Alien or invented languages in IF

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sharvey

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Feb 22, 1997, 3:00:00 AM2/22/97
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Hello, all. Been away a while, but am back!

Here's my query du jour:

What's the best way to portray a non-human or invented language in an IF
game? I'm sketching a game with some ummm, non-resident alien elements
and am pondering how to display their "language" - even on things as
simple as plaques or informational panels.

I see a few possibilities:

- Avoid any explicit "words" and instead describe the meaning of the
information as based upon the player char's interpretation of non-verbal
symbols, icons, etc.

Pros: simplicity for player and implementor, high flexibility
Cons: very simple, somewhat unrealistic


- Create a small ficticious language to be used sparingly in the game,
leaving the player to do the translation. This would entail implementing
some sort of lexicon for the player to find, which can easily look more
like artifice than art.

Pros: realistic, complex, interesting
Cons: could get tedious, easily turned into a "gimmick"


- A "glyph" system like that in Infidel, using non-alphabetic characters
to act as pictograms or hieroglyphics (eg: one symbol means an entire word
or concept, not a single letter).

Pros: short, concise, truly non-language
Cons: limited characters, tedious


I'd be most interested in hearing what people would think of these various
options and which you'd find the least unpalatable.

Thanks!

Scott

-

--
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Andrew Plotkin

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Feb 22, 1997, 3:00:00 AM2/22/97
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sharvey (sha...@enteract.com) wrote:
> Here's my query du jour:

> What's the best way to portray a non-human or invented language in an IF
> game? I'm sketching a game with some ummm, non-resident alien elements
> and am pondering how to display their "language" - even on things as
> simple as plaques or informational panels.

[other possibilities snipped]

> - Create a small ficticious language to be used sparingly in the game,
> leaving the player to do the translation. This would entail implementing
> some sort of lexicon for the player to find, which can easily look more
> like artifice than art.

> Pros: realistic, complex, interesting
> Cons: could get tedious, easily turned into a "gimmick"

One idea I've had floating around for a while is to do this, but have
support in the game for automatic translation.

> x plaque
The plaque says "Zofen ghi zanfel."

> x floor The floor is inlaid with a fanciful compass rose design. One
edge has an icon of the rising sun, below which is the word "zanfel."

> translate zanfel as "east"
Ok.

> x floor The floor is inlaid with a fanciful compass rose design. One
edge has an icon of the rising sun, below which is the word "zanfel"
("east").

> x plaque
The plaque says "Zofen ghi zanfel" ("? ? east").

Of course if the player has mistaken the setting sun for the rising sun,
and "zanfel" is really "west", the game gives no hint. It doesn't know
the *right* translation; it just accepts whatever the player types.

This isn't too hard to keep track of; you need an array of strings which
the player can set using the "translate" command, and then a routine to
print out a list of alien words, represented as an array of array
indexes. If no word in the list has a translation, you skip the
parenthesized translation; if any word does, you print it, with "?" for
untranslated words.

Less tedious, though still kind of a gimmick.

--Z

--

"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the
borogoves..."

Erik Hetzner

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Feb 23, 1997, 3:00:00 AM2/23/97
to

Andrew Plotkin (erky...@netcom.com) wrote:
: > x plaque

: The plaque says "Zofen ghi zanfel" ("? ? east").

: Of course if the player has mistaken the setting sun for the rising sun,
: and "zanfel" is really "west", the game gives no hint. It doesn't know
: the *right* translation; it just accepts whatever the player types.

: This isn't too hard to keep track of; you need an array of strings which
: the player can set using the "translate" command, and then a routine to
: print out a list of alien words, represented as an array of array
: indexes. If no word in the list has a translation, you skip the
: parenthesized translation; if any word does, you print it, with "?" for
: untranslated words.

: Less tedious, though still kind of a gimmick.

