Endless Blue – Week 33 – Writing So Words are Not Washed Away   5 comments


Writing So Words are Not Washed Away

In the prehistory of Elqua, when the primitive pisceans were still little more than grunting savages, a strange few began to scratch marks in stone and coral.  These innocuous mars, little more than chips and streaks, were the first neanderthallic attempts at one of the most inspired and far-reaching developments in all civilization — the beginning of written language.

Language is the medium in which civilization flourishes.  Without some method of communication, tradition, innovation, and comprehension vanish.  This language need not be verbal (as the ceph ambushers’ tentacle can attests), but some method of putting ideas into form and transferring that idea-made-form to another individual so it in turn may become his new idea is intrinsic to the creation and growth of all society.

Aquatic Tongues

Most of the modern languages of the Known World have their roots in Ichthian, the language of the lost civilization called the Icth Dominion.  Since this ancient civilization died out so long ago and so few relics remain that insist upon their previous existence, the exact pronunciation of the language is unknown.  But the etymology of the words of most of the modern Elquan languages shows a lineage back to this mysterious tongue.

Aquelan — The dead root language of most of the modern Known World tongues.  While no current culture remembers its rules for syntax or pronunciation, it can be traced back to the Icht Dominion (though sages argue if it was their native tongue).  It is currently employed in a makeshift manner by spellcasters, historians, and researchers for “emotionally neutral” terminology.

Ceph pidgin — The universally reviled Ceph have no homesea to call their own, so they are forced to eke out what squalid living they can in the forgotten corners and dirty allies of the other races.  There, the untouchables pick and forage in the trash of their hypocritically egalitarian “betters” for not just sustenance and shelter, but also language.  The Ceph speak a pidgin language, a seemingly nonsensical jumbling of disparate words from the native tongues of the surrounding settlements, and weave them into a patchwork language.  As a result it is difficult, even for another Ceph, to speak with a Ceph who grew up any significant distance away; it is practically considered to be a different language.

Cetacean — Perhaps the most beautiful language in all the world’s oceans, the mighty and massive Orcans speak a sing-song language called Cetacean.  Cetacean evolved to be a basically simple system of creating complex language perfectly suited for the stunningly pliant vocal flexibility the produces whalesong, a language that at its root puts more emphasis on the pitch of each phoneme than on the actual words spoken.  It is not a Ichthian language, and instead traces its roots back in time to their barbaric ancestors and their symbiosis with the wordage known as the Verse, the very language of creation.

Chelon — The weak-jawed speech of the Chelon is soft and well-mannered, heavily punctuated with short pauses as the speaker refreshes his breath.  This has lead to the race being called “mouth-breathers”, as they must gulp in water instead of utilizing their solidly encased diaphragm suction in liquid over their gills.  While easily learned, writing the language is exceedingly complex, with an over abundance of symbols to represent the “breathing pauses” of the speaker.  Non-Chelon races wishing to learn this self-indulgent system of notation need to devote an additional skill point to the Speak Language skill to truly comprehend the intricate script that Chelon used to eventually delineate the eldritch arts.

Elquan — The common tongue of the Known World, and most closely associated with the Merfolk., who themselves have at least a dozen variations of script to record the single language.  One of the secrets that has led to the success of the language’s popular use is the simple use of phonemes — bits of spoken sound — to give them a larger palette from which to create words and paint ideas.  This is the defacto language of the Endless Blue campaign setting, and the most likely language to be heard in the civilized bodies of water.

Locanthic — A much and undeservedly maligned language that has been the gibbering squawks of a small delphis, the Locanthic tongue is notable for its short, clipped syllables that have the same duration regardless of stress.  Neither the language nor the people are as bestial as is racially attributed to them, and can be truly beautiful to hear when a native speaker with a silver tongue begins to roll is r’s and drawl its paired ns and ls.  Many think it the most simple language for a person to learn, with conjugated verbs kept to a logical minimum and a consistent dichotomy dictating noun gender.

