again, and another episode shows them as fluent in whatever language(s) their charges speak.
  • Crystal Balls, a one-off programme where Griff Rhys Jones riffed on old examples of science fiction prediction, included a short piece from The '50s 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 recognize the shape of a constellation?
  • Curiosity Shop has the Onomatopoeia, who, befitting his name, speaks in sound effects such as shatters, crashes, and foghorns.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Zarbi communication in "The Web Planet" is a mixture of a shrill, pulsing chirping noise created by rubbing their legs together, and dancing. Unlike every other alien language in the series it is not translated, as they have intelligence roughly equivalent to that of cows.
    • "The Ambassadors of Death" featured an alien species who communicated by directly transmitting and receiving electromagnetic radiation. This was made worse by the fact that they used hard ionising radiation, at intensities such that a friendly greeting fired directly at a human would instantly kill them.
    • The Third Doctor shows off at one point by "speaking" in the Delphon language, which uses only eyebrow twitches.
    • Parodied in the Comic Relief special The Curse of Fatal Death: The Doctor and the Master are primarily fluent in a fart-based language (see above).
      Emma: Planet of the bottom-burpers... So what happened to them?
      The Doctor: They discovered fire.
    • The Judoon, the anthropomorphic rhino goons for the Shadow Proclamation, speak in staccato strings of syllables that rhyme with "go".
    • The Hath in "The Doctor's Daughter" communicate by blowing bubbles.
    • "Flatline": The Twelfth Doctor and Clara encountered the two-dimensional Boneless, who communicated with numbers and used their number language to gloat about the humans they'd killed — or were about to.
  • 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.)
  • 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 "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!
  • In Seaquest DSV the dolphin Darwin has his communication translated by a computer, which works fine for simple concepts like physical objects and transitive verbs most of the time, but the difficulty in translating abstractions is a frequent plot point. At the end of one episode, the computer gives a mystifying translation "Darkness fills" for something Darwin said. Captain Bridger muses that this might be an attempt to communicate a complex concept like an emotional state which the computer is unable to interpret sufficiently. In another episode, an illness temporarily makes Darwin able to communicate telepathically; the communications officer mentions that he's fluent in several languages and can get by in several more, but Darwin's thoughts "feel like it's coming at right angles."
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • The Unas from provided one of the few chances for Daniel to actually flex his translation muscles in a series otherwise filled with Aliens Speaking English.
    • The Asgard language uses old Norse runes for its alphabet, but the spoken language is indecipherable even to Daniel. In Real Life, it's really just normal English speech sped up and played in reverse.
    • The Goa'uld language is based on ancient Demotic, so is closer to Aliens Speaking English, even though it is a dialect that hasn't been heard on Earth for over two thousand years.
    • While the spoken language of the Ancients is close to the Proto-Indo-European language, its writing system looks to be based on a tactile alphabet. In-universe the Ancient language evolved into Latin on Earth.
  • A couple of Star Trek episodes across the board have defied the series' Rubber-Forehead Aliens standards, incorporating this trope in the process.
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation had "Darmok," which involved a race whose language translated incompletely: they appeared to speak entirely in metaphors whose significance was unknown to Starfleet. The automatic translator could translate the phrases literally, but without the historical or mythological context the meaning was lost. (Yes, yes, an entire race of tropers.)
      • Another had a race of highly advanced Starfish Aliens that had a completely untranslatable language. Fortunately they were able to learn a number of alien languages and just spoke to the crew in English.
    • Star Trek: Enterprise had an episode where Hoshi Sato and friends tried to translate a tough alien language. She never succeeded. The Enterprise was about to just give up when it turned out that the spacefaring aliens had been spending that time learning English. Additionally, two of the Xindi races are Insectoids and Aquatics. Naturally, they speak in chitters and whale-like song, respectively.
    • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had the Breen. Their speech sounded like digital nonsense and static but was easily understood by their Collective allies. They are a mysterious species who wear refrigeration suits despite living on a planet with a mild temperature.
    • Deep Space Nine also has the Skrreea, a race of refuges whose language is so complex and alien, the universal translator has difficulty making it understandable. It takes several hours for the universal translator to make communication possible (it doesn't hurt that the Skrreea are very chatty, giving plenty of opportunity for the universal translator to translate).