I'm about half of the way through a game with aliens, where language
is an issue. I'm going about things babel-fish style, though, with a
translation device that can be worn. Not quite as neat, surely, but in
some ways more realistic -- after all, are aliens really going to use
the latin script? :)

Still, I think the idea of a translate command is rather neat -- it eases
the tedium of some of those runic translation problems, along with making
it possible to have the translation harder, because the tedium is taken
out, the author can make it harder to actually figure out which symbols
correspond with which letters.
--
Erik Hetzner <e...@uclink4.berkeley.edu>

Drone

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Feb 23, 1997, 3:00:00 AM2/23/97
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sharvey wrote:
>
> - Create a small ficticious language to be used sparingly in the game,
> leaving the player to do the translation. This would entail implementing
> some sort of lexicon for the player to find, which can easily look more
> like artifice than art.
>

Darmok at Tanagra?

Seriously, though, I thought of a type of alien language a while back for a
roleplaying session. You're welcome to use it as inspiration if you like. This
alien culture ("Clutchlings") developed a "maze" language. If a single square
is a "thought or sentences", the twists and turns of the labyrinth within it
represented twists and turns of thought.

So this...

---------
! !
! !--- !
! ! !
---------

Might say "give me the paper"

While this...

---------
! ! !
! ! ! !
! ! !
---------

Could mean "give me the pen"

Except the labyrinths were much bigger. I'm just too lazy to give a proper
example in ascii.

I didn't really know what any of it meant. I just based something on chinese
characters and let the players believe I knew what it meant.

Oh, when they discovered "ancient alien writings" they were in triangles
instead of squares. The extent of the decoding they had to do was try to find a
triangle symbol that was similar enough to a square symbol that it could be an
archaic form of the same thing.

Drone.
--
"Esse est percipi."
foxg...@globalserve.net

Andrew Plotkin

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Feb 24, 1997, 3:00:00 AM2/24/97
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Erik Hetzner (e...@raisin.bagel.org) wrote:
> I'm about half of the way through a game with aliens, where language
> is an issue. I'm going about things babel-fish style, though, with a
> translation device that can be worn. Not quite as neat, surely, but in
> some ways more realistic -- after all, are aliens really going to use
> the latin script? :)

Yeah, well, I didn't mention the part where you find an abedecary of the
language's symbols. Before that, you can't translate any of the language
at all; the game just says "There are alien symbols on the plaque." (If
anyone complains, I'd tell them that the script was like cursive, all the
letters run together, and you can't make out what's what. Once you find
the list of symbols, you make up a plausible set of pronunciations -- or
maybe the abedecary is a Speak-N-Spell teaching toy, with audio recordings
of the symbols being spoken.)

I did think of that problem, though, honest. :)

Erik Hetzner

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Feb 24, 1997, 3:00:00 AM2/24/97
to

: Yeah, well, I didn't mention the part where you find an abedecary of the


: language's symbols. Before that, you can't translate any of the language
: at all; the game just says "There are alien symbols on the plaque." (If
: anyone complains, I'd tell them that the script was like cursive, all the
: letters run together, and you can't make out what's what. Once you find
: the list of symbols, you make up a plausible set of pronunciations -- or
: maybe the abedecary is a Speak-N-Spell teaching toy, with audio recordings
: of the symbols being spoken.)

: I did think of that problem, though, honest. :)

Right. Uh huh. Sure ya did. :)

Well, it's just something to consider. In that case, though, the idea
becomes a little more attractive in my head, though it seems that
still aliens might be so different that their grammar might be totally
off-the-wall. Maybe.

I don't know much of anything about lingustics, and even less about
alien lingustics :), but it seems that anything short of things being
totally untranslatable of having a translator (or machine, babel-fish,
&c.) is slightly less than realistic.

Nevertheless, its a lot more fun! Even if the computer is doing a lot
of the work for you, if you've found a character translator which
works auto-magically, and then can tell the computer to translate
words for you...if only my Russian class were so easy! :) It is a neat
idea, though. I might use that instead in /my/ game with aliens. :)
--
Erik Hetzner | `I'm celebrating my love for you;
e...@uclink4.berkeley.edu | with a pint of beer and a new tattoo.'

Andrew Plotkin

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Feb 24, 1997, 3:00:00 AM2/24/97
to

Erik Hetzner (e...@raisin.bagel.org) wrote:

> : I'd tell them that the script was like cursive, all the


> : letters run together, and you can't make out what's what. Once you find
> : the list of symbols, you make up a plausible set of pronunciations -- or
> : maybe the abedecary is a Speak-N-Spell teaching toy, with audio recordings
> : of the symbols being spoken.