Lumulan — Lumulans speak their own complex language, guttural in nature and punctuated heavily with clicks and chirps.  Learning the language is so difficult for non-Lumulans that they must spend two skill points each to learn how to speak and write it, but will be utterly incapable of becoming fluent as the manner in which Lumulans converse is cryptic and obfuscated.  A Lumulan can always tell when a non-native attempts to communicate in this tongue, and it is a dead give-away for individuals trying to disguise themselves as a Lumulan.

Koutonese — Koutonese is a strange, gurgling language punctuated with wet, bubbling noises from their loose lips.  It is the antithesis of cetacean whalesong, crude and cacophonous, like the gurgling of a clogged pipe.  Its written style is pictographic, with a large lexicon of symbols to draw from.  More complex ideas are expressed through the combination of characters around each other in the ordinal directions, with the smaller symbol call the “directional” signifying the base pictogram’s tense.

Krakonian — The tongue-tying language of the Kraken, as cruel in sound as it is in the act of speaking it.  No one ever becomes fluent in the language, even the monastic orders that dedicate generations of scholars on the study.  This cypher-like language was of great help to the invaders during the Occupation, and while a few concepts have been translated over the centuries the code has never been cracked well enough for the secrets of the Kraken Empire to be revealed.

Pygmit — A simple name for a simplistic language, the kelpygmies of the wilds use a limited lexicon of words that, even among themselves, requires repeated speaking for emphasis and comprehension.  Bastardization of the language through contact with other races is rare, but in the few instances it has happened, the assimilation of the new term seems to take place quickly in all tribes, no matter how far away the other settlement is located.  The spread is accomplished far too quickly to be attributed to word of mouth, so it is hypothesized that kelpygmy shamen distribute the fresh knowledge by some means of communal consciousness.

Sahaguini –  Sahaguini is a robust tongue, loud and proud, well suited for battle cries and death wails.  It’s written form uses a system of logograms — a system of symbols derived from basic pictures to represent ideas.  Unfortunately, as a strange by-product of the Sahaguin trait of  pugnacity, over the generations these symbols have drifted from their original meanings and new ideograms have been added.  At the present time, there are numerous variations of the lexicon, varying sharply regardless of distance between settlements.  As a result, reading Sahaguini requires a Speak Language check at DC 15 unless the item was written by the very Sahaguin reading it.

Verse — Thought to be the language of creation, the Orcans claim it to be more ancient than the Kraken, more primal than the Icth.  It is said to be the words spoken by the Source itself, the egg at the core of all existence, the beginning of life and the nurturer of the natural order.  Only single words, with the potency of the boiling firmament, are known to exist, and there is no single collection codifying the extent of what is known.  With no knowledge or even evidence that there is a system of syntax or nomenclature, it is impossible to actually speak or write fluently in this elemental voice.  The Verse is often incorporated into Chelonite rituals of magic, in order to heighten the conjuration beyond anything a normal spellcaster could accomplish with a hundred schools behind him.

Yaun-Tish — The Yaun-Teel speak a soft, lilting language with its roots in Old Elquan, perfectly suited for whispering.  It projects well, and surprisingly rarely requires a raised voice to get a point across.  Whether it is the intimidating reputation of the species or the unsettling sound of the language itself, speaking in Yaun-Tish has been said to make the speaker sound facetious and insincere.

For the longest time, oral tradition was passed down from generation to generation.  Tales were told wrote from memory, and with the intervening tellings began to meander in newer directions and fresher ideas.  Giving in to the new idea of communication, some decided to try and control the ideas through dogma.  But dogma without consistency was impossible with the embellishment sirens would spin into their tales.  A system was needed to put words into permanent form, trapping them in an unchanging state so that those who wished to use words to rule could do so with resolute certainty.  They needed a system of writing.

Words Made Permanent
Writing with a true alphabet is one of the benchmarks philosophers use to gauge the level of maturity in a race.  The division between the civilized and primitive races of the Known World strongly emphasizes this distinction, relegating species to either side of the divide in part by the advancement of their system of writing.

The first writing beneath the waves was little more than carvings on the local rocky shoals and coral reefs, primitive pictures comprised of little more than stick figures of hunters and the hunted, warnings of danger or signs of succor.  As this strange activity of “defiling nature” grew despite the greatest efforts of the superstitious and fearful, the variety of graven images grew exponentially, portraying most all walks of life into permanent form.

