One of the complex decisions to make about the artefact is what is the nature of the information that is to be displayed. It is useful to briefly explore different types of information.

The first written language was cuneiform and it was invented by the Sumerians in the late 4th millennium B.C. It is known as a language isolate since it does not have any genealogical relationship to other languages. The language began as a pictogram based system and then evolved to a logophonetic one. What is the difference?

A language based upon pictograms is one which conveys its meaning through an image to represent an physical object. Other than the original cuneiform the other good example of this is Egyptian hieroglyphic writing. Such things were also ideograms which represented symbols and ideas, and can often be independent of any particular language. Pictograms may often evolve into full logograms, which is a written character that represents a word of phrase.

The other type of writing is phonograms which do not have a word or phrase meaning in singular form until they are combined with other phonograms. This is the basis of phonetic writing and alphabets.

Fundamental to an alphabet is the concept of a syllable, which is a unit of organization for sounds of spoken word. A word that contains only one syllable is called monosyllable. For a word containing two, three or more syllables they are termed disyllable, trisyllable and polysyllable respectively. What makes up a syllable is a group of consonants and vowels. For the English language the vowels are a, e, I, o and u. All other letters are the consonants. 

A syllable is constructed around a central vowel which is called the nucleus. The consonant to the right of it is called the Coda, and with the nucleus this makes up what is called the Rime. If a consonant precedes the nucleus it is called the Onset

Here is an example to break this down. Let us take the word water. This contains two syllables, which are wa and ter. For the first syllable it contains only an onset and a nucleus. For the second syllable it contains an onset, a nucleus and a Coda and so also a Rime. 

What this all illustrates is that the structure of language is complex and this needs to be kept in mind in the design of the Apkallu initiative artefact. If logograms are used then careful thought must go into their choice. If phonograms are used then no matter what language they are written in, it has to be communicated to the future explorer who finds the artefact how a syllable and its constituents is the fundamental building blocks of language. 

 In 2016 a film came out called 'Arrival', directed by Dennis Villeneuve and based on the short story by Ted Chiang called 'Story of Your Life'. One of the central events of the film is in an attempt to translate an unknown alien language, the word 'tool' is misunderstood to be 'weapon', leading to the pending tension that follows in the plot and the risk of a first contact scenario going horribly wrong. 


In the design of the Apkallu initiative artefact, one must also think carefully as to how any information encoded onto it can be misinterpreted. Indeed, on the assumption that the artefact was studied and embraced for all of the knowledge it could teach, there is even a risk that the artefact would start to be treated as a spiritual / religious item and so its text could be embraced by some as a form of dogma. This may in fact act to regress sociological and technological progress down the line, which is the opposite of what the Apkallu initiative wants to achieve.

For the Apkallu initiative, a full understanding of linguistic information transfer, is critical to the successful achievement of its mission.

Kelvin Long