> : I did think of that problem, though, honest. :)

> Right. Uh huh. Sure ya did. :)

October of 1995, in fact. In the general spray of ideas that I was
generating before I started focussing on _So Far_.

I could point out the bridge I was walking under while I was considering
the translation ideas...

> I don't know much of anything about lingustics, and even less about
> alien lingustics :), but it seems that anything short of things being
> totally untranslatable of having a translator (or machine, babel-fish,
> &c.) is slightly less than realistic.

One sneaky advantage of having "hieroglypics", or more generally
ideographs, is that the language *is* one word per idea, with no grammar
(or perhaps just no grammar that you ever understand.) Your translation
comes out "Stone, east, push, bright light" -- which may be a really
lousy translation, but it's good enough for the plundering adventurer.

Of course, if the language is written in ideographs, there's no such
thing as an alphabet, which wrecks the idea of being able to pronounce
the words.

You'd have to tell the player that the symbols are just being rendered as
"A", "B", "C"... ["Please install Ll'vvhre font for correct glyph
rendition. Available AlphaCent Graphics Nexus, AlphaCent, or hypernet
address tee-tee-hatch-nex-ool..."]

Or maybe "The plaque says 'Birdie, birdie, triangle, moon,
spatula, birdie, cat-being-ill...'"

> Nevertheless, its a lot more fun! Even if the computer is doing a lot
> of the work for you, if you've found a character translator which
> works auto-magically, and then can tell the computer to translate
> words for you...if only my Russian class were so easy! :) It is a neat
> idea, though. I might use that instead in /my/ game with aliens. :)

--Z

Matthew Daly

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Feb 24, 1997, 3:00:00 AM2/24/97
to

In article <erkyrathE...@netcom.com> erky...@netcom.com (Andrew Plotkin) writes:
>
>One idea I've had floating around for a while is to do this, but have
>support in the game for automatic translation.
>
>> x plaque

>The plaque says "Zofen ghi zanfel."
>
>> x floor The floor is inlaid with a fanciful compass rose design. One
>edge has an icon of the rising sun, below which is the word "zanfel."
>
>> translate zanfel as "east"
>Ok.
>
>> x floor The floor is inlaid with a fanciful compass rose design. One
>edge has an icon of the rising sun, below which is the word "zanfel"
>("east").
>
>> x plaque
>The plaque says "Zofen ghi zanfel" ("? ? east").

Did anyone really regret having to have a scratch piece of paper next
to them as they played Infidel? If this translation feature existed,
I'm not even sure that I would use it.

Also, it would seem very gimmicky if the words translated into English
in the correct order -- not all languages are subject-verb-object, and
some of them are really bizarre in their ways. Or would you be okay
with the plaque eventually reading "Go you east"?

I like the idea of having a language in a game, particularly if it is
important at some point to enter your commands in that language and have
it parse correctly. There was a puzzle in the Smart Games Challenge
that pointed out to me that subject/verb/adjective agreement and correct
word order in an unknown grammar can make for an effective brainteaser.

-Matthew
--
Matthew Daly I feel that if a person has problems communicating
mwd...@kodak.com the very least he can do is to shut up - Tom Lehrer

My opinions are not necessarily those of my employer, of course.

Erskin Cherry

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Feb 25, 1997, 3:00:00 AM2/25/97
to

Andrew Plotkin (erky...@netcom.com) wrote:
: One idea I've had floating around for a while is to do this, but have
: support in the game for automatic translation.

: > translate zanfel as "east"
: Ok.

: > x floor The floor is inlaid with a fanciful compass rose design. One
: edge has an icon of the rising sun, below which is the word "zanfel"
: ("east").

: > x plaque
: The plaque says "Zofen ghi zanfel" ("? ? east").

: Less tedious, though still kind of a gimmick.

Ultima Underground, the Stygian Abyss used this sort of idea.
(Limited vocabulary, and the translator was mute and had to gesture
the ideas to you when you had access to him)

It may be a littel gimmicky, but it worked really well for me,
and I think if used judiciously (and, like spells, each word is used
much more than once,) you could make for a nice texture.

