The Ents broke off from the rest of the civilization many aeons ago, and their main means of communication has evolved to the point where instead of words, they use fully immersive and lightning-fast induced hallucinations, which replaced all other forms of communication.

The image flooded her senses, and with it came an undercurrent of overwhelming loss and grief which somehow conveyed the feeling of a distant past, with a great city full of happy people and many children, and yet a clear sensation of an unknown great threat lurking red just over the horizon, to the East. Raw emotions swirled in her mind, each sharp as a whiplash, and the sorrow and apprehension grew until it became almost too much...

... the sensation stopped suddenly, and Alice felt that the Ent was sorry. She knew it was not used to communicating with humans wearing the Entish crown. She then knew it was a crude device, only vaguely capable of conveying the subtle complexities of Entish thought. The Ent was struggling with something that could only be described as a hallucinatory grammar.

Non-Ents can communicate with them only by wearing a device known as an Entish crown, which enables them to experience and convey a limited subset of the mental sensorium pallete available to the Ents. It is suspected that Ents can instantly convey entire 4-dimensional experiential sets to each other, the equivalent of entire books or multiple-branching stories in an instant, but wearers of Entish crowns are limited to a simplified version, a 3D experience over accelerated time.

What would qualify as a grammar under such a language? How do you convey emphasis, for instance?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ What are words, or letters, in Entish? (On a side note, I like the Tolkien reference and I think that this is the single weirdest and most creative question I've ever seen on Worldbuilding.) $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Nov 16, 2015 at 23:14
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    $\begingroup$ @HDE226868 Alternatively, do we need the concept of words or letters at all to describe such a concept? $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Nov 16, 2015 at 23:27
  • $\begingroup$ Isn't an entire Julia set just 4 parameters? Not much information content, but a pretty picture. Maybe the wearer is missing "the point" and distracted by the redundancy. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Nov 17, 2015 at 1:16
  • $\begingroup$ Have you read the The Pit Dragon Chronicles? There's some good *ahem* language there about telepathic communication. $\endgroup$ Nov 25, 2015 at 23:16

5 Answers 5


Emphasis through a feeling of being drawn:

As she walked through the deserted square Alice felt there was something fascinating about the Arch, something that drew her in. Almost without thinking, she walked to its base, where the granite engravings came fully into view.

Time manipulation to convey subtle nuance, like a slow-mo replay or a well-timed photograph:

In the middle of the dreaded blow, the flow of time suddenly slowed to meandering crawl that allowed her to fully take in the face of the warrior, full of a kind of fury that almost bordered on madness. Alice noticed a foamy stream of spittle, almost frozen in mid-air.

Inducing into the mind of the perceiver emotional states associated with the desired reaction.

As their weapons turned towards her, Alice felt it in the bottom of her stomach, knew she was going to die. It was an out-of-body her that would perish, as she knew her real self was still on the platform wearing that strange device called the Entish Crown, but that somehow provided scant comfort at the moment.

Enter the dialogue via directing your own emotions into altering the nature of the 'sensorium':

Full of fear and anger of what she's seen, Alice saw her fingers begin to glow, and a fierce fire erupted out of her finger-tips towards the attacker.

  • $\begingroup$ How very interesting! $\endgroup$ Nov 17, 2015 at 0:18

Natural languages are systems for communicating propositional and conceptual information to other beings. Hallucinations could be a great communication medium, but that does not make it language. As a very simple example, if you could communicate experiences hallucinogenically with perfect realism how would you communicate that one experience is a memory of reality and another experience is a purely imagined fiction? To communicate the proposition that "X is true" you need some shared symbols.

Spoken language starts with a set of phonemes (sounds), with 30-50 being common. We combine them together to come up with thousands of words. We use grammar to combine those thousands of words into an infinite number of sentences. We use the sentential context of words to introduce secondary and tertiary meanings, forming idioms and metaphors. We do all of this so that we can talk about religion, history, philosophy, art criticism, programming languages, and world building. ;)

To communicate by hallucinations would be to greatly increase the sensory depth of our communications. Rather than a measly 50 phonemes we would have an infinite number of experiences to share. But I don't think freeform hallucinations could be counted as language any more than painting or photography is counted as language. Communication, definitely, but not language.