    • 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 Taelons in Earth: Final Conflict have a weird, three-dimensional written language that it's impossible for non-augmented humans to understand, and extremely difficult even for augmented ones to learn.
  • The Mor-tax in War of the Worlds (1988) speak a mixture of English ("speak as the body would speak") and Mor-taxian. Although a thorough lexicon wasn't developed, the Mor-taxian version of their catchphrase, "To Life Immortal" was consistently presented as "tu doe nok tay".

    Tabletop Games 
  • Blue Planet: Cetacean (and Beluga, which evolved independently) is based on sound-composition describing things by their underwater acoustic properties, supplemented loosely with words. Composition is an art that varies by species, regional dialect, individual skill, the position of the listener, and how fast the speaker is swimming, amongst other things; humans can't understand it at all, and even cetacean-designed translation software is prone to output errors.
  • Cerulean Seas: Some languages can only be spoken and understood by select species, due to limitations of either body or vocal range.
    • Clickclack, the language of the karkanaks, is comprised entirely of clicking sounds.
    • Cetaceans speak Ceti, a language whose range of tones extends into the subsonic and ultrasonic range, which cannot be heard by other races.
    • Squid speak Cephalite, which uses multiple limbs, rapid skin flushes, colour patterns and posturing. Photok, the native language of the asteraks, is similar to Cephalite except that it uses a series of flashing lights.
    • Sharks and rays' Pelagic language is based on scent and pheromones. Only pisceans and scream dragons are capable of learning it.
    • The Medusian language of trueform jellyfish consists primarily of flashing bioluminescence.
  • Traveller: The Hivers 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.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • The Vespids 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 how they developed translation devices without understanding their language and psychology is unexplained.
    • 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. Their native language also has a heavy reliance on allusions to Eldar mythology. They also rely heavily on non-verbal communication (especially psychic, since psychic ability is a universal trait among Eldar), to the point where they can hold conversations without speaking a single word. Exaggerated with their writing system, which is composed of runes, scripts and hierograms that represent concepts rather than letters.
    • 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.
    • Galgs do not possess mouths and thus can't speak the languages of most other species. Instead, they communicate through noises made through the motions of their tentacles. Other aliens are generally likewise unable to speak the galgs' language, although kroot can produce a passable imitation by shaking the spines on their heads.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Back in the day, the game 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). Thus, 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.
    • Planescape:
      • The Dabus 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.
      • 3rd edition's Planewalker's Handbook mentions that the language of the Modrons (the embodiments of order) is so alien it requires two skill points instead of the normal one to learn. It's not actually described. On the opposite side, an unofficial fan-created description of the language of the Slaadi (embodiments of chaos) described it as almost impossible to understand. There were no general nouns, and a study of the language ended up suggesting that Slaadi individuals exist in non-integer numbers when they're not interacting with other beings.
      • Other outsider races have similarly odd languages. Demons communicate telepathically, but not with words — they use ideas or concepts which can burn into a listener's brain. They can also speak vocally, ranging from barks and yelps to something akin to ocean waves overlaid with an angry wasp nest. No two demons speak the same language, and the best they can hope to do is understand most of what another is saying.
      • Devils, on the other hand, have a language divided into four castes and the highest form of it is explicitly stated to almost be beyond comprehension, capable of causing hatred or despair in listeners. Its written form is the lines and symbols used to create summoning circles — basically, the only thing standing between you and a conjured fiend is your argument written in their language. It's described as simultaneously sounding like "a barking hound, an eloquent verse, the squeal of slate and steel, and the subtle smell of hatred."
    • 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.
    • Illithids 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.
    • The aboleth language is a complex tongue meant to be spoken from multiple mouths, as aboleths use the numerous orifices on their sides to produce sounds. An aboleth's oratory skill is directly tied to how many lateral orifices it has, as this determines how many words it can form — individual aboleths can have anywhere between two and twelve — and other beings who attempt to speak are usually either limited to a small set of simple words or have to use wind instruments such as flutes, bagpipes or tubas to imitate the complex harmonics of a speaking aboleth.