Just focus on adding the "alien" text where the "aliens" woudl have put it,
making the related puzzles (techincally) solvable without the text
sometimes, though perhaps much clearer or easier the more of the text you
know.


--
Erskin -=- ech...@warren-wilson.edu
http://www.warren-wilson.edu/~echerry

Microsoft Network is EXPLICITLY forbidden to redistribute this message.


Bruce V. Bracken

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Feb 25, 1997, 3:00:00 AM2/25/97
to Erik Hetzner

In article <erkyrathE...@netcom.com>,

erky...@netcom.com (Andrew Plotkin) wrote:
>
> Erik Hetzner (e...@raisin.bagel.org) wrote:
> > I'm about half of the way through a game with aliens, where language
> > is an issue. I'm going about things babel-fish style, though, with a
> > translation device that can be worn. Not quite as neat, surely, but in
> > some ways more realistic -- after all, are aliens really going to use
> > the latin script? :)
>
> Yeah, well, I didn't mention the part where you find an abedecary of the
> language's symbols. Before that, you can't translate any of the language
> at all; the game just says "There are alien symbols on the plaque." (If
> anyone complains, I'd tell them that the script was like cursive, all the

> letters run together, and you can't make out what's what. Once you find
> the list of symbols, you make up a plausible set of pronunciations -- or
> maybe the abedecary is a Speak-N-Spell teaching toy, with audio recordings
> of the symbols being spoken.)

>
> I did think of that problem, though, honest. :)
>
> --Z
>
> --
>
> "And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the
> borogoves..."

I would appreciate your input regarding the construction of this
<a href="http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Corridor/3438">language.</a>

-------------------==== Posted via Deja News ====-----------------------
http://www.dejanews.com/ Search, Read, Post to Usenet

Snaps

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Mar 2, 1997, 3:00:00 AM3/2/97
to

ech...@warren-wilson.edu (Erskin Cherry) wrote an interesting piece,
here's my twopennyworth:

>Ultima Underground, the Stygian Abyss used this sort of idea.
>(Limited vocabulary, and the translator was mute and had to gesture
>the ideas to you when you had access to him)
>
>It may be a littel gimmicky, but it worked really well for me,
>and I think if used judiciously (and, like spells, each word is used
>much more than once,) you could make for a nice texture.

Reading this, does anyone remember a /really/ old (ie 8-bit) game
called Captain Blood, where you communicated with the aliens using a
small set of icons. I actuaaly found the translations rather
impenerable IIRC, but that was probably just a failing on my part.


-- Simon -- Ace Garp

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\
"Only the corrupt are listened to now...
...and they tell us what we want to hear"
\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/


John Wood

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Mar 2, 1997, 3:00:00 AM3/2/97
to

sim...@nostromo.dungeon.com (Snaps) writes:
> Reading this, does anyone remember a /really/ old (ie 8-bit) game
> called Captain Blood, where you communicated with the aliens using a
> small set of icons. I actuaaly found the translations rather
> impenerable IIRC, but that was probably just a failing on my part.

Yup, I remember that one - and they *were* impenetrable. Unless it's
a failing on both our parts. ;-) Never really got into the game,
though. Wasn't it written by a French company?

BTW, for those who never saw it (and for the fun of tying into
another recent thread) - it was one of those games with a billion
places to go, but they were all pretty pointless except for the few
you were directed to by the plot. If you could work out where you
were being directed, of course...

John

Andrew Plotkin

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Mar 3, 1997, 3:00:00 AM3/3/97
to

Matthew Daly (da...@PPD.Kodak.COM) wrote:
> In article <erkyrathE...@netcom.com> erky...@netcom.com (Andrew Plotkin) writes:
> >> x plaque
> >The plaque says "Zofen ghi zanfel."

> >
> >> x floor The floor is inlaid with a fanciful compass rose design. One
> >edge has an icon of the rising sun, below which is the word "zanfel."
> >
> >> translate zanfel as "east"
> >Ok.
> >
> >> x floor The floor is inlaid with a fanciful compass rose design. One
> >edge has an icon of the rising sun, below which is the word "zanfel"
> >("east").
> >
> >> x plaque
> >The plaque says "Zofen ghi zanfel" ("? ? east").

