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.

All Ears

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 fig 1. ramblings of a mad Warlock

Preliminary Hearing

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.

e lo vo s dra da ke dra s gu dra ge
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.

e lo vos dra da ki dras gu dra ge
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.

e lo vos dra da ki dras gu dra ge
the wolf -s all rise strong cower of all kell
The Wolves stand strong. Cower before the Kell of Kells.

This looked convincing, and worked well with other lines of dialogue.

e lo vos dra da do go den
the wolf -s all rise will of time
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.

she da hu et sha da go do bo ra
fear rise fight yes courage rise of will banner without
[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.

she da hu et sha da go do bo ra
fear attempt fight yes courage attempt of action banner without
[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.

Eliksni Grammar Definition English
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
Das verb to proceed go
De noun period, end time
Den adverb hereafter, always forever
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
Do noun an action act
Don adverb deliberately actively
Dor adjective finished, completed done
Dos verb to perform do
Dra pronoun everything all
Dras adverb by every one of a group each
Dre pronoun nothing none
Dres adverb not a thing nothing
E definite article definite article a, the
En exclamation negative no
Er pronoun+verb not-I be it's, they're
Et exclamation positive yes
Fre noun state of liberation freedom
Fren adverb without restriction freely
Frer adjective unconstrained free
Fres verb to release from confines free
Ge noun cocoon, head, leader kell
Go preposition belonging to of
Ha noun a rival, an enemy foe
Han adverb in an equal manner equally
Har adjective competing rival
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
Kar adjective on fire burning
Kas verb be destroyed by fire burn
Ki noun a powerful being strength
Kin adverb with great strength strongly
Kir adjective having power strong
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
Lo noun hunter, ferocious wolf
Lovos noun+plural suffix hunters wolves
Lun noun the cold between stars space
Ma conjunction connects words and
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
Ne pronoun self me, I
Ra preposition in the absence of without
Sha noun bravery courage
Shan adverb willingness to endure bravely
Shar adjective be courageous brave
Shas verb to defy fear brave
She noun emotion caused by threat fear
Shen adverb in an anxious manner fearfully
Sher adjective scary, scared fearful
Shes verb to be afraid fear
Sloat noun vulgar thing prey
Ta noun knowledge know
Tan adverb deliberately knowingly
Tar adjective done on purpose knowing
Tas verb to retain information know
Yu noun title, designation name
Yun adverb specifically namely
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
Zer adjective appointed given
Zes verb to present gift
Zu verb will have to shall

Travel Hopefully

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.