I originally posted a lot of this material on my wiki, but I wanted to expand it and thought I’d do so here for people to comment on! The varied, mixed, and constructed cultures of the Eclipse Phase universe are more than just the background for daredevils taking on psychotic horrors wrought by inhuman seed AIs. The fact that the background fabric of the setting is a patchwork made of the shredded tatters that happened to make it through the apocalypse underscores the conceit of the setting at every turn. One of the most visceral ways to do that is with language.
The Exotic Language Skill
Why a new language skill? The short answer is, book-keeping. Just like Exotic Melee Weapon and Exotic Ranged Weapon mark something as an unusual bit of knowledge, this marks a language as something strange that deserves some extra attention. The longer answer is that there are Backgrounds, Factions, and Life Path Packages that let characters choose Language skills to increase but the languages covered under this skill are a little stranger and not readily available.
In my games, you can take your free ranks from one of these options that would normally go to Language [Field] and instead apply then to Exotic Language [Field] for 5 points less. For instance, a Reclaimer gets a +10 bonus to Language [Field] of their choice, but the player can choose to instead make that +5 to Exotic Language [Field] of their choice.
So What Counts as an Exotic Language?
The list of exotic languages in Panopticon is a little too arbitrary for me. Why are some languages “exotic” while others are just normal? Is it obscurity? Because with humanity so scattered and dead, it seems like the list of “only spoken by a few” would be rather small. Also, there are way too many languages out there to classify all of them so it would be much better to have a simple rule to break down everything.
Here’s the one for my games: no spoken human languages with native populations from the twentieth century are considered Exotic Langauges. Aragonese, !Kung, and Michif are all handled by Language [Field], though they may be of only limited utility. On the other hand, speaking the official ecclesiastical Latin of the Catholic church, the particular sign languages of the Al-Sayyid Bedouins or the Walpiri aborigines, or constructed languages like Klingon or Quenya all fall under Exotic Language [Field] because they are either not spoken or they have no speakers who rely on them from infancy.
From the above description of the Exotic Language [Field] skill, it’s clear to see that there are no new langauges that can have native speaking populations in the post-Fall world… right? Well, two technologies make it possible: one is the accelerated growth of uplifts, infolifes, and time-accelerated egos, and the other is skillware implants.
If there’s a fluent population of speakers, a child can be raised in this community and learn a new, constructed language as their first tongue and if that child is able to come to maturity in less than ten years that all can happen between the time of the Fall and the default “present” of Eclipse Phase. Since many uplifts, AGIs, and Lost egos were born after the Fall, this means that there are plenty of people out there to be among the first “native” speakers of a constructed language.
Generally, though, a Mercurial who is most comfortable speaking in neo-cetacean whistles and clicks is just very fluent in the language by virtue of being immersed in a fluent community. How do you get a fluent community together quickly with a newly-created language? That’s where skillware comes in. A seed population receives skillware implants which they max out with a language AI program that coaxes them through speaking all day in the new language.
Eventually, their natural skill with the language develops and the AI program is reduced and reduced until it can be removed altogether. Some people join in as novices and learn the language through old-fashioned immersion, but others go for the accelerated-immersion of getting a skillware implant themselves. Identifying someone who is only fluent with the help of a language AI can be accomplished with a Kinesics check, using your natural Exotic Language [Field] skill as a complementary skill.
Also Called: Neo-Octopus, Skintalk, Pattern-Language
The chromatophores of octomorphs allow them to communicate through color-changing patterns, something which all octopuses instinctively do and which uplifted neo-octopuses continue to use in place of facial expressions among other transhumans. Enterprising neo-octopuses have taken this practice and developed the pattern-signalling into a moraic sign-language which allows them to communicate fully on technical matters and social topics.
“Speaking” Dermiskana is difficult, however, as it requires training individual chromatophores to respond in very precise ways, the equivalent for baseline humans of moving one finger while keeping the others still. Like fingers, chromatophores are supposed to react to the other pigment cells around them so changing some and not others requires muscle control.
Once mastered, however, Dermiskana is an elegant language that allows for a wide amount of expressive speech. Combining emotive patterns with conceptual patterns, or simultaneously displaying two signs at once, allow neo-octopuses to use very precise terminology in their speech. Some might be surprised that the infamously hermit-like neo-octopuses would have so open a language but for neo-octopus egos it’s usually a relief to be able to say exactly what they mean without worrying about others misunderstanding and a protracted explanation ensuing.
It’s also appealing to many neo-octopuses to craft exactly the right set of color-patterns for what they want to say, saying only a few words but having them packed with meaning. Many liken Dermiskana sentences to the intricate rock gardens that octopuses have long been famous for, prompting the well-known neo-octopus idiom “gathering stones” which means thinking over what one is meaning to say. When translated, it’s typical to try and preserve the design of a Dermiskana sentence by grouping words into the glyph blocks they are expressed in. This is the reason why neo-octopus names are seeming jumbles of concepts to many other transhumans such as Challenger-Deep, Silent-Mercy, and Black-Flower-Twisting.
Also Called: Neo-Cetacean, Chirpese, Whalesong
The language of neo-cetaceans is another example of natural non-uplift behavior being intensified by their uplifted descendents. Echo/Speak is technically several different languages with similar elements, but Echo/Whale, Echo/Dolphin, Echo/Orca, and Echo/Porpoise are all mostly intelligible and linguists consistently classify them as closer to dialects than separate languages.
While non-uplifted cetacean species have very different types of communication techniques, the vocalization capabilities of neo-cetacean uplift morphs have been modified for transhuman speech and so have a reasonably similar range of echolocation vocalization as well.
