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?