    • The grell language makes minimal use of vocal components, instead consisting chiefly of delicate manipulations of the speaker's bioelectric field — non-electrosensitive creatures are fundamentally incapable of "speaking" or understanding it.
    • Although never mentioned in an official game product, a Dragon article on the mechanics of AD&D infravision surmises 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. Which might explain the "Drow Sign Language" that shows up in later editions.
  • 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.
  • Ops And Tactics:
    • Kobolds are capable of full communication via fine, rapid nose twitches. As this is a racial ability rather than a language, it's not possible for an individual of any other race to learn to understand what a kobold is communicating.
    • With the exception of the Open Source Language, the languages in the synthetic language group can only be learned by synthetics, and translation software will struggle considerably to translate between synthetic and non-synthetic languages. The suggestions for representing the language include "lines of programming code, rapid beeps and blips, flashes of various colored lights, and binary code".

    Video Games 
  • In the Half-Life series, the Vortigaunts speak a language that involves both the participants in a conversation speaking and listening to each other at the same time, implying that the language centre of their brains is much more highly developed than that of humans. Vortigese is totally incomprehensible to humans; something of the feel of it is conveyed in the Episodes, where groups of Vortigaunts speaking English tend to step on the ends of each other's lines.
    • They're also implied to use extra dimensions (both in space and time) to communicate with each other over great distances; one apologises for using this method in front of humans, claiming "It is rude of us to commune by flux shifting in front of those whose vortal inputs are impaired."
    • They're also seem to have a telepathic link across their entire species. The Nihilath used it to enslave them all, while La Résistance in Half-Life 2 uses it to gain vital intelligence on Combine installations whenever a Vortigaunt is captured. Furthermore, one even suggests that they can "reincarnate" into a new body after they die, using the link:
      The All-Knowing Vortigaunt: "What seems to you a sacrifice is merely, to us, an oscillation. We do not fear the interval of darkness".
  • The Markers from the Dead Space series communicate with humans by showing them visions of their departed loved ones. It is implied that whatever lifeform designed them was radically different, and that this is the best they can come up with to bridge the language gap. It doesn't help that humans almost invariably go insane in their presence.
    • Dead Space 2 reveals that it's more a matter of intelligence and education. Stupid people go insane from the signal, while smart ones see diagrams and symbol patterns, and are consumed by an irrepressible urge to recreate the Marker for "Convergence" or otherwise do the artifact's bidding. It's speculated that the whole EarthGov project dedicated to the Markers is actually under this influence.
    • 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 Meier's Alpha Centauri Expansion Pack Alien Crossfire gives us Progenitors, who communicate primarily through the modification of electromagnetic fields and must research human psychology (or the other way around) before diplomatic relations can be opened. Even then their speech is rendered in a Strange-Syntax Speaker way. Also, recorded quotes of their leaders have some strange sounds in the background, implying it's part of their "Resonance".
  • 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.
  • Halo:
    • The Kig'yar/Jackals/Skirmishers communicate among themselves and with the rest of the Covenant with screeching noises. Its implied that Translator Microbes are the only means that other Covenant races can understand them.
    • Jiralhanae/Brutes have a very animalistic language consisting of howls, grunts, barks and roars. The Unggoy/Grunts also have a similar language of bark, yips and squeaks, but are also noted as somehow being capable of learning any language including Human languages. They are the only ones who are truly speaking English in the games, while the Sangheili/Elites and the Jiralhanae are using Translator Microbes, and in both Halo: Reach and Halo 4, they are speaking Sangheili (The language of the Elites) which is the Lingua Franca of the Covenant as a whole.
    • The Yanme'e/Drones communicate through a mix of clicking/whining from rubbing their wings, various shrieks and screeches, and pheromones. They usually need a specialized Drone to act as a translator when working with other species, making them this trope even to the rest of the Covenant.
    • The Biomechanical Huragok/Engineers speak a language that is a combination of whale song humming and bird chirps. They also have their own Sign Language that can be learned by other species.
