# Can you translate these sentences from an unknown language?

This is a puzzle based around a fictional language. The goal is to learn the language well enough to provide a close English translation of the 4 goal sentences. You do this by cross referencing the various pieces of information in the linked Imgur album (size limits prevent me from posting here directly) and inferring the meaning of the various words. There is not enough information to conclude the meaning of every word in the album, but there is enough to solve the 4 goal sentences (though (C) is particularly difficult).

This is the first puzzle I've done like this, so I have no idea if it's too easy or too hard. I suspect that it will be fairly easy for people already versed in constructed languages or cryptography, but relatively difficult otherwise. Please let me know what you think!

The imgur link with clues & directions is here: https://imgur.com/a/efziikZ

Some background info not directly related to the puzzle:

This puzzle was produced as a brainstorm for a videogame concept I've been tossing around. The goal would generally be to explore a ruined civilization and learn their language, culture, and history. The concept of telling a story that you learn the gradual complexities of as you learn the language is very interesting to me.

I'm hoping to get some constructive feedback about this puzzle and get a sense of how interested others are in the idea, how people reason about puzzles like this, and how difficult others find it.

Thank you!

• Strange, it almost looked like unitology alphabet. Aug 19 '20 at 13:50
• In terms of the videogame concept, I think Fez had something similar with an in-game language that revealed more the more you learned of it. Aug 19 '20 at 17:56
• @Mohirl Fez had a cipher -- just an encoding of English. There was no linguistic aspect to it. I've heard Sethian and Heaven's Vault both have language-deciphering mechanics, but reviews of the former are mixed, and I haven't played through the latter.
– Deusovi
Aug 19 '20 at 18:08
• @Deusovi Ah, cheers. I never got far enough into Fez to determine that. Aug 19 '20 at 18:09

Page A

The top left is teaching us how to count. It looks like these aliens use a base-5 system: ⊥ is a 1, and then the three angle glyphs are 2, 3, and 4. A + sign is a 0. They write digits left-to-right, and mark each digit with a circle.

The top-right of the page shows "one, two, three, four", and their corresponding angles. This solidifies the association between directions and numbers.

Below, we see what looks to be an index of every glyph in the language. It looks like the number glyphs are based off of what will be letter glyphs -- or perhaps syllables, since they're arranged in a 2D grid that would work for a syllabary.

Page B:

It appears we've been given some drawings. Each "caption" has a single word, as well as what looks to be a longer sentence starting with the word.

This gives us some vocabulary! (Scrolling down, it appears that OP has provided a transcription chart for the symbols. I don't think this was strictly necessary, but for convenience I'll be using that, with the minor romanization difference of "sh" becoming c (so each syllable is two letters).)

Lake: kotisi // kocati ci tici kotisi
River: cutisa // saca ci tici cutisa
Field: tica // koca ci tici tica
Mountains: socuti // suteku ci tici socuti
Sun: kucoko // soce ci tici kucoko

Page C:

We have a picture of a bug-thing (likely the alien species in question?), with the caption:
ca sucicati suteku
And below, a bug holding up a rock next to a cart and mountains:
ca toceso suteku suse socuti
Hey, we know the word socuti, and the word suteku repeats there! It looks like suse means something like "by" or "from". toceso could mean a number of things: "holds", "displays", "obtains"... but it does appear that ca and suteku mean "bug-person / I" and "rock", in some order.

Part D:

We've been given a map, with a helpfully labelled compass and some sentences that presumably describe the map locations. Hopefully we can get some grammar out of this.

The title is cosatukito - presumably this means either "map", or the name of this region. I'm going to translate as "map" for convenience's sake for now.
2 kotisi ci tici cosatukito
2 lake [???] [???] map -- "two lakes are on the map"? This would mean "tici" means "on" (in the sense of "depicted on", not necessarily "physically on top of"). And then "ci" is "is"/"are", but right now we only know that it's used for location. I'll translate it as "lie" for now.
cutisa sesu tici sotu kotisi
river [???] lie east-of lake
socuti ci sote
mountains lie north - this shows that directions work as multiple grammatical parts of speech (or would correspond to multiple English parts of speech, at least).
ca toceso saca suse sote cutisa
[bug-person/I] [hold/display/obtain/have] [???] towards north-of river
ca toceso kocati suse soti kotisi
[bug-person/I] [hold/display/obtain/have] [???] near east-of lake
ca ci tici cosatukito
[bug-person/I] lie on map

So, the sentences to be translated:

(A) sucicati suteku tici soti kotisi
throw rock near east-of lake. It isn't quite clear what the verb without a subject means here: it could be a command, or it could just be a statement about an unknown subject. It's also not clear whether "to the east of the lake" is where the thrower is meant to be, or where the rock is meant to land.
(B) cutisa ci soto
river lies south - "A river is to the south".
(C) koca toceso satuku suse soce
[???] [hold/display/obtain/have] [???] [???] [???] - This uses a bunch of the words that only appear once in page B, and it is very unclear what those are supposed to mean. I'm not sure of any ways these could be figured out.
(D) 327 ca ci tici cosatukito
327 bug-people lie on map - something like "327 bug-people live in this area of the map", presumably.

These translations don't quite work. After a while, I noticed that one of our words from part C was also in part B -- this should finally help explain what B is trying to tell us.

Note that one of the sentences from part B is "rock [ci tici] mountain". This suggests a better-looking translation for toceso and suse -- namely, "gets" and "from". This means that the sentences from (b) were telling us what each of these is made of.

