A Language of Light

A graphic representation of Triband language (each colored stripe corresponds with a combination of signals).

In the last two posts, I talked about a fictional extraterrestrial race called the Tribands. In the first one, I wrote a little story about them while in the second one I explained how they looked like and some basic stuff about their society. Now, I’m going to talk about the very reason which led me to create this race of manta_ray-bat-radio-like beings: their language, a xenoglossopoetic conlang which would be impossible to speak by any human being as it doesn’t use sound but radio waves. While that is quite innovative, I’m afraid its grammar is not so alien (English speakers, however, may find it unusual).

Note: As I explained in the previous post, Tribands have a large variety of languages (just as humans do!) but almost everyone shares a common language, a lingua franca. My conlang is supposed to be that common speech.


The most interesting feature of Triband language lies in its phonology. Unlike humans, this alien race is able to emit and receive three radio wavelengths which they use for communication. Despite the fact that these signals are invisible to humans, I often use an analogy to understand it, mapping the three radio frequencies to the three wavelengths human beings are able to see: red (for the lowest frequency), green and blue (for the highest frequency). If we were able to see these radio waves as Tribands do, they would look as a series of flashes of varying colors.

While speaking, the Tribands control the intensity of the signals, which is equivalent to pronouncing phonemes. Their language has 18 different ‘phonemes’ (which I often call photemes since they use electromagnetic waves instead of sound). Each of them has the same duration. The Tribands have no problem ‘pronouncing’ different phonemes for each wavelength at the same time.

Those 18 photemes can be divided into the following classes:

Plain photemes: consist of a signal whose intensity is constant. Triband’s common speech distinguishes five intensity levels which are numbered from 1 (the lowest) to 5 (the loudest). In addition to them, there’s also a silent photeme: the complete lack of signal in a given wavelength, which could be considered to be a special kind of plain photeme.

Plain photemes are written as numbers:

1Low plain photeme
2Mid-low plain photeme
3Mid plain photeme
4Mid-high plain photeme
5High plain photeme
0Silent photeme

Raising photemes (and lowering photemes): Their intensity changes gradually, making a fade-in like effect. Three different raising photemes and three lowering photemes are distinguished in this language, which differ in how much their intensity increases or decreases (in the same time). For example, the photeme + corresponds to an increase of 1 level whereas the photeme ^ marks that the intensity climbs up to 4 levels (going from level 1 or 2 to level 5).

This kind of photemes are written as either typographic marks or letters:

+ (plus) – Slow raising photeme (increases 1 level)
(minus) – Slow lowering photeme (decreases a level)
R (raise) – Middle raising photeme (increases 2 or 3 levels)
L (lower) – Middle lowering photeme (decreases 2 or 3 levels)
^ (circumphlex accent or an upward arrow) – Fast raising photeme (tops the signal intensity)
v (lowecase V or a downward arrow) –Fast lowering photeme (the signal intensity falls sharply)

Abrupt photemes: also consist of a signal of varying intensity but this change is not gradual as in the raising photemes but abrupt. While an R photeme could be thought of as a ramp, the abrupt photeme a could be thought of as a step, an abrupt increase in height.

There are 4 different photemes in common Triband, which are represented (when using the Latin alphabet) with the following lowercase letters:

aRaising abrupt photeme (similar in magnitude to R)
bTopping abrupt photeme (similar to ^)
cLowering abrupt photeme (similar to L)
dBottom abrupt photeme (similar to v)

Peak photemes: Are the most complex photemes. They consist of a low-intensity signal with one or more high-intensity peaks. There are two different peak photemes:

XOscillating photeme (many peaks)
YSingle-peak photeme

As the Tribands make photemes in their three wavelengths simultaneously, we need to use three lines in order to write it with Latin letters (as well as some typographic marks, as seen above). As all photemes are equal in length, a monospace font is recommended.


Low    (R): 11 0 5v 5cR X+ L2 5v a0 1^ Rd L2 0 Y 5cR X+ L2 R4- L2 R4- Y 0 ^c 0 R4 0 100
Middle (G): R5 0 3Y XY3 3- ^3 3Y 2X 2a Y2 ^3 0 Y XY3 3- ^3 X-1 ^3 X-1 X 0 4L 0 -2 0 0+0
High   (B): 2a 0 2^ X0Y 2b 55 2^ 3b Y2 Y1 55 0 R X0Y 2b 55 4cY 55 4cY L 0 5X 0 bv 0 +11

Which means ‘This is the first phrase in the (Triband) Language”, the same texts which is displayed in the image at the top of this post. The Triband sentence may seem a bit long but it’s actually ‘pronounced’ faster than the English language translation. The Triband speak quite fast (which also enables them to use rather long compound-words).


