Saturday, June 8, 2013

159: Language Synthesis

ENTRY 159: Language Synthesis

Historically, languages were critical components of a transhuman’s identity. The mother tongue helps determine how the brain develops, provides one of the standard identifiers for national and ethnic groups, and can influence the ability to frame certain thoughts and concepts. Even after the Fall and the flight from Earth, many groups stayed together based on their common language as much as any other shared belief or heritage.

Yet the social shakeup of the Fall and the rise in technology has seen the blossoming of new constructed languages, in a way never seen in history since the adoption of Morse code. Language synthesis is a hobby and pastime for some, a full-time profession for others. All manner of multimedia require “authentic” human and alien languages crafted by linguistic technicians, and the results are stunning: over half a million egos have a working knowledge of Sílá, the language of the O-síl in the popular Mesh-based fantasy game The World Tree. Powerful software modeling tools allow even amateurs to get in on the fun, using dialect engines to derive variant languages with unusual influences over a period of time—the cheap World Tree knock-off Yggys uses a variant of Latin based on a postulated five-thousand years of influence and borrowing from various Southeast Asian languages.

Many small groups have seized on custom-designed synthetic languages as a tool for more clearly communicating certain concepts, or to ensure no-one else can understand their speech. These code-talkers rely on the cutting edge of linguistics, combining difficult and complicated linguistic rules as a substitute for encryption—which is effective, until it isn’t. Many agencies don’t even bother keeping a staff of linguists to break synthetic languages: they can outsource the sample-languages to Mesh-based linguistic communities for free and have effective translations within minutes or hours, and certain military groups use specialized battle-languages to keep their communications secure.


Designing a new constructed language in Eclipse Phase is a Task Action with a timeframe determined by the gamemaster. The timeframe should be set according to the complexity of the language and could range from an hour (constructing a dialect) to days (assembling a new member of an existing language family) to even months (building an entirely new language from scratch). Typical appropriate skills for designing a new language are Academics: Linguistics or Art: Language Synthesis. The typical target number is 50, though the player may choose to aim for a higher target number if they wish the language to be more complex and difficult. At the gamemaster’s discretion, academic sources on linguistics and specialized dictionaries and software tools may provide a modifier of up to +30 on these tests.

When complete, the character has created a new language and the sourcecode for a rating 40 skillsoft in that language. Learning this language requires spending rez points as normal, though the creator can make as many copies of the skillsoft as they wish. Characters may design the language to be partially or mostly communicable with one or more existing languages (a specialized patois of English and Mandarin, for example), or specifically create it to be incommunicable with existing languages.

Decoding a constructed language from captured samples of speech requires a Task Action with a timeframe and target number identical to those required to create the synthetic language. Academic sources on linguistics and specialized dictionaries and software tools may provide a modifier of up to +30 to decode a language, and substantial samples of the speech (a lengthy conversation of several minutes or hours) should reduce the timeframe for the decoding substantially (minutes instead of hours, hours instead of days, days instead of months). Again, the character still needs to pay rez to learn the language, but received a rating 40 skillsoft of the language which can be used to easily decode it, and can make as many copies as they want.

Using Synthetic Languages

From a thematic standpoint, synthetic languages are one more flavorful option that can be mixed in to the background without any need for mechanics—the Klingon Opera Company that tours Mars, books and fanchats conducted entirely in some spaceborne variant of Tolkien’s Tengwar script, wrappers for the latest hot snackfood written in some Sino-Greek hybrid, etc.—all good stuff that doesn’t need to make gameplay harder but can make it more interesting and fun.

On the other hand, speaking in a language no one else around you knows and understands still carries certain tactical advantages, particularly during negotiations or combat situations. Secure communications makes this less of a big deal in Eclipse Phase, but for players and gamemasters that want equivalents to the battlelanguages in the Dune series, these bare mechanics should be sufficient.


  1. As a language nerd, I love this entry a lot. I hadn't really thought about the advantage of skillsofts with this but I think even having the programs readily available could increase polyglots a lot. I mean, if you have a boring office job, it's no problem to have your muse run through the Quenya language software when you're supposed to be working. This will come up a lot in my games now...

    1. It is an old school idea - Dune comes to mind, and even though Sapir–Whorf isn't as big as it used to be, The Languages of Pao - but at the same time I think the ability to craft languages /quickly/ and easily with software tools, like we do with music, keeps the old idea fresh.