S2EP5 – Fantasy Languages

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Episode Transcription

MELISA: Hello, everyone! And welcome to another episode of Open World. I’m Melisa, I’m here with Lara and Alexis.


ALEXIS: Hi, everyone! Hi, Meli!

MELISA: And today we’re gonna be talking about fictional languages. So, when building a fictional world in books and movies and video games…

LARA: Of course. That’s why we’re here.

MELISA: Yes. A lot goes into place to make it look as believable and realistic as possible and create that immersive experience. And in some cases, that includes creating a whole other language, like whole new languages. In some video games, even several languages like for different… Yeah. So, guys, I know we’ve all experienced different fictional languages in video games. Do you remember which was the first one you came across?

LARA: Yes, absolutely. I mean, for me, it has to be Simlish. I remember being, like, a child playing with my computer with The Sims 1, and hearing all these weird noises coming from the sims’ mouths, you know? I was like, what are they talking about?

ALEXIS: What are they saying?

LARA: Yeah, and when I was a kid, I didn’t have the same level of English as I have today, so it was just like, “Oh, my God, they are speaking in English.” “Oh, my God, this is English!” Fun fact, it’s not. It’s Simlish.

MELISA: I hope one day I can understand it.

LARA: Sul-sul! Yeah, I… Yeah. My little brain was in that cloud nine of, “Oh, my God, this is English.” So I started saying “sul-sul” and “dag-dag” for “hi” and “goodbye,” and I was like, “Oh, my God, I’m so fluent in English.”

MELISA: “I am now bilingual.”

LARA: “Now I speak English, Spanish, and Simlish.”

MELISA: That’s amazing.

LARA: I will add it to my LinkedIn profile, just like…

MELISA: “Languages I speak: Simlish.” How about you, Ale?

ALEXIS: Oh, God, well, I’m an RPG guy, and the first one that I remember is in Playstation 2 with Final Fantasy X. They had a fictional language called Al Bhed. It was like this entire civilization that was different from all of the rest of the world, and that was very interesting because, I mean, all of your main characters, the cities that you visited and everything were all very religious, with summonings and everything, but this other civilization, the Al Bhed, spoke differently, they didn’t believe in any religion or anything, but they trusted in… they say “machina,” in machines, and that was like forbidden. But the way that they… that Square Enix truly showed that difference was through language. So when you first face one of these Al Bhed, you don’t understand what they’re saying. What comes out of their mouths is gibberish, but the subtitling is in a different color and the letters are exchanged, it doesn’t make any sense. But as you go on traveling around the world and everything, you find these ciphers, like, I don’t know, you find an item, and that item allows you to understand one letter of everything they’re saying. So, as the game progresses and as you understand more about them, you can make out what they’re saying.

MELISA: That’s really interesting.

ALEXIS: I’m geeking out, I know, but it blew my mind.

LARA: You’re blowing my mind right now. It’s just like, mine looks so dumb now compared to his.

ALEXIS: No! But I mean, they did it… It’s Square Enix, you know?

MELISA: Yeah, and when you think about it, the insane amount of work that goes to…

LARA: The amount of effort of creating a big language.

MELISA: Exactly. And, like, we know there’s… Of course, there’s, like, very different approaches to this. There’s languages where you can actually learn, that you have like tasks where you are trying to discover, and a lot of times you don’t need to learn the language. I don’t know how it was for…

ALEXIS: I mean, you could learn it.

MELISA: It’s like optional. Like, if you wanted to…

ALEXIS: It’s a side quest throughout the entire game. You found one? Okay, I can understand them better. And once you find a couple, you know, the syllable… the vowels, sorry, you kind of make out what they’re saying. But it gives, also, the game replayability, because, if you think about it, it’s genius, but it’s simple. All they did, in English, was to exchange the letters. The A was always another letter. But in its simplicity, it showed so much.

MELISA: Yeah, yeah, and then you’re like, am I missing something from the story? Maybe if I learn the language, like… That’s very interesting.

LARA: Yeah. It’s mysterious.

MELISA: Exactly.

LARA: Meli, what about you? Do you remember your first fictional language?

MELISA: I don’t know. Probably, the first I heard was Simlish as well, but one that is very dear to my heart is Animalese, from Animal Crossing, because it sounds so cute, basically.

LARA: So good. So good.

MELISA: Yeah, it sounds…

LARA: The cutest.

MELISA: Yeah. And it sounds a little bit like a sped-up version of Japanese. And my question for you guys now was, do you know if it’s translatable, like what Ale was saying, or if these languages are just gibberish? Because there’s lots of them that are, and Animalese is one of those. At first, I was hearing some noises that…

LARA: You could make some… Yeah.

