Why Keep a Dog and Bark Yourself?
They say that to destroy an enemy, you should understand them as they do. Beyond tactics and arsenal, beyond the mask and the smoke: what motivates them? Their desires, beliefs, frustrations. Fire may win battles, but knowledge can end war.
It is therefore impossible to understand an enemy without first attempting to communicate with them. Listen closely, understand what ails them, so that the volley of fire and sharp tongue that accompanies their insight no longer seems unjustified.
This is a straightforward task to accomplish when that enemy shares the same basic attributes as yourself. However, faced with an enemy completely foreign to you—not only in language, but culture, biology, and even homeworld—it becomes necessary to do more than simply communicate; it becomes necessary to research and analyse.
Enter the Fallen, the last of an extrasolar alien species, once blessed by the Traveler’s Light as we were at the height of our Golden Age. Before the Fall, they were known as the Eliksni, and lived ‘as Kings’, until an event they refer to as ‘the Whirlwind’ culminated in both the Traveler’s departure, and the devastation of their homeworld. As a consequence, Fallen hierarchies devolved into a pecking order wherein strength was valued above all else. As one Dreg—the lowest class of Fallen society—revealed in a damaged Ghost’s recovered memory, ‘I respect what I cannot steal from’.
We would be without this knowledge if not for a single Fallen individual, known as Variks, of House Judgment. A traitor to what he considers a nu-Eliksni mindset, Variks makes continuous effort to understand us; our language, culture, biology, and homeworld. Although his assistance in events leading to the Age of Triumph were invaluable, he has been reserved in sharing much regarding his own kind; ensuring his indispensability and continued survival.
It is dangerous to fight wars through a filtered tap of intelligence, so it is vital that we equip Guardians with basic Fallen comprehension. Over the years, Variks has let slip enough idiomatic translations of Eliksnian that we can begin to phoneticize and comprehend their guttural barks.
In this report, I aim to provide an outline of the groundwork used to unlock the secrets of the Eliksni language, with the hope that any future research in similar fields can utilize similar techniques.
Shortly after I published my initial report, a Guardian by the alias Wheatwarrior, published their own interpretation of Skolas’s barks. A year later, another Guardian by the name of Melonnaise, published their own findings based on my initial attempts. Our widely differing phonetic interpretations inspired me to think about how accurately my own ears were interpreting.
|Sarsion heard:||Gie Lovos drada kee. Drass, gue, Drageh.|
|Wheatwarrior heard:||Lobo strada ki, tashkur ta Kell.|
|Melonnaise heard:||Gie lo-vos drada kir. Drass ku da-Kell.|
|Variks said:||The Wolves stand strong. Cower before the Kell of Kells.|
Such a wide discrepancy made it clear that it would take cross-referencing a much wider array of quotes if we were to move closer towards a final lexicon.
Melonnaise was the first to attempt to analyse grammar and tenses, taking an interest in the structure of sentences. This was formative for my future revisions; it struck me as likely that our variations may have had roots set in that field.
We were contextualizing what we were hearing with different vowels and consonants, and I wanted to understand why that was. To aide with my original research, I had looked into standard pronunciation and reference charts, spending much time thereafter growing to comprehend reasons for the similarity of a “ta”, “ka”, or “da”, but I could still occasionally mishear one for another.
Watch Your Tongue
The explanation has to do with how mouths shape the sounds of speech. “Ta”, “ka”, “da”, “pa”, “ga” and “ba” are all examples of what is known as plosive speech. This is a type of sound that is produced by stopping the airflow via the use of the lips, teeth, or palate, followed by a sudden burst of air. Tiny differences in this movement can dramatically change how a sound is perceived, but that isn’t the whole story.
Some linguist experts believe speech recognition is a bimodal process, with speech requiring both aural and visual cues to accurately comprehend. If only one is present, certain phonemes become difficult to differentiate between. In layman terms, we receive additional auditory cues by reading lips.
There are subtle visual and aural differences between the two plosive velar “ka” and “ga” phonemes. Being unable to see a mouth form these sounds increases the likelihood of mistaking one for the other. There is a related illusory phenomenon known as the McGurk effect, where a “ba” sound can be misheard as a “fa” sound just by looking at the visual cue for the latter.
Our minds can easily misinterpret information, so without an Eliksni willing to bare its maw for us to read, it falls to us to find and settle upon consistent aural phonemes. To accomplish this, a wide selection of Fallen dialogue recordings must be gathered in order to begin the process of parsing through their phonetics.
fig 1. ramblings of a mad Warlock
After collecting a few dozen recordings from Fallen across the system, I cross-referenced their phonemes to that of Skolas. I first wrote down what I believed I heard, then erased and re-wrote once I heard clearer pronunciation in another recording of the same dialogue. I repeated this process for all the dialogue at my disposal, then revisited each after some time had passed, to allow my mind to hear things fresh.
This process determined which sounds were unintentional quirks of Fallen speech, and which were purposeful phonemes. The Fallen word I believed to be “the” was initially heard being preceded by a “g” sound, and so I wrote it out as “gie”, but as I continued my process, I noticed the “g” sound was absent from all other utterances of the “e” phoneme, and so it was classed as a quirk rather than a base rule to follow.
