To humans the normal means of communication is verbal speech, with sign language, written words, braille, etc being used to help those who can't communicate normally. There are those who're only mildly affected whose speech is altered but they can still manage to communicate, like stutterers, etc.

One of the sapient species I have in mind for this is as follows.

They are aquatic and communicate through different electric currents generated like an electric eel does, and they receive these signals through electroreceptors in their face like how a shark has. They have enough control over these currents to produce a wide range of voltages, which the receiver interprets through a passed on language. 122 volts means 'ah' for example. This system is evolved from an attack/defense mechanism and so they can communicate at normal conversational distances. They can't generate and receive/sense these currents at the same time and can't hear sounds, but have access to scent through sampling chemicals in the water, sight and tactile senses.

What kinds of physical or mental disabilities would a species have that doesn't communicate through verbal speech that would hamper their communication and how would that species get around it?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Some comments on your second language: "122 volts means 'ah' for example" ... If this species can't hear, translating a single voltage level to a human sound might not be that straight forward. If you're building a language for a one-parameter communication system the time spent at each level, oscillations and the rate of change could also be interesting "morphemes". Human spoken languages have rules for which sounds can follow each other (i.e. 'mb' can't start an English word), and the same might be true for voltages. Voltages 10, 20, 30, 40 V might be easier than 10, 134, 10, 105, 10, 147 V. $\endgroup$
    – EdvinW
    Oct 6, 2021 at 11:49
  • $\begingroup$ @EdvinW It was a simplistic way to convey how they might interpret things, but I do see your point. Oscillations and lengths could make a complex enough language from relatively few ranges. No doubt a biological current generator would not be able to be that specific all the time so they'd have margins of error for voltages, range 60 being interpreted from ranges 56 to 65, equivalent to ascents perhaps. $\endgroup$
    – Hearsay
    Oct 6, 2021 at 12:04
  • $\begingroup$ You should also consider the environment in which those species evolved and what kind of evolutionary pressures were there to make them this way $\endgroup$ Oct 6, 2021 at 12:30
  • $\begingroup$ @ARogueAnt. Narrowed it down to the one most appropriate to the comments present. $\endgroup$
    – Hearsay
    Oct 6, 2021 at 12:47
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @A.B. I wanted people's input on the kinds of disabilities they would have and how they'd try to get around them to still be able to function in their society, specifically disabilities, mental or physical, that would affect their means of communication. $\endgroup$
    – Hearsay
    Oct 6, 2021 at 12:53

3 Answers 3


Magneto/broadcast malfunction. It's going to be hard for them to communicate via normal means if they can't generate electricity.

Sensor malfunction. Similarly, not being able to "hear" would be a huge disability.

Processing disorders. As a person with Autism, it's my experience that not being able to adequately process things like expressions, while not as bad as being deaf or dumb, can definitely put a damper on conversation. For example:

(random stranger) (shows teeth, raises eyebrows, saccharine tone) Care to say that again?

(me, who is wondering why he didn't hear me the first time considering that I'm only 3 feet away) Uh... okay? You really shouldn't let your groundcloth hang out from under your tent like that, as it makes your tent liable to be flooded if it rains.

<incoherent scream of rage>

Note that I'm not just talking about Autism here; there's other disorders whose alien analogues would cause problems. For example, I used to have a friend who, despite having good hearing, could not understand what you were saying unless you looked straight at him and talked slowly.

Lithpth. Like thenthory prothething dithorderth, thpeech dithorderth and, uh, th- thtuterth altho make it really hard to communicate.


They use a large, external, antenna-like organ to transmit these electromagnetic messages. Some specimen are born without it, some lose them in accidents. The disabled creatures can still generate correct signals, but they are too weak to be detected at normal conversation distance. In order to mitigate this, they can use inferior, metal wire prostheses, doing this introduces noise and unusual harmonics that just doesn't "sound" right.


May I suggest that they use current rather than voltage? Voltage varies at different places for any given source, and a source can't usually know what it is at a distance, whereas current is conserved and measurable at both ends (talker and listener). Your creatures would modulate voltage to induce whatever current they want to flow to their conversation partner. This is how industrial instrumentation works, if you google 4-20mA loops, you can find many good layman's guides.

Following on from this, an inability to correct voltage to get the right current would be a disability. Either they can't raise/lower voltage enough, they're current limited or they just have really poor voltage modulation. Having a big capacitance or inductance in their organ will make their signal response sluggish.


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