From there, certain common concepts became represented by simplified images, and the pictogram was created.  These specific images came to represent the idea behind them more than the image itself., such as the iconic jaws of a shark coming to represent danger far more often than the presence of sharks themselves.  Many races ended the refinement of their language here, keeping the basic “symbol = concept” system, but burdening the literate with the task of memorizing overly-long plethora of icons in order to effectively communicate even the simplest of speeches.

Others continued the development of their lexicography, simplifying, codifying, eventually giving birth to true alphabets where each symbol represents a phoneme — a portion of sound.  This method of chopping up a word into its most basic of sounds allowed the creation of more complex words by their mixed arrangement of multiple symbols.

But what to write did not solve the very stymieing obstacle that moving currents erode everything, from the permanence of coral and stone, to the transience of soft marks on flimsy materials.  Penciled words on lined paper could not exist under water, where the seeping fluid would reduce the material to pulp and dissolve the pressure-transferred traces of a stylus into the currents.  More hardy methods of recording knowledge were needed to pass down the wisdom of ages to successive generations.

The earliest of these methods was stone carving, but this proved a bulky and heavy system that prevented the dispersement of knowledge except when meticulously planned beforehand.

Carving evolved into the art of scrimshaw, using the bones of slain animals as carving materials.  The relative lightness of bone over stone spurred the spread of knowledge, but still had the basic drawback of being an extremely slow way of recording information.

It was the introduction of tattoos that began the literacy revolution.  Packbreeders often needed some method of telling their chattel from that of another packbreeder, so the tradition began of “branding” their animals.  This was accomplished by using the protective hollow needles of various creatures like anemones that normally would inject poison into the creature’s attackers, but instead had the packbreeders blowing ink and other pigment into the skin.  If the needle penetrated the epidermis sufficiently it could deposit coloration deep enough so that it would not wear away like chalk on stone, but not deep enough that it proved poisonous to the host.

Soon after this system began, the packbreeders noticed that the skins of these beasts, once slaughtered, continued to contain their owner’s marks even after the curing process into leather, and more markings could later be added (with much more ease and less worry of harm.

Flesh That Talks
Tattoos are in most cases permanent, requiring the healing process of the bearer to granulate the pigments and encase them in a calogen-like cells forming connective tissues.  The tattooing of dead flesh does not require this because the skin is not longer shedding old cells and producing new ones, so the stain from the ink remains intact.

Tattoos are now a mainstay of Elquan culture, and almost every walk of life has its usage of the art of inking.  The more primitive races of the Known World emphasize tattooing as rites of passage, making permanent the achievements of the recipient, while the civilized races use it more for cosmetic and identification purposes.  The Yaun-Teel may have fostered the art form of tattooing beasts before skinning and tanning the hides into leather, and to this day use this system on beast and slave alike as part of their cruel conditioning styles.

Ceph Tattoos

Like other tattoos, these are permanent.  When a Ceph uses his camouflage pigmentation, it intersperses with the trapped ink of a tattoo and gains the appearance of  semi-translucency on the faux texture the encephalopod is trying to mimic.  For example, a tattooed Ceph camouflaging itself against a coral reef will make it appear as if the coral reef has some kind of markings or stains in the shape of the tattoo.  As a result, tattoos prevent cephs from enjoying the full benefits of their natural camouflage ability.

Shell Tattoos

Contrary to first impression, it is quite possible to tattoo both Lumulan and Chelonite shell.  They are, after all, biologically created layers of cell, however hardened they may be.  In the former case, the tattoo only lasts until the Lumulus molts, usually in about a year; but in the latter the tattoo will slowly wear away as thin layers of skin are sloughed off throughout the Chelon’s life.  This makes older tattoos appear as if faded or scratched away.  Since Chelon lead such long lives, it is not unheard of to find layer after layer of tattoos on his shell, fresher ink laid over older, faded images.

Not all tattoos are as obvious or as permanent.  Some types of tattooing are transient in nature either by design or by result.