Each of the original three translation attempts featured words with multiple syllables; my “katadeh” and “drada”, Wheatwarrior’s “tashkur”, and “nasasubur”, and Melonnaise’s “chuka” and “goden”. These widened the margin of error to an unacceptable degree, so during my revision, I developed an inclination that words within Fallen dialect were not comprised of multiple consonants separated by vowels. Instead, I proposed that Fallen dialect featured smaller words used together to coin greater meaning. Human languages do this frequently, compounding words together to create entirely new meaning; “sunsinger”, “nightfall”, “timekeeper”, “postmaster”, to name a few.
Spell It Out
Let’s look at the first Skolas line again, but this time we’ll look at the breakdown of how the line is laid out phonetically, taking care to separate the phonemes by consonants, while removing any erroneous guttural artifacts.
|The Wolves stand strong. Cower before the Kell of Kells.|
Now that we’ve broken down the phonetics into groups of starting consonants and ending vowels, the structure becomes clearer, and rules can be inferred. Such as the lone “s” consonants, specifically the second: should it be used to form “dras” or “sgu”? Considering the aural proximity of the first “s” to “vo”, it follows that the rule should be that lone “s” phonemes should be attached to the end of the preceding vowel. Listening to other recordings, longer pauses between phonemes confirmed the consistency of this rule.
|The Wolves stand strong. Cower before the Kell of Kells.|
While we are yet to affirmatively assign meaning to these small words, this format provides a basic framework for contextualizing the sounds of the Fallen. Returning after parsing many other lines, repeating a pass on a line of dialogue can reveal that the mind’s muddy interpretation of phonetic siblings is in constant play. As I continued to parse lines of dialogue, I settled into the idea that “gu” was in fact a misheard “go”. I had not heard “gu” in any other line of dialogue, though I had heard “go”. I listened again while reading the sentence corrected with “go”, and this time clearly heard “go”. The mind appears to be very adept at sticking to its biased initial impressions until countered with convincing evidence.
This pattern of revision, correction, and interpretation would continue for many more sessions, culminating in a list of base words; often a single consonant followed by a single vowel, as well as three consonant suffixes: “n”, “r”, and “s”. The meaning of these suffixes would require a lot of guesswork before settling upon my eventual proposed purpose for them, so until then, I went to work matching the phonemes with English equivalents, to directly translate Skolas word for word.
|The Wolves stand strong. Cower before the Kell of Kells.|
This looked convincing, and worked well with other lines of dialogue.
|House of Wolves will stand forever.|
I felt confident enough with the small filler words, “da” and “do”, used to construct idioms, that even if they were not accurate, they still conveyed enough meaning that they looked convincing. The problem, however, was that taking these words out of this initial context didn’t quite hit the mark.
|[Taniks challenges us in the ways of old]|
The English words I inferred from the situational context certainly felt correct; Taniks claims we are fighting in a fearful manner, that we must rise to face the Bannerless. However, the two words “rise” and “will” could muddy other contexts, not to mention "rise of will" doesn’t sound grammatically clear and convincing. Additionally, there is no need for a “will”, as “zu” already fills the function of “shall”.
An important focal point is to ensure English equivalents are universally applicable across different contexts. Many Golden Age dictionaries and thesauruses were trawled through before I finally settled on words across the entire Fallen lexicon with enough flexibility. This doesn’t mean that they’re perfectly accurate, but they are a great starting point.
With some gaps in the lexicon left unaccounted for by Skolas, it followed that words of similar structure—“dra” and “dre”, “sha” and “she”—would be antonyms. So if “dra” meant “all” or “everything”, “dre” could mean “none” or “nothing”. Similarly, as we fight the Fallen, it seems likely their barks would contain judgments of our abilities. With that in mind, I proposed that “sha” stood for “courage” or “ferocity”, and inversely “she” represented “fear” or “timidity”.
Here’s how the above quotation looked after numerous iterations.
|[Taniks challenges us in the ways of old]|
The sentence now sounds much more fluid, less contextual, yet still contains the same clear implication; Taniks invites us to attempt an action of courage against those without banner, and to fear, try, and fight, yes?
With the groundwork laid down, we can focus on the “n”, “r”, and “s” suffixes. My proposal of their meanings was derived from a pure process of elimination. I believe Shaxx would be proud. I took a basic sentence structure and experimented with a verb, adjective, or adverb form of the existing noun. This was aided by setting up spreadsheets so I could change a single word, and see rapid changes across all the lines of dialogue already transposed.
Once I had settled on the meaning of “n”, “r”, and “s”—adverb, adjective and verb, respectively—I listened to the recordings an additional three times, each time listening for each suffix. I was now able to detect suffixes where I had previously not considered there to have been one. Knowing that suffixes affected a word’s grammatical function, this allowed me to update my aural filter, including them as legitimate phonemes, rather than aural artifacts.
