Creating Aliens

Photo by Chris Palmer

I’ve read science fiction all my life and, while many of my stories deal with the out-of-the-ordinary in some way, my latest story, tentatively titled “Cold Water” is one of my first forays into aliens, alien planets, and space opera’ish settings.

The story started in a stupid way. One of my writing exercises if I’m stuck on something is just to write stream of consciousness drivel. On that day, I didn’t even write real words. I wrote a string of gibberish: Whee. Sallah-bwii. Sallah-boynda. Then I started imagining this as an alien language and the story started building in head. Of course, at some point, I had to figure out what this sentence meant.

Inspired a bit by the “Soo Soo Sook” line from the water seller in Dune, I decided it was an alien water seller. The line means: “Here! Fresh water! Cold water!” and with that, I started a small vocabulary for my aliens.

The aliens started taking form next. The Chirukh are about one and half meters tall. Imagine a cross between a bearded dragon and the Pokemon Sandshrew. Spiky skin, double-pupil eyes. They have two hands on each arm, a clawed overhand and a more delicate underhand because they evolved from creatures with eight limbs. They are venomous, ritualistically eat their dead, and have a weird defecation habit. Their world has been environmentally devastated and is a hot, radiation blasted semi-waste. But the Chirukh have a certain nobility about themselves and the universe, they are non-violent, gregarious, open to strangers, and believe poetry and mathematics are the same thing. To learn more about them, you’ll have to read the story, but I will discuss a little more about the bits and pieces of their language that I worked out.

Knowing the translation of the water seller’s call, it’s pretty easy to figure out what each word means and a little of their grammar. “Sallah” means water. “Whee” is “here”. “Bwii” is “fresh”, “Boyna” is cold. Adjectives come after the noun they modify.

I only had to create a few words and phrases. This isn’t like Klingon or Dothraki and I’m not a linguist. I just wanted a little flavor and to give a little insight into the alien’s thought process. Knowing they are mathematicians, the next line I wrote was “Gesta chi harra, sallah-boynda ges ii” – “The hotter the sun, the colder the water.” A direct transliteration is “Relationship between sun heat water colder implied causality will be,” which I think has a kind of mathematical notation to it.

One more: “Bu trosh agram-ii ayon mallah kham e” is “My honor it would be your flesh to eat.” I liked the idea that “sallah” is water and “mallah” is flesh because they would rhyme in the Chirukh language. “Sallah gi mallah” is “Water and Flesh.” That syntax is pretty close to Japanese.

All told, I only created a handful of phrases and less than twenty words in my Chirukh vocabulary and, whether the constructs are linguistically sound of not or whether the reader will dig into them, I’m pleased with the internal logic of them and they make my world feel more real.

37 thoughts on “Creating Aliens”

  1. This is what I love about your writing Chris, everything is so thoughtful and fits. I love how every element from the words themselves to their translation to the look and actions of the characters keeps reinforcing “this is real” “this is believable”.

    Maybe the best part of that story is that it came from a free write you phoned in. Just typed gibberish, lol. It just proves even lemons have a place in gourmet food.

    I have not experience in creating foreign languages. It’s daunting, so many elements to consider. Plus my gibberish key strokes aren’t as nice as yours, lol. All you have to do is look at “The Undertaking”, the character names Nimguana and Sasuna are both random key hit names.

    Most of my characters who communicate in not English use some kind of mental connects, gestures, or remain silent. I’ve found allowing characters to communicate in images tends to pair well with my writing style (which I hope is evocative and suggestive without being too tell).

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