MELISA: Yeah. So I was like, “Can you actually translate this?” And I looked into it and, unfortunately, not, it’s… it’s non-translatable. Do you know about Simlish, Lali?

LARA: I know there are like some fan-made glossaries and stuff for certain words.

ALEXIS: Glossaries, yes.

LARA: Yeah. Like “sul-sul” being “hi,” “dag-dag” being “goodbye” and everything, but EA hasn’t actually confirmed this. It’s just like they agree with the fact that it’s a language that goes with emotion, so it’s just pure gibberish all the time, it doesn’t make any sense, but you can actually hear the emotion, feel the emotion. I mean, come on, guys, have you heard the music that has been made in Simlish?

MELISA: This is crazy because sometimes, yeah, there’re even songs created in this fictional language.

LARA: That’s a funny thing, because I was playing the other day, and you can actually put some music with your sim, you know, with…

MELISA: Background.

LARA: Yeah, in the background, absolutely. And I found myself singing to the Simlish style of the song. Just like, just singing pure gibberish. And I was like, “Oh, my God, my brain has been consumed.”

ALEXIS: What’s happening with me?

LARA: Just like, it doesn’t make any sense.

MELISA: But I think what’s great about Simlish is it’s been there for so long that now it sounds natural. Like what you said, you know? At the beginning, it’s like, “What are they saying?” And now it’s like so normal that they speak that way, it’s just how it is.

LARA: And if the sims would start speaking in English, that would be so weird. Just like, no!

ALEXIS: That’d be weird. The amount of songs that were rewritten in Simlish…

MELISA: There’s video clips. Maybe we can share some in this episode, because…

ALEXIS: We can put one of the songs right now.


LARA: Yeah.

ALEXIS: In my case, I mean… In the Final Fantasy case, the Al Bhed, it was made to make them look different, you know? It was made for that. But I mean, maybe not quite as the Simlish, but other that I can think of is the Dovahzul in Skyrim. I mean, they invented an entire language that originally was a dragon language, you know? And the cool thing that the creators invented was, like, there were like runes, you know, written in stone, but with like claws from the dragons.

MELISA: It’s insane. Literally, that is insane.

ALEXIS: And you, as the main character, can actually do screams and shouts from that dragon power. Not everyone can read that. I mean, it’s not translatable, okay, but it has a meaning. And I think that’s what’s interesting, you know?

LARA: Yeah, when it has like a specific purpose. Because I’m thinking, as you said, like, to differentiate races or stuff like that, I played like ten years of my life of World of Warcraft, and even though your game is fully localized in the language that you are playing in, if you’re from the Horde, like me, you’re going to speak Orcish, and if you’re from the Alliance, you’re going to speak Common. It doesn’t matter the language that you’re speaking, I might be speaking in Spanish or in English with my teammates, the other side of the world is not going to understand you at all, it’s going to come out all gibberish.

ALEXIS: You can choose like the channel, right?

LARA: Yeah, you can choose like… Yeah, you can choose the channel, you can choose, like, if you want to talk in Orcish, that is like the common language in the Horde, or you can, I don’t know, maybe if you play with a blood elf, like I did, you can actually speak the language of the blood elves too, or if you are a troll, you can speak the languages of the trolls. It’s just like, every race has this thing that makes them unique. It is a gibberish language, but it has like this purpose of making you unique and…

MELISA: And look different from the others. In a way, that’s… especially if you play it when you’re young and that makes you think about the role of languages in the real world, because it’s a bit like that as well.

LARA: Yeah.

MELISA: And in a way, for those cases when you can understand a language, that can also be one of the purposes of, like, you want to try to learn it. I know some people, they talk about the Legend of Zelda.

LARA: Yeah, Hylian. Absolutely.

MELISA: I know some people that have tried also to learn it, but it’s, like languages in the real world, it has evolved.

LARA: That’s the thing. With Zelda, I believe it has changed, it has evolved.

ALEXIS: It changed like the roots and everything.

LARA: Yeah, everything is changing. So it’s just like, sometimes you can try, yeah, maybe you find some similarities, but it doesn’t mean it has like grammatical rules and everything. There is this blog post about Alan…

ALEXIS: From Alan.

