World Building: Language

The Uttalak tribesmen are a curious sort, for they have no tongues. First contact with them has been lost to time, and it can only be imagined what trouble that must have been, for while the Uttalak (literally, speech-lacking in Miaran) are able to understand speech, they don’t use it themselves, and of course when first encountered did not know any other languages. (Though not the subject of this missive, their method of eating without tongues is quite astonishing and a sight to behold.) 

Their manner of language is three-fold.

First there is the war chant, which is simple and carries little information. When the Uttalak shout to each other, it is most often in these chants, which are a combination of high, low, and mid ranges in sound. The war chants can be picked up in roughly a day, and civilized man can “speak” it easily by forcing air from his belly and laying his tongue flat against the inside of his mouth. War chanting is always very clear, but does not have a wide variety of concepts within it, and most of those are simply to carry information about the beasts or men that they hunt.

Second there is the finger language. This takes two modes. The first is used at a distance, and requires flashing various contortions of one’s fingers at the listener. Among the Uttalak it is considered to be quite rude to use this form of the finger language, as it implies a great distrust. The second form is much more familiar, and requires pressing ones fingers against the arm or leg of the person you’re communicating with. The movements of the fingers then signify parts of words; one of the simplest is four fingers laid flat followed by the side of a bent pinky, which means something akin to “mother”. When two of the Uttalak are communicating in such a matter, it is typical that they lay their hand along each others wrist, and of course the positioning of such carries some significance as well. For children, it is more common for a parent to grip the wrist of the child without any reciprocation, so that they cannot speak back. (I have heard rumors that among Uttalak lovers the fingers are instead placed within the mouth, but in speaking about it I have gotten mostly embarrassed looks – I do not know whether I am breaking a cultural taboo, or whether they find me exceedingly ignorant.)

The third form is the most significant, and the least studied. It is a language written in string and knots. The Uttalak are well-known for their knotwork, and the language of knots is the pinnacle of that. It starts with a long length of string, much as we would start with a blank sheet of paper. From there, additional strings are laid perpendicular, and knots are tied within them, and laced through with vibrant colors. The resulting work is “read” from top to bottom and left to right, moving down one string before moving on to the next. Each knot has a rough equivalent of the finger language, and once that is learned the knotwork comes much easier. The colors of each knot, and the color of each string, also carry some additional meaning; in Uttalak knotwork there are some things which cannot be said without the right color. Requests for betrothal are an excellent example of this, and procurement of the bright yellow dye needed for that is a major signifier of commitment. Anything made of knotwork is considered to be more lasting and important than something said with the fingers – while a slight might be brushed off when signed using the fingers, the same slight in knotwork would require a duel to the death.

(Knotwork langauge is based loosely on the Incan quipu code.)

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World Building: Language

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