    • As revealed in Halo: Broken Circle, the San'Shyuum/Propehts have their own sign language in addition to a normal language (which in Halo 2 sounds like Gregorian chanting). Unlike real life sign language where one sign usually means one word, the signs in their version which only require a single hand, are an entire sentence or phrase usually of the poetic variety. Most San'shyuum tend to speak using both the sign language and their vocal language, allowing them to secretly communicate with one another since the other Covenant species are incapable of understanding their signing.
  • 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 colors also appear to be part of their language. The only way they can communicate with other species is by possessing recently dead.
    • 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 Shroobs in Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time. Their speech bubbles are filled with a strange alien text, although one word in particular is repeated; it translates to "Destroy". Only the Elder Shroob Princess is able to speak English, albeit with a Caps Lock.
  • 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 Prime 2: Echoes 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. Driving home how alien this language is is that Samus requires Translator Modules from the Luminoth themselves in order to operate some of their devices, something which the Scan Visor compensates for in literally every other instance.
  • 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. As of Season 11, they have introduced a translator that sounds like text-to-speech software.
  • In Fallout: New Vegas, the tribe Ulysses originally belonged to was known as the Twisted Hairs. Being Dreadlock Warriors, they would wear their hair in specific patterns of braids and decorations to communicate various things like personality traits and badges of honour, to such an advanced degree that it was a language of sorts. To such a degree that when his new tribe, the White Legs, began copying Ulysses' hairstyle in honour of him, it not only greatly offended him but left him physically disoriented because their poor attempts to imitate him ended up looking like insane gibberish.
  • In Stellaris, the language of the Prethoryn Scourge proves impossible to translate. Although their memetic "HAK HAK HAK!" needs no translation. In the Utopia expansion, however, it becomes possible to actually communicate with them if you have access to psionics. They're just as genocidally violent toward a psychic civilization, but they indicate that they're on the run from something even worse than they are.
  • The three alien races in Obduction communicate in these. The Mofang at least have a language system fairly close to ours, enabling them to speak English, albeit haltingly (which is your first clue that the “Josef” who contacts you at various points isn’t what he appears to be). The Villein, however, speak in low frequencies that are extremely difficult for humans to hear (and human speech is similarly inaudible to them); translation between the two has been achieved, but largely through the use of mathematics (which is further complicated because the Villein use a base 4 number system). The insect-like Arai, meanwhile, are outright telepaths, and it took considerable time and effort before any humans were able to “hear” them.
  • Fallen London has the Correspondence, some sort of reality-warping language used by the Masters and the other Eldritch Abominations lurking the neath. Hearing it can drive people insane (some creatures even weaponize it for this purpose), and while it can be written down and understood by humans thanks to a Rosetta Stone-esque artifact found early in the game, minor syntax errors can make you burst into flames. It's the language of the stars, and as such is probably meant to be communicated via light. In Sunless Skies, humans use it to allow hyperspace travel.
    • There's also the Discordance, which is some sort of counterpart to the Correspondence. All that's known so far is that it has something to do with the void between stars, and that reading it too much can make your eyeballs freeze over. And then you reach Hurlers Station during the endgame, and things get immensely confusing once you start doing proper studies on it. For if the Correspondence is the language of what Exists, then the Discordance, being its opposite, doesn't even exist in the way we understand things to exist. You need to navigate your way across data that is Not So, and events that Do Not Happen.
  • In Flight Rising, the dragons have a common speech to communicate between species. However, there are two outliers: Fae dragons tend to speak in monotone, using their expressive crests to convey further meaning and emotions and lacking common body language with other species (a difficulty that goes both ways). Meanwhile, Coatl dragons are snake-based, and don't perceive sound the same way other dragons do. They are accordingly the only species that has their own language, which involves humming a series of different pitches at varying intervals, though they can speak a limited amount of Common with great difficulty. The lore notes that while both these species can communicate more-or-less effectively with other species, a Fae and a Coatl trying to communicate with each other are pretty much mutually unintelligible.
  • In Voyage Inspired By Jules Verne, the Selenites speak in a series of flute noises. They're capable of speaking English, they just prefer their own language.
  • In A Hat in Time, the only times you see Hat Kid's actual name is when she writes her signature on The Snatcher's contracts, but it's in her indecipherable alien language.