> Did anyone really regret having to have a scratch piece of paper next


> to them as they played Infidel? If this translation feature existed,
> I'm not even sure that I would use it.

Nobody says you have to use it. :)

> Also, it would seem very gimmicky if the words translated into English
> in the correct order -- not all languages are subject-verb-object, and
> some of them are really bizarre in their ways. Or would you be okay
> with the plaque eventually reading "Go you east"?

Oh, absolutely. In fact it might come out "Stone fire east", or "Stone
small east", or maybe "Walk in-past east" (where the second word is a
tense modifier.) Maybe two different alien words translate to "go",
because there are two genders (which may have nothing to do with sex) and
you have to figure out that both of them mean that. Or that there's a
difference.

> I like the idea of having a language in a game, particularly if it is
> important at some point to enter your commands in that language and have
> it parse correctly. There was a puzzle in the Smart Games Challenge
> that pointed out to me that subject/verb/adjective agreement and correct
> word order in an unknown grammar can make for an effective brainteaser.

--Z

Mark Green

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Mar 3, 1997, 3:00:00 AM3/3/97
to

In article <3319464b...@news.dungeon.com>

sim...@nostromo.dungeon.com "Snaps" writes:
> ech...@warren-wilson.edu (Erskin Cherry) wrote an interesting piece,
> here's my twopennyworth:
> >Ultima Underground, the Stygian Abyss used this sort of idea.
> >(Limited vocabulary, and the translator was mute and had to gesture
> >the ideas to you when you had access to him)
> >It may be a littel gimmicky, but it worked really well for me,
> >and I think if used judiciously (and, like spells, each word is used
> >much more than once,) you could make for a nice texture.
> Reading this, does anyone remember a /really/ old (ie 8-bit) game
> called Captain Blood, where you communicated with the aliens using a
> small set of icons. I actuaaly found the translations rather
> impenerable IIRC, but that was probably just a failing on my part.

Yes, I saw that. :) The problem was that the sentences were translated
into the alien language from French, then the decoding icons were translated
around into other languages for the international export versions. Some
odd stuff came up.. (I recall a review mentioned "GO PLANET = FREE BRAIN
SPIRIT").
Actually, the "translate x" idea reminded me more of the "calling" mechanism
in Nethack, where an unidentified object class can be correctly or incorrectly
free-identified by the player and will be referred to by that name for the
rest of the game.

Mg
--


Kenneth Albanowski

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Mar 9, 1997, 3:00:00 AM3/9/97
to

In article <857365...@antelope.demon.co.uk>,

Mark Green <Ma...@antelope.demon.co.uk> wrote:
> Actually, the "translate x" idea reminded me more of the "calling" mechanism
>in Nethack, where an unidentified object class can be correctly or incorrectly
>free-identified by the player and will be referred to by that name for the
>rest of the game.

Both the object class and individual object can be named in this fashion,
though it's a bit of a subtle cheat. If you have two objects that are
indistinguishable, but of separate classes (say high-quality and low-quality
white gems) then you can name the two classes separately.

One could argue that it isn't a cheat, merely a way of saying that the PC
can identify characteristics of the objects that don't show up on the
inventory list.

--
Kenneth Albanowski (kja...@kjahds.com)


Dancer

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Mar 11, 1997, 3:00:00 AM3/11/97
to

Snaps wrote:

ech...@warren-wilson.edu (Erskin Cherry) wrote an interesting
piece,
here's my twopennyworth:

>Ultima Underground, the Stygian Abyss used this sort of idea.
>(Limited vocabulary, and the translator was mute and had to gesture

>the ideas to you when you had access to him)
>
>It may be a littel gimmicky, but it worked really well for me,
>and I think if used judiciously (and, like spells, each word is
used
>much more than once,) you could make for a nice texture.

Reading this, does anyone remember a /really/ old (ie 8-bit) game
called Captain Blood, where you communicated with the aliens using a

small set of icons. I actuaaly found the translations rather
impenerable IIRC, but that was probably just a failing on my part.