Echo/Speak includes several different types of communication, often simultaneously. Body-elements involve direct contact with another creature and are usually reserved for slang-words or alternative options. They include a gentle nuzzle of the rostrum (beak), a playful bite to the dorsal fin, an aggressive bite to the flank, a soft petting of the melon (forehead) using the pectoral fin, a smack to the head with a fluke, etc.
Visual-elements are also unvocalized but they require no direct contact. They include bob (a vigorous bobbing of the head), mouth (a wide open gaping mouth), twist (an S-shaped swimming position), fin (flared-out pectoral fins), burst (bubble bursts and bubble clouds), shake (a shake of the head side-to-side), and wave (a flick of the tail).
Lastly, sound-elements are purely vocal parts and they include a number of different notes and volumes so neo-cetaceans transcribe them as A-Z when writing in something other than cetacean-glyphs. They include whistles (@), creaks (~), chuffs (-), screams (^), squawks (#), pops (*), and chirps (!).
When writing, neo-cetaceans use a glyph system employing radicals and root characters to create complex phonograms. This is commonly referred to as “cetacean-glyphs,” though they are called Song/Body/Shapes by speakers. When transcribed to non-cetacean alphabets, the glyphs tend to be written as words or phrases separated by slashes. The result is phrases like the Europan habitat K#/Shake and the neo-beluga singer Mouth/Twist/R~.
Also Called: Neo-Primitive, Babelese
The Neo-Primitive movement is one that doesn’t get a lot of public attention, and small wonder why. When most of the system relies on constant mesh access to understand their habitats and transhumanity, a group that eschews the mesh and habitats both has a limited presence. As a result, many people misunderstand what the movement is about. In the popular imagination, Neo-Primitives are cavemen, scratching in the dirt and stubbornly refusing to use modern technology. While this is true to a degree, it’s more accurate to think of Neo-Primitives as evolutionary engineers.
People who commit to a Neo-Primitive lifestyle undergo psychosurgical techniques to remove large portions of their brain function to achieve a less developed intelligence and a simpler mentality. Usually, they do this and join a Neo-Primitive community on Mars, Titan, Europa, or another planet with large sections of wilderness. Despite the large differences between each of these societies, they all rely on a language created early in the movement.
Purposefully constructed to have no connection to existing transhuman languages, Esht-Makala-Ren (or simply Esht) is a simplistic language with grammatical rules making abstract ideas and planning difficult. Seasons, animals, friends and family, and movement all have a rich vocabulary in Esht, but things like religion, morality, science, and distant places are lacking. In fact, attempts to create terms for these things usually results in nonsensical gibberish.
Knowledge of Esht comes with the psychosurgery procedure to change a Neo-Primitive into a simpler mind, during which all other languages are erased. Words tend to be 1-3 syllables and are easy to pronounce and utilize. Because they have no relation to existing human languages, attempting to understand Esht without a lexicon or translation program is beyond difficult.
Also Called: Suryan, Sunspeak, Flash-Talk
In the corona of the Sun lives perhaps the most scattered and solitary culture in the system. The Solarians, sometimes derisively called “space whales,” live and “swim” through the Sun’s corona in morphs specially made to survive for long periods in the corona. While they make no effort to hide, the sheer size of Sol means that most folks will never see a surya in the wild even if they are exploring for a while in a corona-adapted craft. For the Solarians themselves, they often go for weeks or months without seeing another surya, unless they go to a communal site like Ukko Jylinä.
When suryas do meet, however, they communicate through a language they refer to as Kirkasäde… at least on human octaves. The word is actually Finnish, a combination of kirkas (luminous) and säde (range or radius). The actual name, like all words in Kirkasäde, is a series of vibrations and pulses like whalesong. Unlike whalesong (or Echo/Speak described above), Kirkasäde doesn’t rely on sound waves since the corona exists in a vacuum.
Instead, they utilize the light patches along their dorsal and ventral sides to create complex patterns to communicate with. The effect is somewhat like Dermiskana (see above) but since they can only have monochrome messages (light and dark with dim spots in between) the patterns are even more intricate than those used by neo-octopi. Suryas all have enhanced vision but even so conversations usually operate at a slow pace to allow both parties time to absorb and understand the messages being flashed.
When suryas are close together, they often use a more nuanced and intimate technique of communication called murmuring (surista in Finnish). Suryas’ coronal adaptation creates a protective electromagnetic cocoon around the morph and fairly soon after the first suryas entered the corona an enterprising Solarian figured out how to manipulate this cocoon with the morph’s mesh inserts.
The electromagnetic pulses generated by suryas can only travel about 5oo meters before being disrupted by the coronal environment and they are fairly weak, but suryas are able to generate a range of frequencies and patterns. The result is the closest thing to whalesong that suryas use, their equivalent of close, personal conversation as opposed to the loud, public discourse of flashing.
Also Called: Neo-Indoeuropean, Neanderthalese
The neo-neanderthals uplifted by the New Dawn hypercorp struggle most with trying to find out who they are. Unlike other uplifted species, neanderthals don’t have any legacy at all to build from and so many of them have gone to great lengths to investigate tentative connections to their past that could help. In order to reconstruct a neanderthal language, linguists have turned to the collected corpus of Proto-Indo-European and built from there.
The language is somewhat guttural and has many words reminiscent of other, later European languages, though these are often the first to go for Mercurial neanderthals. The newly resurrected and expanded language was labeled by outsiders as Neo-Indoeuropean but the neo-neanderthals themselves prefer Teutastis which is related to teuta or “people,” their term for their own species.