So let's consider a species of blind, sea dwelling, squid-like aliens.

They are sentient, intelligent and highly social. As their societies develop and their available knowledge increases they require a method of storing information without needing to remember it all.

These aliens are completely blind as they branched off from a species that lived primarily in caves and the water they live in is actually a murky water-based solution making vision less useful then here on earth.

They can however very effectively echolocate, sense nearby electromagnetic disturbances and feel the basic chemical composition of certain objects by touch.

Other then the difference mentioned above the body of water they live in is essentially the same as our own seas and oceans.

Given all this: What different methods of "written" communication would they likely develop over their history (as they develop new technologies and get access to new materials, etc), what would they use to write, write on? I am not asking about the language itself, the syntax, the grammar or anything like that. Simply and literally how they would write.

Idealy I'm looking for systems which would enable them to take advantage of their abilities (for example being able to "see" into objects via echolocation).

Note: I put "written" purposely in quotation marks to indicate that it can be any form of information storage as long as it is permanent and does not require someone to remember everything.

Note 2: As I said in the question, I'd like to know how they'd write at different points of their history, so far I've gotten adequate answers for ancient preindustrial times, but none for when they start mass "printing" or even further when they start using computers, machines, etc... I'd love for example ideas for how their computer's interfaces would work. Only speech?

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    $\begingroup$ Does any method of permanently recording information count as "writing"? For example (for humans not blind squid), would audio recording or digital encoding qualify? $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Feb 15 '17 at 2:53
  • $\begingroup$ @MonicaCellio Absolutely, yes. Though I don't see how that could be accomplished? $\endgroup$ – AngelPray Feb 15 '17 at 2:55
  • $\begingroup$ I don't know either; I'm just trying to understand the bounds of the question. (I'm thinking about things with permanent but varied acoustic properties, but don't have anything concrete.) $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Feb 15 '17 at 3:00
  • $\begingroup$ knotted ropes were used for record keeping in central america. called quipu en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quipu $\endgroup$ – John Feb 15 '17 at 5:44
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    $\begingroup$ It likely depends on how they became intelligent in the first place. $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Feb 16 '17 at 0:39

11 Answers 11


Underwater, they would be most easily able (certainly at early stages of technological development) to scratch and pierce objects. If they could develop some form of cordage, they can also tie knots, thread sequences of objects on string (like necklaces), or weave patterns. These could be read by simple physical touch, but also


  • piercings (like Braille but patterns of holes pierced through rocks or shells), and hard objects threaded on strings would be easy to read by echolocation. Objects that are larger then the wavelength of sound used can be picked out clearly.
  • An added benefit would be that stacks of pierced plates or layers of beadwork would be readable; in essence you could read several pages of a book without opening it since sound passes through soft objects and reflects off the harder ones.

Sense nearby electromagnetic disturbances:

  • The above two solutions would allow this if the hard material had electrical properties different to the water. They'd be able to read the pattern

The chemical composition sense seems less useful to me, especially at a lower technology level. If the chemical is detectable then it must also be dispersible and would disappear over time. It doesn't seem a good choice for long term storage of information.

Edit: For more technologically advanced stages of their history

Piercing writing would seems to be more amenable to technological development than knots or beading

As technology progressed, this would easily lend itself to a printing press analogue and a typewriter analogue, assuming that they develop a paper-analogue (should be possible). Computer input systems could function in whatever way typewriters do of course, and the display could be like one of these:
enter image description here
Pins extend out or retract in to make the piercing letter patterns or images, and the echolocation sense can view them.

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    $\begingroup$ You make a good answer, although I have a comment on your conclusion of chemical imprints. It is true that the chemical compound need to be semi volatile if they are going to "sniff" it (that is, unless they can see e.g., Raman scattering, they are going to need to taste or smell molecules), and as such it is going to disappear eventually. However, they could still use something which is slightly stable over time and still sense it's composition. If they can differentiate from e.g., quartz and feldspar, then they could lick on those patches when reading and it would still last centuries. $\endgroup$ – Mrkvička Feb 25 '17 at 21:25
  • $\begingroup$ I am going to +1, because of the thoughtful answer, but also because of the clock picture. $\endgroup$ – Mikey Feb 26 '17 at 0:52
  • $\begingroup$ @Mrkvička I strangely never saw your comment (or even that my answer was accepted and got a bounty). You're right that 'scratch 'n' sniff' kinds of materials would last much longer, and probably at least as long as paper books manage to last. This still seems much more difficult to do than something echolocation-based though, seeing as it requires special materials to be found and stored. We obviously do something similar with paints, so its not unreasonable that it it would develop as a medium at some point, but I think it's less plausible that it appears as an early writing system. $\endgroup$ – Tharaib Apr 3 '17 at 3:41

I'd like to introduce you to this question, which, while it doesn't focus on the blind aspect, does ask about underwater methods of writing.