Absolutely. I loved the communications system, and forgot about the rest
of the game, just chatting to creatures. Some of them had quite a
sophisticated 'sense of humour', which is to say they could joke or kid
around, if you could see the nuances through the icon-system...Which is
quite possible,

TWO-RELIGION-SMALL-PERSON-GROUP-GO-IN-FOOD-PLACE
MALE-AUTHORITY-PERSON-SAY->>-ME-GROUP-NO-GIVE-YOU-GROUP-HERE
ONE-RELIGION-SMALL-PERSON-SAY->>-OK-ME-NO-ASK-ME-GROUP

ME-SMALL-FRIEND-NO-SMELL-PART
HOW-SMALL-FRIEND-SMELL-?
BAD

Admittedly they lose a little, but a lot can be communicated with only
90 or so symbols.
 
D


Mike Reddy

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Mar 11, 1997, 3:00:00 AM3/11/97
to

In article <3324D5...@oxford.com.au>, Dancer <dan...@oxford.com.au> wrote:

>Absolutely. I loved the communications system, and forgot about the rest
>of the game, just chatting to creatures. Some of them had quite a
>sophisticated 'sense of humour', which is to say they could joke or kid
>around, if you could see the nuances through the icon-system...Which is
>quite possible,
>
>TWO-RELIGION-SMALL-PERSON-GROUP-GO-IN-FOOD-PLACE
>MALE-AUTHORITY-PERSON-SAY->>-ME-GROUP-NO-GIVE-YOU-GROUP-HERE
>ONE-RELIGION-SMALL-PERSON-SAY->>-OK-ME-NO-ASK-ME-GROUP

Firstly, can you explain this one to me?

>ME-SMALL-FRIEND-NO-SMELL-PART
>HOW-SMALL-FRIEND-SMELL-?
>BAD

Got that one!

>Admittedly they lose a little, but a lot can be communicated with only
>90 or so symbols.

Can you give us an idea of what the icons were? I'd be facinated to examine
the lexicon for an Internet experiment I am doing for deaf communications
via video conferencing.



>D

--
Email: mre...@glam.ac.uk CU-Seeme: 193.63.130.40 (On request)
Web: http://www.comp.glam.ac.uk/pages/staff/mreddy/
Snail: J228, Dept. of Computer Studies, University of Glamorgan,
Pontypridd, Mid Glamorgan. CF37 1DL Wales, UK.
TEL: +44 1443 482 240 Fax: +44 1443 482 715

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Kenneth Albanowski

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Mar 12, 1997, 3:00:00 AM3/12/97
to

In article <mreddy-ya02408000...@news.fu-berlin.de>,

Mike Reddy <mre...@glam.ac.uk> wrote:
>In article <3324D5...@oxford.com.au>, Dancer <dan...@oxford.com.au> wrote:
>>TWO-RELIGION-SMALL-PERSON-GROUP-GO-IN-FOOD-PLACE
>>MALE-AUTHORITY-PERSON-SAY->>-ME-GROUP-NO-GIVE-YOU-GROUP-HERE
>>ONE-RELIGION-SMALL-PERSON-SAY->>-OK-ME-NO-ASK-ME-GROUP
>
>Firstly, can you explain this one to me?

For a value of X where X indicates a member of a minority religion:

Two X went into a restaurant. The maitre d' says "We don't serve X
here". One of the X said "OK, we won't order X, then".

(Or at least, that is the sense I get out of it, which isn't too bad
considering I've never heard it before, oddly enough.) It's essentially
identical to the second joke, a pun on words (er, icons), but "serve"
instead of "smell".

Hmm. _Big Hmm_. I wonder if you could build a modern game around an "alien
language" like this, except make the language ASL (American Sign Language).
It'd have to be a graphical game, obviously (text descriptions of ASL would
get annonying real quick, I expect) and if you made the foriengers aliens
(with tentancles, natch) instead of humans, the player might not even
realize what they are learning. I think you should be able to learn it in
exactly the same fashion Dancer learned those icons -- painlessly, or at
least with fun.

--
Kenneth Albanowski (kja...@kjahds.com)


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