As a science fiction writer, one of the most difficult tasks I have is world building. In order for it to make sense and be internally consistent you have to focus on every bit of relevant minutiae you can to make a culture seem real. Just as a character’s history before the story informs their actions within the story, so too do the artifacts of culture inform the world your characters inhabit. And that’s why so many implementations of alien languages and scripts often just annoy the heck out of me. For the purposes of this post I’m going to focus on Kryptonese*, but it’s applicable to so many others.
At present, there are three, arguably four, versions of written Kryptonese. The original, Bridwell, is pretty much born out of random squiggles from the comics. It was later codified into letters and consonant pairs.
The most common, generally known as just Kryptonian (or comics Kryptonian) is pretty much just a transliteration of the Latin alphabet that is used to convert the book’s language into Kryptonese letters. A variant of this exists (Doyle) that extends the transliteration into something much more complex and based on a constructed grammar.
The fourth is the style presented in Man of Steel which is a syllabary that’s not dissimilar to the Hindi script, Devanagari.
What’s the big deal? So they have different alphabets. So what?
My problem isn’t with the variety so much as the impracticality. The Bridwell variant is the only one that makes sense as a handwritten script. The others are fine for formal calligraphy, but they are wholly impractical for writing at speed, which you’d think is a useful activity within an advanced culture. I do realize there are plenty of writing styles on Earth that are also (in my opinion) needlessly complex. Is it no wonder many offer a Romanized alternative for speed?
I also have some issues for the versions that are little more than simple transliterations — easily swapping one single-letter symbol for another. This tends to ignore the foreign history that comes along with what often needs to be an alien way of seeing the universe. It might not be so linear or phonemic. And yes, it’s not lost on me that some alien culture might not care that a script is difficult to write quickly or at all. Perhaps once a certain level of technology is reached, the idea of manually crafting letters outside of calligraphy is unheard of.
Another issue is the idea of a global language and script. What are the odds, given the size of a planet, that there aren’t going to be regional outliers using their own dialect, their own language, or an outdated version of the planetary language? Homogeneity is great for writers, but lousy for world building.
Is there a solution? I don’t see why not. The MoS version can be consider the “high” version of the written language meant for important functions and events where calligraphy would be important. A common language might be something more like a combo of MoS and Bridwell, with the complex squiggles replaced with Bridwell forms, and the non-orientation vowel/single-letter indicators being simpler — lines or dots (something like Tolkien’s elvish languages).
I like that some take a very serious interest in Kryptonese and its history in the comics and movies. A very useful resource I recommend is kryptonian.info, which has gathered much of the useful information from around the web (it’s still out there in the web if you want to go piece by piece…which sometimes yields other interesting info). You might also be interested in this video on the woman behind the language from Man of Steel.
I mentioned in a previous post that I’d like to see some Kryptonian artifacts pop up on the TV show Supergirl. It would be interesting to see if the actual handwritten version of Kryptonese differs from the already seen ideal.
* I consider “Kryptonian” to be an adjective and thus inappropriate as the name of the language, for which I favor “Kryptonese”.