Purely referential communication (using symbols to directly refer to things in the world without metaphorical extension) is not enough to be a language, and no purely pictographic human writing system is thought to be able to communicate all that its spoken language can. Language must be able to communicate abstract concepts that are beyond any sensory or referential basis.

If hallucinations were the communication medium of a language, rather than having an infinite range of communication like painting does for us humans, I think it would be codified into a finite set of symbols, which would correspond somewhat to our human words/morphemes. They would be made up of hallucinogenic 'phonemes' such as colours, shapes, noises, scents, temperature, proprioception etc. These morphemes would communicate concepts, and be combined with some sort of grammar to communicate propositions.

Most human languages are linear, including both spoken and written languages. The best real world analogy for hallucinogenic languages might be sign languages and their spatial grammars. Sign languages are able to go beyond linear chains of symbols and have a limited capacity for simultaneous expression. Hallucinogenic languages would have the capacity for much greater simultaneity, but limits would still be reached, because no brain has infinite processing power.


The grammar would be one of temporal ordering and compression.

For instance, in telling a personal experience story, an Ent might provide information in the order they learned it. From there own eyes their speech would be one full of personal pronouns. While telling from a third person view, one might convey the message from outside any individual in the order things actually occurred.

Emphasis could be conveyed through stretching and compression of time. More important concepts would receive a higher resolution in time for Ent to Ent communication or take a longer time to play for those wearing an Ent Crown.


The need for concepts like words and phrases are primarily designed the needs of our particular communication system using sounds or written words. Those limitations are tossed away when we free ourselves from the medium. Take, for example, the amount which can be expressed by a single touch. The poets have oft drempt of the raging warrior subdued by a single touch of the gentle soul who loved him.

Touch itself is limited compared to what an Ent crown can do. Needless to say the Entish crown's description suggests an even tighter connection between the wearer and the ents than a pair of lovers would dream for. The scientist in me wants to suggest direct neural stimulation, but it probably doesn't even need an explanation. Just a sense -- a feeling.

If I may borrow from Douglas Hofstadter's way of viewing the world from I am a Strange Loop, I would suggest they may talk in "symbols." A symbol conveys one thought or idea, but unlike a word or phrase, there's no concept of ganging them together. A symbol is a complete thought, not to be divided or aggregated. It is not unreasonable to presume that the answer to "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" is a symbol when approached from a Zen perspective -- indivisible, fleeting, and yet eternal.

Without the ability to combine symbols together, an Ent (or indeed perhaps all of Ent kind) cannot transition from thought to thought by simply switching from symbol to symbol. Instead, they must mold and manipulate their one symbol to include the new idea, and then perhaps elect to manipulate it to exclude the old one (though we may have reason to believe that the old idea always still exists in the form of a whisper). With an Entish crown, we are permitted to experience this symbol as part of the Ent community.

In the original wording of the question, there was a reference to Julia fractals. I do not think that wording was amiss, and I would like to include a little piece of that. Such symbols could be thought of as self-similar. The whole pattern of the symbol could be rediscovered within any silver of the symbol, as fractals often exhibit self similarity as you zoom in. The symbol may be distorted, depending on how one approached that silver, but it would always be there. The closer to the center of the symbol one looks (or feels), the less distorted it is -- the more the true meaning of the Ents shows through.

If you were to put on an Ent crown, you would be permitted to join the Ent community, momentarily, and see the Symbol of the Ents from far far away (the less like an Ent you are, the further away you would feel). Even at this initial distance, you would feel the pulse of the spirit of the Ents, though it may be very faint.

From that point, you interact with the Symbol as the Ents do. If you wish to go closer to them, you manipulate it to include more of yourself. That act naturally shifts your focus closer to the core of the Symbol -- thinking more and more like an Ent. You would not ask them a question and then await the answer. You would ask your question and the mere act of asking would lead you to the answer, as though it had always been there.

