I want a sufficiently alien language for the Eliski, natives to an alien planet. They live in small, closely-knit family groups of about a dozen that travel, hunt, and gather together. I'm using that as the basis for a very physical, affectionate language that employs both sign language and speech as ways of communicating. They have cat-like ears that can hear frequencies well into the ultrasound range, but they can't produce most of those frequencies themselves. Hairs which cover their entire body are another form of picking up both sound and touch - they are of varying lengths and stiffness and give a very tactile representation of the alien's surroundings. Their ears and nerves are linked together through evolution - touch produces sounds, and even "music"; sounds can produce sensations (even physical pain).

Obviously this would provide some advantages:

  • haptic storytelling
  • ability to teach others how to perform a physical skill (walking, swimming, jumping) by sound
  • display of affection for children/mates
  • ability to communicate noiselessly and over long distances
  • eventually, ability to "feel" direction of perceived motion could develop, linking sight, touch, and sound into a really weird sensory complex
  • the ability to "turn off" hearing and touch simultaneously (much like we block out background noise) might also develop as a way of managing physical or emotional stress or to cope with intense pain

And some disadvantages:

  • "loud" pain
  • torture of captives without causing any observable damage (that's a plot point)
  • synesthetic link could be incredibly distracting if there are, say, strong winds and loud noises at the same time (thunderstorm)

So I know what it can be used for, but what would the grammar and syntax look like? To get an idea of what I'm trying to ask here:

  • How would an intelligent species combine two modes of communication into one?
  • Would the gesture/touch and the spoken word represent two facets of the same idea, or would they be interwoven into a single idea where one or the other gives most of the picture but the two combined are very precise?
  • What kind of basic words would Eliski focus on? (Nouns, verbs, adjectives)
  • I'm assuming there would be more expressivity for textures and movement patterns - would different regions of the body be used to express different concepts?
  • How alien could the language be, and what would it be better suited to communicating?
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    $\begingroup$ Even within a species there is a vast range of variation for grammar and syntax. As written this question is too broad. $\endgroup$ – sphennings Oct 16 '17 at 17:15
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    $\begingroup$ INTERPRETIVE DANCING ALIEN KITTIES $\endgroup$ – anon Oct 16 '17 at 17:16
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    $\begingroup$ I've experienced haptic storytelling. It's a pretty incredible feeling when someone can do it right. However, I don't think you'd find it as part of a language. It's really a separate way of communicating in its own right. The hard part of building a two channel communication like this is that either channel needs to be sufficient on its own, but there needs to be value in combining them. That's rare. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Oct 16 '17 at 17:30
  • $\begingroup$ The evolution of language is a non-biological process, language has it roots in psychology, shared history, and cultural context, as such it falls far outside the bounds of what anyone can be expected to judge outside the universe you are working on. $\endgroup$ – Ash Oct 16 '17 at 17:45

There are some general assumptions that can be said about such a language:

  1. They would likely have a language that explains the primary goal at the beginning of every sentence. If someone is touching you to tell you something you want to know whether you are interested in the dialog as fast as possible. Dragging the point out until the end of a sentence would probably be seen as rude in a normal conversation.
  2. Intimate conversations or storytelling, depending on the degree and how you would like to focus your story, could reverse this somehow. Long sentences where you don't know what the person is refering to would be interesting in such a case. A long story would be a long cuddling-session for example.
  3. Your species would favor descriptions that revolve around the combination of these sentences in ways that we cannot comprehend in this form. Have you ever felt the bass in a disco? That's what it would be like all the time with everything leading to a lot of ways to describe this while I am currently struggling to find suitable words for this phenomenon - in my native language and in English.
  4. They would describe places, people, ... in terms of how they feel and sound like. If you are making this such an important point of their society you should focus on describing exactly how members of this and other species sound and feel like. They need an extensive vocabulary regarding sounds and physical feelings.
  5. They will basically ignore how things look like and won't have a lot of words for that. It's just not as important as the two other senses that fused together into one over the course of their evolution. I want to emphasize this: if those two senses fused together the combination is incredibly important for this creature and it's only natural to assume that it's vital to their survival, which justifies going back a bit on other senses.
  6. They would favor clear and short communication in a quiet manner most of the time. Everything else would be reserved for special occasions. Cuddling sessions where we have rock festivals, listening to the rain under differently formed roofs instead of a massage, ...
  7. They would have ways to communicate basic needs and everyday topics in an incredibly short way, such as when you would just say "SaWi" and expect everyone to understand that you want to go eating a Sandwitch because you are hungry right now because of your intonation. This is because everyday stuff might make communication with strangers necessary. And you probably won't want to cuddle with strangers you don't know.
  8. They would have a lot of ways to describe their relationship status with different people. This is necessary to show how they are allowed to communicate with you. Again this is basically a humans view on using touch as a sense for communication, but the same of course goes with appropriate noise levels. You know how humans hold hands in public when they are close to one another in our society? Imagine the constant feeling accompanied by a soft humming in the air when picturing how this is for your species. A gesture like this has a whole new level of meaning that you have to think about when designing their interactions.
  9. Nature around them would likely be described by the overall noise level and available physical sensations. Especially the noise level is important because it's hard to escape the noise and it's mostly on one level, while the available physical sensations are a thing for longer-term exploration. Basically "It's a bit noisy, which makes this a bit uncomfortable, but there are trees with an incredible texture for touching and the leaves are very soft"
  10. They would build their stuff to make nice sounds whenever possible and have a lot of ways to describe constructions that would cause noise for example when it's raining. While we have a few words for noise it would be amplified with everything that doesn't feel nice and an unknown combination of these two things.
  11. They would develop a multitude of ways to shun people and to insult them based on silence. Look at the practice of Untouchability and think about it on a liertal level. Denying people of their species touch would mean disallowing them to communicate with others. Making them deaf would rob them of their hearing and probably mean a constant physical pain making it impossible to be a normal functioning member of their society.

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