  • EXA_PICO: the Ar Ciela language is a borderline example: when written down, it's understandable. However, it incorporates pitch and frequency into its spoken grammar, and the range of sounds used in it is over thirty times greater than humans are capable of hearing (the language's actual speakers are the "Wills of the Planet", non-human spiritual beings). In-universe, languages like Carmena Foreluna and Hymmnos were developed partially to even allow humans to take advantage of the magic properties of Ar Ciela.
  • de Blob has two: the Raydians have a written language resembling Kanji-Japanese, and the Inkies write in barcodes. The spoken language is complete gibberish, with some English words (mostly names) still recognizable.
  • The secret teammates you can unlock in certain rare circumstances in Into the Breach communicate incomprehensibly: One speaks in chittering noises that, apart from names, are rendered in consonant-heavy gibberish, while another communicates entirely in dots, dashes and slashes which could mean almost anything.
  • The Board in Control speaks completely unintelligible murmuring, but fortunately, the Hotline will allow you to translate it as subtitles. Unfortunately, it's an inexact translation, usually resulting in the same word having multiple, conflicting meanings. Jesse is referred to as the Director/Pawn/Tool/Asset, for example. The Former is even harder to understand, only managing to make one word out of every two understood, and failing to communicate with those understood words even so.
  • The Nomai, the Precursor-race from Outer Wilds never developed verbal speech, and only communicated through the written word. Their language is written in spirals, with different dialogue and trains of thought branching off of one another, resulting in a structure of nested conversation branching out from a single root. Solanum, the only living Nomai you can encounter, carries a staff with a panel on one end wherein she enters what she wants to say, before pressing the other end to the wall, where her dialogue is then enscribed.
  • One of the games made by Platine Dispositif (the creator of the Gundemonium Series and Bunny Must Die) is a Shoot 'Em Up titled _____ (yes, that's the game's actual title), where everything, including the menus, dialogue and even its true name is written in an indecipherable alien language. Even the game's high score is presented with alien symbols instead of numbers.
  • Terra Invicta plays with this in the Hydra language, particularly in regards to their mind controlling pherocytes. Because pherocyte production is involuntary and relays the Hydra's emotional state to other Hydra, the verbal portion of their language is simpler than any Earth language. A purely verbal communication, without pherocytes to lend emotion, will inevitably be simply, dry, and factual, but it suffices for those who wish to communicate with the Hydra instead of simply fill them with lead.

  • Freefall occasionally implies Sam Starfall's true language is something like this. Him being a Cthulhumanoid is the start, but whenever he takes off his facemask the noises he makes are complete gibberish, and he has somehow found ways to pronounce symbols, including Android systems' "Share" symbol (in the process of describing he has no idea what it means).
  • Grim Tales from Down Below: The language used seems to be that of the demonic Nergal symbiotes that both Junior and Minnie possess.
  • Gunnerkrigg Court: Arbiter Saslamel's dialogue doesn't appear to comport with any sounds that could be made by a human. It's represented by inky lines forming shapes unlike any human alphabet.
  • 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: The insectoid Umiak's natural language is described as "a barrage of clicks and ticks". Moreover, it uses an infamous "stack" structure where a statement ended with a specialized "posit" clause is placed onto a metaphorical "stack" for later reference, with later use of a "pop" clause being equivalent to speaking the entire statement again, either leaving the statement on the stack or removing it depending on which variant is used; a "pop" followed by a number signifies a reference to a statement that number of items further down the stack. Umiak conversations often begin with the speaker rattling off a tremendous number of disjointed thoughts and sentences and referring to them continuously throughout the conversation, adding and removing items as they go, and understanding what's being said requires extremely good memory and the ability to perform flawless arithmetic in one's head. 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.
    Jardin: [hearing Kikitik-27 talking to Stillstorm] The tinny voice speaking Trade seemed clearly to be synthesized... in the background there was a barrage of clicks and ticks, which I presume was the Umiak's own untranslated speech. The harsh sound made my skin crawl.
  • You Suck: The succubus language 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.
  • Schlock Mercenary:
    • In one comic 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.