This sort of communication would lead to the appearance of communicating with hallucinations. Any individual wearing an Entish crown would be forced to describe their journey in that way, as the Ent's spirit literally applies itself over the hopes and memories of the wearer, making them part of the greater Ent while sharing some of what it means to be an Ent with those hopes and memories. To go beyond calling them hallucinations would imply your mind had been warped enough by the Ents that you were indeed no longer a human, but an Ent yourself. In such cases, you may not survive having the crown removed from your head any more than one survives having their head removed from their shoulders.

Alice picked up the crown of RedAlder and looked up at its namesake. RedAlder stood taller than any other tree in the region, its maturity shown in its warped yet beautiful branches suggesting a subtle harmony that only an Ent could accomplish. He was by far the easiest of the Ents to talk to, having served as ambassador to this kingdom for far longer than anyone alive could vouch for personally. Nevertheless, she hesitated. She knew that you never walk away from a conversation with the Ents the same. Some part of you is always changed. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and allowed the crown onto her head.

Even when talking to one as soft and kind as RedAdler, the experience was never easy. She could feel RedAlder guiding her to a soft calm space within the Ents carefully pruned and cared for, as though they were their own arborist. She could feel herself arrive, as the impossibly bright lights and twisted sounds faded away and gave her a moment to rest... if the idea of a "moment" meant anything at all when connected to the Ents.

Drawing upon the lessons she had received from RedAdler and the other Ents, she carefully drew her awareness to the ebbing and flowing around her. She soon found what was thought to be the Pulse of the Ents and began her true quest. She focused on developing her own symbol within the Symbol, to add her own tale to the Ent kind. RedAdler kindly assisted the entire way, helping her manage her emotions while she struggled with the delicate grammar of the Symbol. After some time (time?) it was completed, and her story of the upcoming war was offered as a gift to the Ent spirit. She felt it race along the Pulse, deeper into the Ent kind. Surely they would appreciate the fires that were to come to their forest and lend aid.

Something was wrong. She felt no reply, even though her statement had been given. The replies were always instant -- infuriatingly instant, as though the Ents never had to spend any time on their decisions (there's that word again, time...). She had no training to help her now. None of her teachers had ever suggested this could happen. She struggled through her intuition to find an answer (her? Pronouns were so hard when talking to the Ents. Maybe it was "our intuition?" ... "my intuition?")

She widened her awareness, and realized how distant she felt from the Ents. Perhaps they had given her answer and she simply had not been listening. She felt for the pulse, and upon finding it, began weaving her own symbols closer and closer to it.

RedAdler interceded, in a flurry of symbology that would have sent Alice into a disoriented spiral if she had not been so focused on feeling the pulse of the Ents. He caught her, and directed her, guiding her weaving to take her closer and closer to the pulse. But when she got there -- wait. She got there? One never "gets" to anything with the Ents unless its just a carefully cultivated landing pad managed by their ambassadors to humankind. But there she was, on the pulse -- part of the pulse. Her entire essence shook with every quiver of the Pulse around her. RedAdler was there (how long was he there? This time thing again... how infuriating!). The Symbol looked different to her than it had every looked before. It was more nuanced and detailed. Alice could almost feel the entwined roots of the Ents, sharing in a way no two humans could ever achieve. She saw the Pulse in a whole new light. Two lights. Three lights. Five? The Pulse raced everywhere around her, until it dawned on her that the Pulse was not numbered. It was simply everywhere Ent kind, in endless variation. She wore an Ent crown. It pulsed within her as well.

With this dawning realization, she felt her own heart beat pulsing and all of Ent kind pulsing along with it. Resisting the urge to flee outward, she instead fled downward, deeper into the Ent gestalt, feeling her roots in her own body beginning to fray and tear loose as she did so. She searched for something, she knew not what. A faint whisper of an idea flowed through her head: the thing she searched for was known by the Symbol as a whole, not just her. She let it guide her, deeper and deeper, past experiences no human had experienced before, until Alice ran into Alice.

