Inventing the Language of Black Bead


I have a memory from when I was three or four months old. (Yes, yes, I know. Nobody is supposed to remember anything before the age of 2 or 3. It has to do with coherent thought and the acquisition of language.) But trust me when I tell you that I have a vivid memory of a moment that was neither traumatic nor life changing. It was a memory of the pleasure of experiencing something new. I call it my Wow Memory. I tell you this because it defines the core of my personality and the nature of my journey on this planet as a human being.

Ignoring for the moment the ridiculous theory that time is a circle, the movie Arrival with Amy Adams and an ink-squirting alien squid has brought a reoccurring debate in scifi back onto the front burner: Does language determine how you think?

The answer to that is a complicated and qualified MAYBE. If you want to read more about the theory, here is the Wikipedia link.  The strong version of this theory is called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Whorfianism. Like everything that is “hard science”, the theory breaks down upon closer inspection because it is trying to explain a multidimensional concept using the perception and language of human three-dimensional thinking.

I can only tell you what I know to be true from my own experiences. What I know from my Wow memory is that I already had a language. Not a language of sounds but one of thoughts and images. The acquisition of human language, any human language, is an incredible feat of cognitive agility as any two-year-old will tell you. But, we do not start with an empty slate. Instead, we must teach ourselves a second language, working out the equivalencies for ourselves as we go along. Do you wonder, then, why toddlers can get so cranky?

I used to tell people English was my second language. Knowing that I was born and raised in Montana, you would therefore be justified in feeling confused. Perhaps remembering a previous language hindered my language acquisition abilities. But dealing with the English language has been a struggle and a burden all my life. (It is not because of the lack of intelligence for I have been told that if you shoved a thousand people into one room, I would still be the smartest person in the room. That means nothing except that I am exceptionally skilled at taking tests.) The problem was and still is that there are no words to tell you what I know. It was why I started painting when I was twelve and then stopped after a decade, frustrated with the two-dimensional canvas. Learning another language helped because I came to understand that some languages have better words and phrases to describe the intricacies of the human condition. I tried math. It is the language of the universe after all. Unfortunately, few speak it with any kind of fluency. I stopped reading male authors because female voices seemed more skilled at speaking in circles. It was not until I watched a friend go through marriage counseling to overcome the lack of communication in her relationships that I realized I needed to invent my own language, or barring that, redefine the words so that the person listening to what I said would have a hope-in-hell of understand what I was saying. Call it a reverse Orwellian NewSpeak.

First I had to break down the task into its basic components.

This earthly Eden is our primordial teacher. Animals have only a rudimentary language at best but they communicate on some level better than most humans. What made humans different? I began to believe that humans created language so they could purposefully lie. I imagined the very first conversations: Does this loincloth make me look fat? the female would ask. Instead of falling on his hunting spear, the male, thinking quick on his feet, would point at the sky and ask Sky color. Blue or aquamarine? knowing the debate would fill days and she would hopefully forget the original question.

Then, I began to realized, in the classic case of Whorfianism, that human languages tend to be linear and that linear-speak precluded speaking around the proverbial dimensional corners. This is especially detrimental of problem solving in a universe that is not linear but instead, like an M. C. Escher drawing, twists and turns around the corners into other dimension with great regularity and that time is relative depending on how deep into the gravity-well you have fallen. We are only now discovering the math that defines these truths. True genius, they have discovered, is about asking a question, following the answer down the proverbial rabbit-hole, coming out on the other side in six different places, merging the resulting knowledge into a cohesive whole without going crazy, and then finding the language that will allow you to share what you know with the people around you.

How do you write a story about that? Like everything else in the human experience, you have to start with baby steps.

In the first book of the Black Bead Chronicles, Black Bead, you are introduced to a people who are trained from birth to use their minds as precisely as a surgeon uses a laser scalpel. Because their society is technologically advanced, they understand implicitly the nature of a multidimensional universe and know how to exploit the quantum entanglement of the human mind. Those mental skills have given them a whole range of senses outside of the realm of the normal human five senses of touch, taste, hearing, sight, and smell. These skills are not learned for vanity's sake but for survival in a world where every living thing operates with those same skill-sets. Cheobawn, the main character, through eugenics and training, has reached a skill that has surpassed all her compatriots.

In the second book, Bhotta's Tears, Cheobawn meets “normal” people and begins to understand that language is a huge barrier even though they all speak a Pan-Galactic version of English. She has to learn how to translate the words using the concepts stolen from the surface thinking of the outsiders she meets.

In the third book, Spider Wars, she learns of a pan-galactic war whose origin began as a simple lack of communication. Cheobawn begins to suspect that the original settlers who built the domes have consciously created a form of NewSpeak as a social experiment and that, after two thousand years, has yielded a society radically different from anything that currently exists.

In the fourth book, Storm Child, Cheobawn must come to terms with the burden of being the only one who can speak the languages of the universe. Because I have led you, dear reader, very gently by the hand through her life as she learns this, you will only now being to understand the universe as Cheobawn sees it. Welcome to the NewSpeak of the Highland domes.