    • Later comics go into a little more detail with some of the trade languages that serve as a lingua franca for various specied. Galstandard Peroxide has a heavy visual component and is used primarily by tentacled species such as the Schuul and Terran Octopi, but also the floating, balloon like Oafa. Galstandard Brown is used by species that communicate using forms of chemical signalling.
  • Drive (Dave Kellett):
    • The Fillipod language is an extremely complicated, musical tongue that most other species can’t physically speak, since their mouths can't make the "wild undulations" that the Fillipod language relies on.
    • The Nyx language is even worse. It appears to use future tenses that incorporate quantum uncertainty, meaning that normally binary states like on/off and alive/dead are understood as existing on gradients of possibility. Further, the exact meaning of a statement can change seemingly arbitrarily between sentences or even as it is being spoken. Finally, though their language is constantly changing, the Nyx understand everything they say as being the only thing that could possibly have been true at that moment — and if you ask the same question a moment later, they'll give a completely different answer that they'll see as self-evidently the only thing that could have been spoken in that moment. The Nyx find navigating this language as easy as breathing, but other species find it literally impossible to understand it. Even when they speak other languages, they have a strange way of using tenses, often using the future perfect tense at all times, which makes them difficult to understand.
    • The Makers, on the other hand, seem to speak a language that should be pronouncable to most species, but has so many subtleties and context-specific nuances that most Imperial translator implants can only make out one word in ten at best. Even a Fillipod scientist who'd previously shown fluency in several different languages had a My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels result when he tried to speak it.
  • The demons of Demon Eater communicate through a combination of scents, chemical brain matter exchanges, heat sensory and psychic signals, when our main character tries to figure out the human race this is one of the main hurdles for them as our methods of speaking to each other are very different from theirs.
  • Coney the Island in The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob! communicates in voice bubbles full of weird abstract patterns that only Gosh the Butterfly of Iron can understand.
  • Blood is Mine:
    • Nil talks by blanking out thoughts. You have to figure out what it took to understand the messsage, then it will give your thoughts back.
    • Mother's red can speak verbally, but its natural language is a resonance that moves blood.

    Web Original 
    • 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 and the damage they had suffered had simply lowered their voices' pitch.
  • Bosun's Journal: Skylords are gigantic Sky Whales with permanently open, toothless mouths evolved for filtering swarms of food out of the air. In addition to being extremely low-pitched, often well below other species' hearing range, their native language has no consonants and instead consists of prolonged vowel sounds modified using a system of trills and rolling sounds.
  • 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.
  • Dragon Ball Z Abridged: In the adaption of Super Android 13, Android 14 can only communicate in a mechanical shrieking sound that only other Androids can understand. It's because the drivers for his sound card are corrupted, and Dr. Gero couldn't find them on the internet.
  • Played for Laughs in the Society of Virtue episode "Birdman no More", initially the heroes can't understand what the Galactus Expy is saying until Flaring Roach, who got sued by his wife's lawyer realizes the alien is a lawyer using legal jargon to sue them for violating copyright law.
  • This Flash Fiction tweet describes humanity interacting with an alien species that communicates entirely through intricate patterns of touch.
  • 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.

    Western Animation 
  • 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.
    • In the episode Zapp Dingbat, Captain Zapp Brannigan is signing a peace treaty with a diplomat whose species speaks in groans and throaty belch-like noises. Rather than "Congratulations", he tells the ambassador...
    Translator: I'd like to spank your sister with a slice of bologna.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 3-2-1 Penguins!:
    • The light bulb aliens from "Runaway Pride at Lightstation Kilowatt" communicate through beeping and clicking sounds. Kevin was able to understand and translate their language.
    • The Lobes' (basically walking and talking human ears) language from "Compassion Crashin'" consists entirely of the word "Buddha".
  • The Manji tribe from Jumanji: The Animated Series speak a language consisting of clicks, hoots, raspberries and apparently full arm gestures. Humans can learn it, and Alan and Peter do, but to Judy it remains utterly incomprehensible. It also includes five hundred words for pain.
  • Bug-type demons in The Owl House are primarily defined by their ability to commmunicate through dance. King attempts it at one point while trying to figure out what type of demon he is, but he just ends up saying something highly offensive about Hooty's mother by accident.
