November 12, 2010 Nov 14, 2010
So I posted a node called Doqoryav Wehba-me. The idea was to create a writeup with some intriguing but unidentifiable diagrams, surrounded by text in an unknown language. I wrote the plaintext version probably a year ago, but never got to the second step until now. Driven by IRON NODER 3, I found the original while looking through the bits of half-ideas (and quarter-ideas, and epsilon-ideas) lying about in my computer. "Great!" I thought. All I have to do is make up a language. I did not plan to ever release a translation, nor did I think of it as a puzzle, but as an arifact people might be amused by---like a nano Codex Seraphinianus. After seeing its reputation quickly go to (+0/-2), I figured it was destined for the scrap heap and logged out for the night. Ah well, a new day tomorrow.
I laughed giddy and slightly fearful laughter when I logged in the next day and saw that not only had the writeup survived (at about 0 rep with 26 votes), people were trying to decipher it1. And they were making progress! I succeeded in many, many saving throws versus willpower to avoid posting to the catbox. I also got a handful of messages and managed to restrain myself (in the beginning) to only directly responding to one of them---I wanted to let what was happening in the catbox speak for me. I love getting messages and apologize for not responding directly, but that was a part of the game on this one. (:
Noders originally guessed it to be a digraph cipher of some sort (due to the way in which I generated the vocabulary: in consonant-vowel and consonant-vowel-consonant syllables), but it was eventually determined that the text had properties which pointed toward a word-substitution code instead. The title of the node was solved, pieces of structural information gathered, and some words translated. I was happily surprised by how much they deduced. Vigorous thank-yous go out to all of those who pondered, investigated, offered possibilities, learned, deduced syntax, and discussed! It made me quite happy to see my node enjoyed in these ways. There were also naysayers. Burn the raincomplex! It is a blight unto e2! Such is the way of the world.
Sometimes I like to dance on the line between opaque nonsense and transparent thought (usually closer to the nonsense side, I hear you saying). I've been working on that. So as I witnessed the reaction noders were having, I silently agreed with those who raised this point: it would be incredibly difficult to assign meanings to nouns and verbs (even if they could be identified as such) in such a semantically sterile environment as the node I had posted. So I set to work on creating a pictographic dictionary2, graphically relating most of the words I had created. I didn't want to hand over the solution, as the solution was not the point, but I wanted to bring the dance a little bit closer to understanding than fog. This is the compromise I reached with myself, as I was originally planning on leaving the first node to stand on its own. The chatterbox conversation settled as a few dedicated noders set to work on their own translations, arduously piecing together the meaning of an alien text.
Since I created the dictionary, this experiment has slid from the realm of "mysterious artifact" into that of translation and interpretation. I encourage anyone who translates it themselves to post in this node. Incomplete translations are welcome, as I suspect that it may be difficult to completely and definitively translate, and I welcome that ambiguity and play.
1. chat log
2. Not a phrase in the language, but named for one of the key players in the deciphering of the Mayan writing system. This is a bit of a joke, since the Mayan system turned out to be syllable-based instead of ideographic (this was Knorozov's contribution to the field), whereas mine is much more ideographic than syllabic.