With this, the rest of the words work out, and we can get a nice translation for each of the sentences:

Here, I've updated cosatukito to be the name of the region (transliterated as "Shosatukito"), and confirmed ca to be the name of the bug-people rather than a personal pronoun. This looks to be a fitting translation of all the words we've seen in the language. It's possible that there are some minor differences in the way some of these words should be translated, but the general ideas should be correct.

Overall thoughts:

A lot of this seems very English-y. Left to right, adjectives before nouns, prepositions before the words they modify, words directly translate as a single English word... and the verb without a subject in sentence (A), which I assume we're supposed to translate as a command. I'd recommend looking at how other languages do grammar - the International Linguistics Olympiad is a great source for fantastic language deciphering problems like these, and it also gives a good view of the interesting ways other languages mark things, or divide them up semantically, when we English speakers wouldn't even think of that as an option.

The syllable choices are also a bit strange. Even given the "missing" syllables, they're very regular. If you want a natural-seeming language, four consonants is way too few, and consonants should be spread out more: /s/ and /ʃ/ both being phonemes can't last for long at all. They would likely either merge into a single phoneme or diverge in a very short period of time. (Of course, I don't think it was really necessary to provide those to begin with: solvers will be able to create their own transcription systems. But the small variety of syllables is still pretty unnatural.)

I do think this is a good idea though. I always enjoy linguistics-related puzzles, and I've thought about similar projects myself. I'd love to see more done with this.

• Oh my, your answer is much more in depth than mine is! Feel a bit inferior now. I do agree that the text on Page B was completely obscure, I could not figure out how you were meant to solve it. I'll upvote your answer so OP sees it since yours is the most complete analysis :) Aug 19 '20 at 6:44
• Awesome, very close on most of them! And I appreciate you showing your work and thought process :). Some basic feedback: (A) tici and soti are slightly off. Your first guess for the grammar is correct. (B) ci is slightly off (C) One of your ideas for toceso is correct. Some more hints are in rot13 below. (D) A few errors, but the idea is basically correct, more hints below Aug 19 '20 at 7:51
• (P) Guvf bar erdhverf n ybg bs vasrerapr. Abgr gung fhfr naq fbpr ner obgu qrsvarq ba gur znc naq cntr O. Jung jbhyq or gur zbfg inyhnoyr onfvp xabjyrqtr bs qvssrerag trbtencuvpny nernf/srngherf? Gung znl uryc lbh qrgrezvar gur cuenfr pv gvpv. Nyfb, lbhe genafyngvba sbe gur svefg jbeq sbe rnpu bs gurz ner pbeerpg, rkprcg xhpbxb. (Q) Lbhe qvtvg genafpevcgvbaf ner pbeerpg, ohg vg vf npghnyyl onfr-5. Abgr gung 0-9 vf onfr 10, 0-1 vf onfr-2, rgp. Nf sbe pbfnghxvgb - Jung qbrf gur gvgyr bs n znc hfhnyyl ercerfrag? pv gvpv` vf fyvtugyl bss. Aug 19 '20 at 7:52
• @DiputsMonro Whoops, of course. I have no idea why I thought it was base 4. Will fix that, and give the rest of it some more thought.
– Deusovi
Aug 19 '20 at 7:53
• (Have to head off for the night, though. Will continue tomorrow morning.)
– Deusovi
Aug 19 '20 at 7:57

Progress so far after some time working on this. I'm currently stuck on what the long passages on the geography and map pages mean, I have no idea where to start with those or what they are trying to say. But this is a great puzzle and you've thoroughly stumped me so far! Will update if I figure out anything more.

(A) throw (judging from the throwing picture, which seems to be "being throws rock" or something along those lines; could be wrong here) rock (throwing rock and mining rock clues) ??? (context would suggest "into"?) west (compass on the map clue, this symbol is placed where "west" would be) lake (from lake picture title)

(B) river (top label on the river picture) ??? (context would suggest "is" or "goes"?) south (compass on the map clue, this symbol is placed where "south" would be)

(C) ??? mine (mine clue) ??? to/towards (judging from I think "to north" and "to west" maybe being phrases on the map page, but I'm not sure) ???

(D) 14 (looks like a base-12 numbering system? the first two symbols are 12 and the second two symbols are 02, so that would total to 14?) ?????? world/map/region? (maybe this is the name of the world or region since it's placed above the map on the map clue page?)

• (A) is almost exactly correct! (B) Almost perfect too. (C) None of those words are correct... (D) Trending in the right direction, but the numbers are off. Hints in rot13: (N) Whfg arrq gb or zber pbasvqrag :c (O) Bar bs lbhe vqrnf sbe ??? vf pbeerpg. Pbafvqre ubj gung jbeq vf hfrq ryfrjurer naq juvpu znxrf zber frafr. (P) ...ohg bar bs gurz vf rknpgyl gur bccbfvgr! Aug 19 '20 at 8:17
• @DiputsMonro Apologies but what does all that last bit mean? I don't understand. Aug 19 '20 at 14:46
• Ah, the last bit is written in rot13, which is a simple cipher. I've done this to make sure that you don't accidentally read a hint you don't want to read. You can translate it and learn more here: rot13.com Aug 19 '20 at 15:22
• My bad for not knowing. I'll stop working on this since somebody else gave a high quality answer but this was a great puzzle and I tried my best at it. Aug 19 '20 at 15:58