  • Young Justice (2010): Season 2 introduces two examples in the form of the Kroloteans and the Reach. The Krolotean language consists of various screeching noises, while the language of the Reach consists of insect-like clicking noises. Miss Martian notes that the Kroloteans are "too alien" for her to have an easy time reading their minds without effort. She uses this as an excuse to justify Mind Raping Kroloteans to get information out of them more easily.
  • The Patrick Star Show: In "Dad's Stache Stash", Patrick asks how to pronounce a plaque that's written in an incomprehensible language. Cecil simply answers, "Cousin Fred!"

    Constructed Languages 
  • Ithkuil is an (in)famous artificial language first published in 2004 designed to "express deeper levels of human cognition overtly and clearly, particularly in regard to human categorization, yet briefly". In order to achieve this, its initial incarnation featured a phonological system of 65 consonants, 17 vowels and a god-awfully complex grammar designed to pack as much information, meaning and tone as possible in as little space as possible while removing any ambiguity as to what any given statement means or how it relates to anything else. Even its own designer wasn't a fluent speaker of the language. Its later derivative, Ilaksh, 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 its grammar has been subtly streamlined, with evocative visual aids and explanations. To quote a troper's thoughts on the original:
    "It has so many consonants that even someone who's fluent in Abkhazian will have trouble. It has so many vowels even a native Hawaiian speaker will have trouble. It has stress and tone. The grammar is so complex that every single word is packed with more meaning than an English sentence would: "Oumpeá äx’ääluktëx" means "On the contrary, I think it may turn out that this rugged mountain range trails off at some point." The less said about the writing system the better. Simply understanding the principles that define the rules on which the grammar is based requires formal linguistic training. It's Your Head A-Splode: The Language."
    • Luckily, the language is being updated to make it a bit easier to learn with each revision. The 2011 revision of Ithkuil has 45 consonants and 13 vowels, which is in between the 2004 version and Ilaksh. And as of 2023, the new revision — called "New Ithkuil" — has 32 consonants and 9 vowelsnote , making the vowel inventory on par with Ilaksh. Not only that, its rules are more systematic and regularized than the previous revisions, so that you can learn the language much potentially easier. NOT!
  • 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.
    • This cannot be understated. Computers are bogglingly dumb. They just work very, very quickly. One of the biggest problems new programmers have is wrapping their minds around just how simple a computer really is.
    • And then there are esoteric programming languages, which are Starfish Languages even by the standards of programming languages. The most extreme example likely being Piet, whose programs contain no letters or numbers at all — it is written with colours. And Whitespace doesn't even use those!
  • 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. But even human astronomers have trouble understanding what the Arecibo Message is supposed to mean.
  • 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 solfège 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 the solfège 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, a creation of Denis Moskowitz, is a sign language for tentacled aliens (rikchiks) with no sense of hearing. Humans can't speak it due to having two jointed arms rather than seven flexible tentacles, though they could theoretically learn to understand it. From the rikchiks' perspective, sound-based human languages are even more of a Starfish Language — we communicate over a completely foreign medium.
  • The IS language is being created by an artist who has chosen to include ways to express up to seven levels of abstraction, from "preceding thought" to "Mind of God," antonyms created by reversing a word's phoneme order, and no vocabulary for anything concrete.
  • Ilish is an electricity-based language used by semi-intelligent alien fish. The various Ilish languages (yes, there are different regional dialects) have no nouns, but thousands of pronouns, each system of which represents three-dimensional spatial coordinates surrounding the speaker.
  • Europan, a language made up for a fictional long-extinct species of aquatic aliens on Jupiter's moon Europa. Besides being "spoken" through a combination of bioelectric signals and tentacle configurations, it has the supremely bizarre property of not having a hierarchical sentence structure. While words do form clauses with "parent" and "child" words, there is absolutely no requirement for there to be a "root" node or for all words in a sentence to fit into a single graph. Some Europan sentences have a cyclical structure, with parent-child relations going around in an endless loop.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Aliens Speaking Alien


Alien Languages

Superman calls out Wonder Woman for believing he could understand the Parademon just because he's an alien, only to admit that he DOES understand the language.

How well does it match the trope?

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Main / StereotypeReactionGag

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