Culling that, there's my answer:

I have been pondering your question and finally came up with a way to make fabric and thread: http://marinelife.about.com/od/glossary/g/byssalthread.htm This stuff is made from the fibers mussels use to attach to things. There would have to be an abundance of them in order to make as much as would be needed for writing. The other way that writing would most commonly happen would have to be via carving--using rock and coral.

And there was more than one answer talking about raised scarification tattoos, string knot systems of writing and of course, carving into stone or coral.

Basically, anything that can be felt rather than seen would be where you would go with this.

Not so basic: sound.

Objects placed and carved could, in fact tell a story, like a recording, if hit by the correct sound, which you could record in the rock with some kind of braille-like bumps--the creatures would make the sound indicated, and part of the "recording" would echo along the specifically placed stones or underwater structures. I would think that they would get more and more complex with it--experimenting with it in ways we haven't even thought of.

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    $\begingroup$ I especially like the last paragraph because it helped me consider how different their art and artistic representations would be: acoustic projection would indeed be without a doubt one of the most prominant starting from ancient times. However I do think it would be reserved to an art form, not a true language. It would take many individuals a lot of time and a lot of trial and error to get the specific setup they'd want(until they develop mathematical ways of mapping the configuration based on the desired result, probably using a form of topology and vector calculus). +1 $\endgroup$ – AngelPray Feb 16 '17 at 14:56

Method 1- etching

These creatures being tool users, could effectively create symbols representing different echolocation patterns. These symbols could then be etched into rocks or if they are significantly advanced, metal objects. These etchings could then be felt or depending on the level of their echolocation viewed by the other members of the society.

Method 2- chemical imprinting

As you stated, they can: feel the basic chemical composition of certain objects by touch. They, being scientifically advanced, could coat surfaces in differing patterns of chemicals representing different echolocation patterns. These chemicals would have to be waterproof though (obviously) I think this to be the better option due to their technological advancement. Basically they would use chemicals like we use letters.


Use Memory Sponges

enter image description here

These things are colonies of very small individual animals. You could theoretically use these to store and retrieve information simply by singing to them. The colony remembers those sound waves and play them back upon command. There's no reason why they couldn't remember more than one "song".

The fact that they look like brains is a bit of a bonus.

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    $\begingroup$ Wait... Is this an actual thing that exists on Earth? If not, why and how would one of these colonies remember what's sung. How would they play it back? Abd how would the squids "command" then to do so? $\endgroup$ – AngelPray Feb 15 '17 at 16:41
  • $\begingroup$ I had assumed by your use of the word 'Alien', you wanted an alien life-form... $\endgroup$ – Snow Feb 15 '17 at 17:28
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    $\begingroup$ I have no problem with these sponges being fictional as long as they are scientifically plausible. Which I why I asked the questions I did. $\endgroup$ – AngelPray Feb 15 '17 at 18:12
  • $\begingroup$ OK, so a science-based tag might have helped here then. $\endgroup$ – Snow Feb 15 '17 at 18:45
  • $\begingroup$ You're right, my mistake. I edited the tags. $\endgroup$ – AngelPray Feb 15 '17 at 18:48

Flat pages can have “ink” applied that their chemical sence can detect, so it stays flat and does not need an ingraving or braille-like texture. So it would seem like normal writing to us, if there was color contrast we could detect between the ink and the paper. But it’s the same idea really.

Signs made to be read from a distance will use 3d inlays, not to create a releif like a carving but rather to have a density difference. Heavy stone letters can be attached to a net backing to make a sign that can be read using the active sonar sense.


If they are blind, they might evaluate their enviroment by a combination of echo-location (for living and non living objects) and electromagnetic location (for living objects which use muscles to move).

Early stage of development.

Echo-location will work well in their early stage of technological development: they can harvest stones, break them to suitable sizes and cluster them on a surface in a mutually agreed alphabet. They would then "read" the stones by using their echo-locator. They would need periodi cleaning, as debris falling on the surface may, over long time, prevent echo-reading.