Blood Tattoos
All the pain; none of the permanency.  These are literally tattoos without ink, using needles to pierce the skin.  Similar to scarification, the epidermal trauma lasts for about a year, whereupon the healing process eliminates any trace of the tattoo.  Blood tattoos are used mainly to show indentured servitude, where the term of the debt is resolved when the tattoo fades away.

Algaeic Tattoos
The ink of these tattoos is a slurry of phytoplankton with natural bioluminescence and a food medium to keep the injected colony sustainable for a period of time.  The algae feed on the transparent food while supply lasts, giving off a continuous bioluminescent light until their sustenance runs out and the colony dies.  The light given off by theses tattoos does not even scale to candlelight, instead appearing as just a glowing patch on the bearer’s skin.

Luminescent Tattoos
Similar to an algaeic tattoo, luminescent tattoos are inks that shed light when agitated, mixing tiny amounts of liquids trapped in the connective tissues.  Rigorous exercise is enough to trigger the luminescence, but it quickly fades in minutes when the muscles are still.

Phosphorescent Tattoos
These tattoos work on chemical reactions to give off their light.  These tattoos are notoriously fleeting, but while they last they are the brightest of all the luminescent tattoos, even giving off a modicum of heat as the chemicals flare through their exothermic reaction.

Ultraviolet Tattoos
While these are as permanent as any normal tattoo, the ink used is normally invisible until the skin is bathed in ultraviolet light.  Some of the more retributive of pisceans have repeatedly championed initiatives forcing Ceph to submit to ultraviolet tattoos as a manner of humanely curtailing their camouflage abilities, but so far the Ceph have escaped this fate.

Tools of the Trade

Tattooing Kit
Harvested from numerous sea animals, a range of needle sizes can be collected to provide varying line thickness and color intensity.  Other materials are used to reinforce the needles, and the kit includes sanitary materials to sterilize the needles.  Regardless, the needles are single person use, and need to be replaced after each time the kit is used.

The defacto tool of the civilized races for writing, the greasemarker is a compressed tube of dyed wax that liquifies slightly under pressure only to solidify once that pressure has been lessened.  The waxiness of the material is water insoluble, so the mere flow of water currents will not wash away whatever is written down.  Formulae for making greasemarkers vary from culture to culture, even between craftsmen, but most are always comprised of at least two components: a pigment and a medium.  The pigment is the coloration of marks left behind by the marker in use, while the medium is the material that allows the transferrence of pigment from greasemarker to a surface.  The possible mediums available underwater is extensive, not least among which are bodily lipids, animal and/or vegetable waxes, melon-produced parmaceti, and even ambergris.

Shale Slate
Slate (a form of shale) is a type of striated  rock that can be flaked into smooth sheets of relative tensile strength.  These surfaces are strong enough to endure the pressure put upon them when using a greasemarker.  However, slate is on the brittle scale of rock resiliency, and a modicum of care must be taken to prevent the medium from shattering.  Usually slates are stored in hardened containers, stacked evenly and protected from jostling.  It is also a heavy material, and more than a few sheets of slate will begin to laden even the most hale of pisceans.

The main venue of writing in modern Elqua is the use of hide and leather sheets, depilated and treated to resist the corrosive effects of saltwater.  The material remains supple enough to be rolled up or folded away for storage, but resilient enough to remain intact under the pressure of greasemarkers.  The benefit of treated hide as a recording medium is that data written in greasemarker can later be made permanent by over-writing the text as a tattoo.

5 responses to “Endless Blue – Week 33 – Writing So Words are Not Washed Away

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  1. Pretty cool…
    I like the idea of using the environment to make noise for communication rather then just vocal sounds from the creature. Although would there be such a thing as a whisper underwater since sounds travels so well, and we can assume the intelligent races hearing evolved so well. Also I didn’t see any communication through ultrasonic means, like echolocation.

  2. The answer to both points — can you whisper underwater, and ultrasonic speech — are the same. While sound travels better underwater, it requires more energy to create ultrasonic frequencies.

    For whispers in water, the sounds made need to have enough intonation to vibrate through the liquid, such as vowels and soft consonants. If you listen closely to the next time someone whispers to you, you’ll note it is the hard consonants that do not come across clearly. Without those hard sounds, a whisper only needs enough energy to overcome the impedance of water a short distance.

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