Even though Triband language’s grammar is unusual, it’s not completely alien to humans beings (in fact, it’s quite linear, unlike real-world sign languages). If it used spoken words instead of signals, people would be able to speak it.

It distinguishes verbs and nouns just as (almost) any human language. The word order is fixed, OVS for transitive verbs and SV for intransitive ones (thus, Triband could be considered to be an ergative language). Words don’t inflect for number, case, tense, etc, but can be added particles (usually suffixes) for those purposes. Pronouns behave the same as regular nouns. The grammar is close to being completely regular (this may bear some relation to the fact it’s used as lingua franca).

One of Triband’s unusual features is that every sentence must start with a particle which marks evidentiality and end with a particle which indicates whether the sentence is affirmative, negative, a question, etc. Suffixes may be added to this last particle so as to indicate the attitude of the speaker towards what is being said (whether he/she is happy or angry about it).

So far, I’ve included the following evidentials to this conlang:

Ev:1 -The speaker acquired the knowledge by him/herself, having seen or heard it. I highly recommend reading the previous post where I explained how Tribands’ senses worked.
Ev:2 -Second hand information, the speaker was told so by somebody else. Optionally, it can include further information about who said it, when and where.
Ev:3 – Hypothetical, used for guesses.
Ev:4 – The speaker establishes something as a truth. Unlike Ev:1, there’s no need of having acquired the information by using the senses. It is used for personal statements (such as in I want to go to the cinema).

The phrase I used above as an example uses the fourth evidential. I am stating it is the first phrase in Triband not because I saw it, I guess it or I was told so, but because I know it for I created it! If someone else was to repeat the phrase, he/she would change the evidential to Ev:2 (I read/was_told that this is the first phrase in [Triband] Language).

Long compound words are usual. Consider the following:

Bajo (R):  5v 5cR X+ L2 5v a0 1^ Rd L2
Medio (V): 3Y XY3 3- ^3 3Y 2X 2a Y2 ^3
Alto (B):  2^ X0Y 2b 55 2^ 3b Y2 Y1 55

This can be translated as ‘the first phrase‘ and would probably be considered a single word for a Triband language speaker. Its root is [5cR , XY3 , X0Y] which means radio signal (it should be taken into account that radio signals are to a Triband the same as sound is to human beings). A number of affixes are added to this root to make the resulting word which could be literally translated as A part of the abstract action of emitting meaningful radio-signals/sounds which is, by numerical order, the first one.

Glosses for the image and phrase above:

In the image at the top of the post, I used some glosses which I’ll explain below:

Ev:4 – Fourth evidential: Information statement. As I said above, an evidential is mandatory at the start of the sentence.

ABS radiosign CAUS SP! ABS PART – Phrase, sentence. It is composed of the following elements:
ABS – A circumfix (it’s placed both before and after the words it modifies) used to make abstract nouns.
radiosign – Radio signals (specially those emitted by the Triband for communication). Equivalent to humans’ sounds.
CAUS – Causative prefix: to make x.
radiosign CAUS – To emit radio signals.
SP! – Makes a meaning more precise.
radiosign CAUS SP! – Speak (emit meaningful radio signals)
ABS radiosign CAUS SP! ABS – Speech, act of speaking.
PART – A part or an element of something larger.

that – used to make subclauses (just as English that). Another particle, that], must be used at the end of the subclause.

manner – Manner, way of doing something.
radio sign CAUS SP! manner SP! – (Speak+manner+SP!) Language. Usually refers to the Triband Language.
x manner – Using x.
radio sign CAUS SP! manner SP! manner – In the Language (literally: using the Language).

bP – Be, have the property/feature of being x.

this – This/that, demonstrative pronoun.

[P] – Final particle, marks that the sentence is affirmative (P stands for ‘positive’).

Soon I’ll write about a number of writing systems I’ve developed / I’m developing for this lang. See you!


Posted on 2011/09/19, in English, Triband (en). Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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