Intermediate stage of development

They have learned how to shape surfaces, so they can carve surface to show features that they can read via echolocation. This enables them to carry around the written media and loosen the bond with the surface where the stones were laid. It also makes cleaning easier.

Later stage of development

In a later stage of their development, once they have developed the ability of controlling electromagnetism, they can engineer surfaces to emit coded pulses, that their EM locator will catch and decode. This will require less "cleaning" maintenance but will make them dependent on power sources to keep the device fed.


You haven't said whether the watery medium contains dissolved solids as does seawater. If the water were rich in tannin, for example, it could have very low light transmission, but would otherwise support familiar life functions. So-called 'blackwater' rivers in Florida are practically opaque, but not silty. 'Murky' water generated by high suspended silt content isn't really consistent with an underground cavern because the silt will settle out.

One presumes that they depend on a sonar-like sense like river dolphins (now almost extinct--sadly), which live in murky water and are have vestigal eyes.

However, water, being a powerful solvent, will corrode organic material and most metals. So if this blind species needs durable records, they will need to engrave them on a suitable mineral. Carbonate (HCO3) plates could work. The written language could engraved--by lowering pH selectively--or precipitated by raising pH. Perhaps, the written language could be an adaptation of an innate evolutionary capability of the species. If their evolutionary ancestors were able to form tooth- or shell-like structures, the sentient species could adapt this by making more elaborate 3-D structures that they could 'read' with a sonar like sense. (Dolphins can 'see' inside your body & count the coins in your pocket.)

  • $\begingroup$ Since they descend (and still practically are) a hive-like species I do indeed want them to build a more complex language on top of their innate natural "language" (that bees especially have been found to have). That isn't an issue when it comes to simply speaking to each other but I find it highly unlikely they'd evolve a writing system by creating organic materials in a suitable partern: I don't think there'd be sufficient selection pressure for a durable information keeping system. And since I've given them quite a few abilities, I think I should be wary of making them Mary Sues. $\endgroup$ – AngelPray Feb 26 '17 at 17:10

Let's start with a few assumptions: they have tentacles, they are capable of using multiple tentacles in conjunction for human-equivalent or greater manual dexterity, and at least a few tentacles have a superb sense of touch.

Early History

My instinct is to say "engraving," but that's hard to do underwater. You can't swing a hammer well, so chiseling is right out, and anything soft enough to be marked with a stylus will be washed away by the water surrounding it. I'd suggest something along the lines of knotted strings in particular patterns. A long rope with a string dangling off in a particular pattern of knots for each letter or word would make the most sense. If you want to take it a step further, that written language can come about from squids communicating with each other by expanding knots of muscle in their tentacles and allowing others to feel. Knot writing won't be the most compact method of information storage, but they're blind and underwater - they already have problems. Echolocation just doesn't work - vision only works for information transfer because we can discern color, and they won't be able to. Imagine trying to read something written in black on a sheet of black paper and you'll get the idea - sure, you can TECHNICALLY see the dents in the paper, but it's hard. Now imagine that with sound.


Probably going to stay with knot-writing. However, if you're willing to stretch the biology of the world a bit, you could create a species of flat coral or sponge that goes rock-hard upon death, but is soft and markable beforehand. Or maybe it's a soft waxy clay that hardens upon exposure to a deep-sea smoker's gas, or to some other animal's products. The point is, either they're staying with knot-writing and touch, or they begin writing on soft things that harden once written.


I'm going to assume that you've already figured out how to propel them into the industrial age when any furnace would heat the water around it too much for any smith, and just leave that be. Their techniques will probably be the same - maybe they can now make some artificial tablets rather than just harvesting them, but the principles will remain.


Again, I'm going to assume they've gotten around the problems associated with water and electricity in our world. The solution is probably auditory - a computer that works by touch will be bulky, to say the least. Early computers will probably use "knotted" (hole-punched) "ropes" (strips of waterproof "paper") rather than punch cards, because a few squids remember it and it worked THEN just fine. Later ones will probably just get more and more sophisticated auditory output.