LARA: From Alan, yeah. Zucconi. Alan Zucconi. It’s so great. He actually talks about world building through fictional languages, and I think it’s so amazing what he has to say, because he says there are some fictional languages that can be translated because they have an alphabet or grammatical rules. “The entire world of The Lord of the Rings was built around a series of languages that Tolkien himself created before writing the books.” It happens the exact same in the world of video games. “Noita is one such game, where a significant part of the story is either hidden in plain sight, or behind walls that the player has to destroy.” This is amazing because, if you actually played Noita, you have some sort of story going, you can actually see the story and everything, but everything on the background, it’s like the complete story, with all the hieroglyphics and stuff because it has grammatical rules. And I’ve seen people trying to… Not myself because I don’t have the time…

MELISA: Yeah, it takes a lot.

LARA: But if you go to the writing pages, you can find all the investigation that they did and everything, and it’s so amazing. I mean, how can a fictional language get that far?

ALEXIS: It’s an additional layer to a game story.

MELISA: Exactly. And it definitely adds to that immersive experience, the credibility of the world that you created that justifies this language. And I think we’ve covered all these different purposes that fictional languages can have. It can either just be, like, the emotion through the pitch that they’re using, or it can be like a whole quest where you can try to translate it.

ALEXIS: Totally.

LARA: Yeah, and it can be something to set you apart from the rest, to give you more of a mysterious feeling, because sometimes, when you play a video game and you open a magic book, what you find in the magic book is not probably something that you will understand, because it’s like a fake language. So it’s just like, to give this feeling of something mysterious, something like, you don’t belong here, right?

ALEXIS: You know what I…? I went silent because I couldn’t stop thinking about something. The Orcish and the Common languages.

LARA: Yeah, from the Horde and the Alliance.

ALEXIS: Yeah, but Common sounds not as cool as Orcish.

LARA: I know, but I’m from the Horde, you have to choose your sides. Just like… you wanna be part of the cool kids.

ALEXIS: You said it, not me, but you knew where I was going.

LARA: The Alliance is going to kill…

ALEXIS: But, I mean, if you think about it, in the world of World of Warcraft, it’s a war, so that happens also in real life. I mean, I imagine in wars, you face against individuals from another country or whatever, and you don’t understand them either. So it’s like that… How many years ago? Fifteen, twelve, ten years ago, that must’ve been groundbreaking.

LARA: Yeah.

ALEXIS: To do something massive, because it’s an online game.

LARA: Yeah, and there are like some Orcish words that I know they have meaning, like “Lok-tar ogar!”…

ALEXIS: “Lok-tar.”

LARA: Yeah, they have certain meaning because they have given this kind of meaning. So it’s just like, I think that’s powerful.

MELISA: Yeah, that’s a great point. I think, especially for… I don’t know, I was thinking about this the other day, like for native English speaker, that they are so used to…

LARA: Everyone speaking in English.

ALEXIS: Right.

MELISA: Yeah, every game is like, you know. And we’re from Latin America, we know like a lot of games aren’t localized to Spanish or Latin American Spanish, especially to Argentinian Spanish, in our case, for example. So it’s a very different feeling. And I think it’s interesting to create that more international view of your game where you have just different species and different, like, groups of people speaking different languages, and how it feels like.

ALEXIS: It gives you a notion of a broader view.

LARA: Yeah, yeah. It’s just like another thing that you’re experiencing, because I believe, um… if there are like games that weren’t like… with these fictional languages, it wouldn’t feel the exact same, you know?

ALEXIS: No. If they all spoke English with different accents, it wouldn’t cut it.

LARA: Yeah. And then… I don’t know, I imagine every single game that you wake up in a strange world, you don’t understand the language, so it’s just like this kind of feeling of exploration, of discovering new things, and I think that is what gets me the most about fictional languages, right?

ALEXIS: You know, Meli, that what you just said, I mean, the fact that most… or that English speakers are used to having games in English, that also happens in other countries. I remember Yuhei from season 1, one of our guests, talked about how some mods, actually, Japanese players just think that their game magically appears in Japanese, and that’s just not the case in most games because, I mean, there are many, many, many Japanese game developers and publishers, right? But, I mean, it gives a broader point of view, in general, that there are different people that speak different languages, and even if it’s a little.

LARA: Yeah, absolutely.

MELISA: And for all of you who are watching or hearing this, we would love to hear what’s your favorite fictional language, if we didn’t mention it…

LARA: Yeah, do you speak a fictional language?

ALEXIS: Are you fluent in any fictional languages?

MELISA: I would be very impressed.

LARA: Yeah, absolutely. Leave your comment down below, find our Discord link there. Yeah.

MELISA: Thank you so much for watching.

LARA: Bye!

ALEXIS: See you, guys, in the next episode.

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