The lexicon could now be expanded beyond what Variks had directly provided. After confirming that this was a consistent rule, I applied the suffixes to nouns that previously had not been heard with them, and similarly, removed suffixes to uncover more nouns. “Freedom”—“fre”—could now be written in Eliksni as “freely”—“fren”.
Speak of the Devil
Below is an alphabetically arranged list featuring 87 words transcribed from the Eliksni lexicon. These words may be combined together to create idiomatic phrases to infer similar meaning; for example “dra da”, “all go”, can be interpreted as a verb meaning “stand”, despite not following the standard “s” suffix rule.
The English translations are mere suggestions to represent meaning, as there are multiple meanings the words may have: “da” could imply energy, an attempt, a shot, a turn, or go; and “ba” may refer to a “loser” individual, specifically reference a “loss”, or the “failure” itself; all types of nouns.
In some human languages, occasionally a word does not yet grammatically exist as common standard in other forms of grammar, but instead is represented by idioms. I have made an effort to ensure such words, often adverbs, are similar enough to convey a shared connotation.
|Ba||noun||a person who fails||loser|
|Ban||adverb||in a blind manner||blindly|
|Bar||adjective||unable to find the way||lost|
|Bas||verb||be deprived of, fail to win||lose|
|Bo||noun||flag, standard of army||banner|
|Da||noun||energy, attempt, try||go|
|Dan||adverb||next, going forward||ahead|
|Dar||adjective||away, having passed||gone|
|Der||adjective||happening at a time||timed|
|Des||verb||to time out||wait|
|Di||noun||the end of life||death|
|Din||adverb||having no life||lifelessly|
|Dir||adjective||ceasing to live||dying|
|Dis||verb||to cease to live||die|
|Dras||adverb||by every one of a group||each|
|Dres||adverb||not a thing||nothing|
|E||definite article||definite article||a, the|
|Er||pronoun+verb||not-I be||it's, they're|
|Fre||noun||state of liberation||freedom|
|Fres||verb||to release from confines||free|
|Ge||noun||cocoon, head, leader||kell|
|Ha||noun||a rival, an enemy||foe|
|Han||adverb||in an equal manner||equally|
|Has||verb||to prove equal worth||rival|
|Hu||noun||a combat, contest||fight|
|Hun||adverb||in a fighting manner||fightingly|
|Hur||adjective||fit to fight||fighting|
|Hus||verb||to engage in battle||fight|
|Ka||noun||an injury caused by fire||burn|
|Kan||adverb||in an angry manner||hotly|
|Kas||verb||be destroyed by fire||burn|
|Ki||noun||a powerful being||strength|
|Kin||adverb||with great strength||strongly|
|Kis||verb||to apply strength||force|
|Kle||noun||an act of stealing||steal|
|Klen||adverb||in a stealthy manner||stealingly|
|Kler||adjective||can be stolen||stealable|
|Kles||verb||take without permission||steal|
|Lun||noun||the cold between stars||space|
|Na||noun||a dwelling, a dynasty||house|
|Nan||adverb||secured from threat||safely|
|Nar||adjective||kept in, frequenting||house|
|Nas||verb||to shelter, protect, shield||house|
|Ra||preposition||in the absence of||without|
|Shan||adverb||willingness to endure||bravely|
|Shas||verb||to defy fear||brave|
|She||noun||emotion caused by threat||fear|
|Shen||adverb||in an anxious manner||fearfully|
|Shes||verb||to be afraid||fear|
|Tar||adjective||done on purpose||knowing|
|Tas||verb||to retain information||know|
|Yur||adjective||famous, widely known||name|
|Yus||verb||to accuse, give name to||name|
|Ze||noun||a thing given||gift|
|Zen||adverb||to add, furthermore||also|
|Zu||verb||will have to||shall|
With this knowledge, Guardians may now be better-equipped in the event of being faced down by the Fallen, without the need of our friendly Reef interpreter to aide them. This ability to understand the Fallen’s commands will give our soldiers valuable tactical awareness, not to mention our use of it could prove a useful intimidation tactic. 87 words may not seem like much, but they are more than enough to grasp basic context and infer the rest.
These results may not be completely accurate, but I believe the basic methodology this round has felt far stronger. Previously, some attempt to look at grammar came into play, but without having formed ground rules, structures began to teeter.
The methodology used in this report may additionally prove useful as we strive to comprehend the Hive and Cabal. Already, there are some potential avenues to explore for these two collectives, but perhaps we may learn more in our efforts to reclaim the Traveler. The Vex, however, will remain an enigma, at least until an Exo confirms to have an ability to speak pure data.
To conclude my findings: the Fallen speak a language comprised of single syllable words, typically written with two consonants, followed by one vowel, and modified by at least three single consonant suffixes which denote grammatical function. It may also be possible to infer antonyms by modifying the last letter of a word—such as changing “Dra” to “Dre”—creating potential for the currently understood lexicon to be expanded further.
I invite the Vanguard to challenge my findings with their own, as the truth of matters may only be found in the voice of many.
I hope my report will prove useful for the events yet to come, and I humbly thank you for having read it.
Perhaps now if you ask Variks kindly, he may be inclined to reveal more.