  • $\begingroup$ First answer to recognise that carving rock isn't easy when you're underwater. So +1 for that. However I have to challenge your view that echolocation can not be used for data transfer. Indeed, sound acts differently depending on the material it traverses (based of the materials density for example). This capacity to distinguage between different materials could be their equivalent to color. This isn't an assumption either, we know factually that animals capable of echolocation can easily tell substances apart only using the former. $\endgroup$ – AngelPray Feb 20 '17 at 20:54
  • $\begingroup$ @AngelPray Actually not the first - the difficulty of carving was why I suggested piercings in my answer; it doesn't require hammer swinging, just a drilling motion and pressure, which are easy to do underwater $\endgroup$ – Tharaib Feb 22 '17 at 3:53
  • $\begingroup$ @AngelPray Sure, it's POSSIBLE to do that. However, we're not differentiating between materials, we're looking at rock with gashes. It's already hard enough to see shallow scrapes in material, provided that the underside of the material is the same color as the surface; consider trying to do that with sound, when they're mostly the same already. $\endgroup$ – Jacob Feb 22 '17 at 16:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Jacob Why not use a different material as the symbols? $\endgroup$ – AngelPray Feb 22 '17 at 17:07
  • $\begingroup$ @AngelPray Dunno about you, but if all I have is my fingers, differentiating the materials without using something that'll just float away or dissolve in water is going to be difficult. $\endgroup$ – Jacob Feb 22 '17 at 20:31

While the obvious answer would be a brail equivalent for the pre-ancient period possibly using holes or stones to count and identify items (which is what our earliest forms of writing did), I have a serious issues with the whole idea they would develop any form of visible writing at all if they were blind.

I would be more likely to think their transferable methods of communications which would happen in their ancient periods and on would be more likely related to their echolocation, tactile sense of chemical composition, electromagnetic sense.

With echolocation we think of it as painting pictures in the mind but maybe it could also be used to paint pictures in the mind of others such as a keeper of knowledge who could then echo data on to someone else. Once the requirement for it to be stored on some type of transferable media their society should be developed to the point they are looking at themselves and the world around them for the type of stabilized media we found first in papyrus, later in paper and now in the electronic products we now use for data storage.

I cannot imagine what sort of plants or animals in their world they would use but basically they would probably be using sand with some sort of binder to begin with like we did clay tablets but instead of using a stylus of some sort to write with maybe they would be able to use their echo location and sound waves to "paint" what they needed on the smooth sandy surface of the underwater world they inhabited and then whatever binder they found to make it semi permanent or permanent.

Using their tactile sense of chemicals could be used to create a chemical picture of their information in the sand as well. Even better yet if their echolocation can differentiate between chemicals as well. I don't necessarily see the use of magnetism until their later periods of development because they would be much harder to move around in the environment than the first two. By then their society should be to the point where they are developing methods of studying and reproducing magnetism though.

To do that though it seems they would have had to have developed methods to survive on land at least some of the time at least in suits if not in some amphibian state. I cannot see how they can explore their solar system if they can't get out of the water.

On the other hand there may be some aquatic individual out there at the moment saying they cannot see how a land animal could possibly launch a rocket ship off dry land. Adapting to and figuring out how to do things in our own environment has to be a must for any sentient species. Figuring out how another sentient species adapts to their different environment to get things done takes a lot more thought. Brail

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to World Building! In the future please consider formatting your posts as this one is very hard to read because of the lack of the former. $\endgroup$ – AngelPray Feb 23 '17 at 3:07
  • $\begingroup$ Also... I'm sorry, there's no nice way of saying this, but maybe consider spending more time on making your answer understandable because even ignoring the formatting issues, I had trouble grasping most of what you had to say. $\endgroup$ – AngelPray Feb 23 '17 at 3:14

For semi permanent, chemicals would work but they would likely dissolve away over time.

Early writing may involve placing items in specific patterns. This is pretty temporary since it is easy to disrupt this.

Making scratches in a solid surface is much more permanent if their sense of touch is acute enough. Unlike carving, you don't have to swing anything against the water to make an impact. All you need is something to hold onto for leverage.

Another possibility would be using a chemical to change the texture of a surface. So the smooth polymer (or whatever) pattern on the rock would be the writing. If you can alter the texture of the polymer, you can encode more information in the same area. You could also change the chemical composition to, for example, add emotional impact to the writing.


Edison scratched audio into wax. These became the vinyl records we still have today.

Squid have sharp beaks. Your squid could make recordings just like Thomas Edison. They would swim along a rock with their beak scratching the rock while they sing/talk.

To playback the recording, a squid would silently swim along the scratch with their beaks in the scratch like a needle on a record player picking up the vibrations. (think bone conduction like Beethoven biting pianos to hear them)


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