Alice had never experienced anything quite like it. Deep in her search, she found herself. She found herself searching. She realized that she had been found by her search. She looked up, down, left and right, and saw nothing but herself (did those directions mean anything anyway?). She closed inward, tighter, constricting herself. An animal instinct in her lunged forward in her chest, crying out for her to strike at these encroaching mirages and destroy them before they destroyed her, but she stilled that instinct. It was not the right instinct to use. Instead she/Ents/Symbol reached out and brushed over her head, wrestling her hair from the loose bow that kept it out of her eyes.

The crown tumbled to the ground, and Alice along with it. Her mind, suddenly cut off from the Ents, retreated, unsure what to do in this world disconnected from the Ents. Surely she had seen into the heart of what it is to be an Ent, but one can never be too sure. Her mind ran in loops as it slowly dimmed and the lights went out. Alice's body slumped and rested as her mind fought valiantly to recover.

RedAdler and the Entkind observed this in the same way they always had, discussing those observations as the Symbol of Entkind twisted and turned around them and within them. This one would help, of this they were confident. She had seen enough of what it truly meant to be an Ent to sympathize with what had to be done to preserve their way of life. All that was left was to wait for her to regain consciousness. Fortunately, for an Ent, waiting is.

So they waited.


So you are talking about a form of communication that uses sights, scents, sounds and such to convey information rather than words.

Grammar can be broken down into a few parts. All definitions shamelessly stolen from Wikipedia.

In linguistics, grammar is the set of structural rules governing the composition of clauses, phrases, and words in any given natural language.

Morphology emphasis mine

In linguistics, morphology /mɔrˈfɒlɵdʒi/ is the identification, analysis and description of the structure of a given language's morphemes and other linguistic units, such as root words, affixes, parts of speech, intonations and stresses, or implied context

In this regard I think the key concepts your system needs to account for are implied context and intonation/stresses.

Knowing how to convey ideas via thought could be difficult. How do you show freedom, how do you show confinement. I can see certain physical items becoming symbols for ideas. Chains for bondage a bird in flight for freedom etc. Maybe a flash of just that item to identify you are communicating an idea.

Intonation gives us the ability to demonstrate emotion (among other things) in speech. Considering your Ents are already share vast amounts of sensory information there is not reason you could not allow them to also share emotions. Emotions are more than words. FAR MORE. Being able to share emotions would be a vast benefit to a species.


In linguistics, grammar is the set of structural rules governing the composition of clauses, phrases, and words in any given natural language.

You could probably get away with ignoring syntax completely. If the Ents are able to share that much information that rapidly having a sentence structure seems un-necessary.

Though you could alter the definition to create a structure for the flow of information. It would probably work kind of like charades in that you don't use words to convey ideas but there is an expected order information will be provided in, 3 words, 1st word, 4 syllables, act like a moron trying to get the idea across. You can see how that could easily be modified to fit images/sensations/etc


Phonology is a branch of linguistics concerned with the systematic organization of sounds in languages. It has traditionally focused largely on the study of the systems of phonemes in particular languages (and therefore used to be also called phonemics, or phonematics), but it may also cover any linguistic analysis either at a level beneath the word (including syllable, onset and rime, articulatory gestures, articulatory features, mora, etc.) or at all levels of > language where sound is considered to be structured for conveying linguistic meaning. Phonology also includes the study of equivalent organizational systems in sign languages.

This one is less applicable than the others to your system as sound by definition would not play a role in your system, though phonology may matter when speaking with other races so your Ents would have to understand the concept.

To address your specific mention of emphasis. In the transfer of knowledge an idea or subject that the 'speaker' is trying to emphasize you could attribute it your attention, you could give it a certain glow halo affect in visual terms, if scent is used you could focus on that object's particular scent or you could focus on impressing your emotions related to that person or object in the communication.

Other notes:

Some other things worth mentioning that are not strictly speaking grammar

Perspective will be important when conveying information.

Emotion, if you allow it to be part of the communication process, can be a valuable tool in this system.

Consider how you will convey time. Conveying time is usually a comparison or verbal idea. You will need to come up with a system to convey such concepts.


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