"Arrival" Created an Entirely New Alien Language with Its Own Dictionary

Thursday, 03 November 2016 - 11:43AM
Arrival
Thursday, 03 November 2016 - 11:43AM
"Arrival" Created an Entirely New Alien Language with Its Own Dictionary
For years, super-nerds have been learning fictional languages such as Klingon, Elvish, Dothraki, and Na'vi. Now, we might be able to add one more to that list, as the creative minds behind Denis Villeneuve's Arrival has constructed an entirely new language—complete with its own dictionary.

Arrival follows a linguistics expert named Louise Banks (Amy Adams) who is tasked with communicating with an alien race (called "heptapods") that lands on Earth with ambiguous motivations. In a recent interview, screenwriter Eric Heisserer discussed the gargantuan process of creating the alien language that Louise attempts to translate, which does not resemble any human language at all. 

Opening quote
"There are some blobs, and if you mix them together, if you put them in a circle, it's like writing a language," he told Inverse. "It's not easy to understand, but at one point, after looking at them, looking at the individual portions, you start to see what's repeated in another logogram. You put two and two together and start making sense of them. These logograms represent words, they represent sentences, and feelings. It's a total universe within each."
Closing quote

Heisserer referred to Elvish, as well as his studies in linguistics, when constructing rough ideas the alien language. But in reality, this was a much more challenging task, because all of the other fictional languages in sci-fi are linear, which means they follow the same basic structure as a human language. Nonlinear or "artistic" languages generally don't have consistent grammar rules, but designer Patrice Vermette, who was responsible for fully fleshing out the heptapod language, managed to create 100 of these "logograms," in which every small brush of ink can give the symbol an entirely different meaning.

Opening quote
"We created a dictionary, a logogram bible," he said. "There's 71 used in the final version of the movie, but we created over 100. They all make sense."
Closing quote

But this dictionary isn't just a record of the words the writers made up; it's a guide to the building blocks of an entirely new language. Anyone who is well-versed in linguistics (or anyone who crowdsources on Reddit) can potentially break down the symbols in order to create new symbols for other words and construct sentences.

Opening quote
"Louise divides the logograms into twelve parts," Vermette said. "We started with sixteen, and then thirty-two, and divided, divided, divided. From there, you can create long sentences and short sentences."
Closing quote

Arrival hits theaters on November 11.
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Arrival