Data File Updated: Monday, February 13, 2012
Umiak language is very different from the Trade Language used by many other intelligent species in the Local Bubble. Lacking the fleshy apparatus required to make the complex vocalizations necessary for Trade, the Umiak rely on a language of rapid clicks and ticks. This specialized language is incomprehensible to most non-Umiak, so the Umiak require mechanical translators for most of their inter-species communication. Because of the unusual rambling, out-of-order structure of Umiak language, even with the aid of translators Umiak sometimes have difficulty making themselves clearly understood to non-Umiak.
The name of the Umiak language is Romanized as "ikkukhak" (which is also part of the root for the Umiak's own name for their species - titik-kititikik-hal-tik-ikkukhak). The word "umiak" itself is unpronounceable by Umiak. It is a foreign word of archaic (and disputed) origin that the Umiak do not use themselves. A consequence of having such an incompatible language is dealing with the fact that foreigners must invent their own words to describe one's culture.
Features of the Umiak language:
The Umiak have no vocal chords, so their language has no vowels. The vast majority of Umiak is formed with only two basic sounds: a lateral mandibular click (k), and a lingual-palatal tick (t). To these are added a few special-purpose consonants: a sibilant hiss (s), an aspirated sound (h), a lingual modifier to the aspirated sound (L), a rasping of the mandibles and tongue that makes a buzzing sound (z), and a 'chitter' that is a distinct combination of the tick, aspirant, and buzzing sounds. Also, because the Umiak have two pairs of lateral mandibles, there is a simultaneous double-click (kk), that is distinct from two successive clicks.
The clicking sound of Umiak speech is quite loud. An Umiak can "whisper" by making the mandibular contacts softer, but can't really "shout." The loudest sounds an Umiak can make, the hiss and chitter, are used as emotional suffixes and interjections. The hiss indicates intensity of feeling, and the chitter indicates approval (the closest Umiak equivalent to a smile; a repeated chitter is something across between applause and laughter).
Written Umiak uses characters composed of wedge-shaped marks. It is written left to right, but is often displayed on its side, with the tops of the characters pointing to the right. The script has a look very similar to Cuneiform (used in ancient Mesopotamia), and was probably developed in a similar way, with the Umiak using their clawed fingertips to make marks in clay or other soft material.
These basic marks are aggregated into larger characters that can represent literal phonetic words, or more abstract tokens.
Romanizations in the comic break words with hyphens and use inserted vowels (ki for k, kku for kk, kha for kh) to help make the words more readable for human eyes; kktk for example is written as kikitik. The mechanical translators that the Umiak use actually do include these vowel vocalizations in untranslated words such as proper nouns.
The Umiak numeric system is a simple binary representation, with click representing 1 and tick representing 0. Archaic Umiak has abstracted tokens for larger values, and the symbols for these are sometimes used as shortcuts instead of the full binary representations.
Umiak language is light on structural rules. Words are delivered in long streams of thought in sometimes confusing order. These streams are not divided into clear sentences, and there is no real punctuation. Instead, the keyword tikiks ("posit") is used to mark a previous word or phrase for emphasis, and also so that it can be referred to later. This is the infamous Umiak "stack" construct. A speaker can mark multiple sets of phrases in this manner, and the listener is expected to remember them and keep track of their order. In essence, these phrases are "pushed" on to a logical stack with the "posit" keyword, and "popped" off later. The "pop" operation is accomplished through the use of the buzzing ("z") sound. The speaker may refer to the phrase on the top of stack while leaving it there (z), or refer to the top phrase and remove it from further consideration (zs). The speaker may also refer to any item on the stack (z+[number], where [number] is the distance from the top of the stack).
The most straightforward use of the stack is to mention a long and complex item such as a full name, and then save time and effort by just referring to it later without having to restate it. This is not very different from English use of pronouns. However, an Umiak speaker will at times throw out many subjects and phrases without any context or clear order, mark each and push them on to the stack, and then variously refer to them at later points throughout the conversation. In long conversations, this stack may grow to hundreds of items, and the reference number for an item changes every time something is added or removed. As one might expect, this language construct requires superb attention to detail and accurate memory, along with the ability to do arithmetic flawlessly in one's head. A speaker may deliberately challenge the listener's intellect by intentionally adding and removing a dizzying array of subjects to and from the stack, and then barraging the listener with references. This might be done by an intellectual snob to test his audience's comprehension, or as a method of confusing an eavesdropper with limited comprehension skills (kind of like spelling out a word to confuse a small child). Naturally, this construct makes comprehension more difficult for aliens, and can at times throw off even mechanical translators.
The staccato consonants of Umiak language have a rhythmic flow. Umiak "poetry" uses artistic variations in tempo similar to music, as well as creative (or confusing) uses of posits and references. Umiak music is percussion heavy, and the beats often follow a decipherable language pattern, avoiding the need for the Umiak to "sing" the lyrics.