Sunday, 8 March 2020

Doppelganger language

Jonathan Newell just posted a new very big and complex map and mentioned, in a comments, a doppelganger city. Doppelgangers are rarely given an opportunity to have their own culture, mostly presented as monsters here to steal your identity instead of creating their own, but if they do have their own city, what kind of language they might have there? I know nothing of actual Idolum, but it is an interesting thought to think about. 

In many systems as they are portrayed, a doppelganger and other similar shapeshifters of fluid form are given the Common language as a base and often no full telepathy (although they can detect surface thoughts in some worlds). But if the creature possesses the ability to change so much about their body why should they be constrained by somebody's else language, spoken in a standardized audible range?

With ability to transform, the doppelganger language is doppelganger themselves, they 'speak' by changing their body or, more often, the parts of their body, to convey a meaning in the way other people create specific tremblings in air or draw certain lines to communicate. Early DG language was, probably, quite literal – change to a wolf-creature if you 'speak' about wolves – but later it became both more symbolic and much more complex, including shifts in colour, texture, scents, temperature, audible and visual range capabilities to a degree, as well as shape, form and appearance, using the whole world as their language components. With no need to rely purely on the audible component to 'speak', and the natural inclination for doppelgangers to infiltrate, I think it was, at least initially, a silent language, relying on visual (and, in close proximity, textural) changes more than on audible ones, but even without a sound the DG language at its height could be incredibly byzantine. 

In structural sense, the language can be seen as logographic (pictographic in early stages), with difference that each 'written'/'spoken' part of it is the cascade of changes the goppelganger themselves assumes. It probably also has several forms – at least one that is 'common people' version and is more like a quick sign language or huntspeech with only a few bodyparts and minimal changes involved, and another of highly cultured function where the whole paragraph could be condensed to a single change, and poems could be 'recited' with a single movement; the recitations of novels and sagas in this form are grand theatrics performances. If doppelganger society grows past 'oral' traditions (which, I think, would be much stronger for them than for cultures with just audible language) and come to a need to preserve the information externally, DG might have a simplified 'static' written form for the first type, and some highly ornamented multi-coloured-ink calligraphy 'static' written form for the second type, which still won't convey the language whole complexity and beauty, given how many more layers 'live' version might have.
Depending how much the setting allows them to change, red and white flowers could be doppelgangers too; photo from Equal Wedding Japan


Doppelganger language is possible for the outsider to learn, but impossible to 'speak' without some kind of ability to either transform the "speaker's" own body fluidly or, at least, have an active illusion that mimics such transformations (such as 'Change Self' spell). Spells such as 'Comprehend Languages' and 'Tongues' won't translate 'live' DG as the language of change isn't isn't actually written, and whatever audible ('spoken') components it has are meaningless without the rest of the changes adding to them, so translating them by magic would be like translating a written word with about 90% of its strokes missing; in its complexity, to observing non-shapeshifters, it has more similarities to a code, and this is just when doppelgangers aren't trying to intentionally 'speak' in code, or poetic, or making a double entendre jokes. Written forms are more rudimentary than 'live' forms, so even with spells the translations from written forms will lose whatever subtlety they have.

The danger for DG as to a language is in its own complexity; if the city comes under a strong outsider cultural influence, (as it often happens in the real life) younger doppelgangers might adopt the other language as their native one because it is so much easier to learn and also gives them more social mobility with the other, now dominant culture, while DG language might be seen as outdated, inefficient, pompous or, depending on a new regime, dangerous to exhibit. Simple telepathy is even more efficient, so in the settings where doppelgangers have telepathy, such DG language won't develop due to the lack of need.

On another hand, because it is rare and difficult to understand by magic, it might be used specifically to convey secret messages, similar to Native Americans code-talkers in WW2.

* * *
On a more general thought, to function the DG city needs some kind of stable infrastructure but with everybody being able to mimic anybody else (nothing, technically, prevents a doppelganger to assume an innate shape of another doppelganger) the importance of external, preferably unforgeable  symbols for important city positions is bigger than for a regular society. Assuming that doppelgangers are still individuals, with their ability to change almost everything about themselves, if they don't have no innate capabilities to recognize each other under such change (*) the masks of the office can become literally more important than the people who is currently inhabiting them; 'becoming a mask', i.e. assuming a certain specific mindset required to fit into a certain governing ability is, probably, on a job description for most of position of importance for DG city, and whatever the everyday life in such city could be, the official structure could be seen as just one endless theatrical performance by the outsiders.

(*) and if they do, it will take just one captive and/or tortured and/or brainwashed doppelganger to create a cadre of a 'drug-sensing dogs' to find all the others of their people in the vicinity, so they probably don't have such ability; 'True Seeing' spell discovers doppelgangers but it is high end spell of limited duration (and expensive to make into a multitude of items) and so not as efficient.

14 comments:

  1. Some important speculation, when even a pair of dopplegangers, working together, numerically exceeds a solo or none force frontal by magnitudes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't understand what you meant 'none force frontal by magnitudes' - can you rephrase?

      Delete
  2. the effort ranked as much more so for a doppleganger to attract precisely the right attention, given an appearance, presence, and lingering - yet it does. but the truth is i meant to ladle the one and none onto the together. this proved too fine.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I apologies, but English is my third language and I cannot understand your words.

      Delete
    2. English is my first language and I have no idea what's happening in these comments either, K.

      Delete
  3. Replies
    1. Thank you. Feel free to use it if you wish.

      Delete
  4. Though they can't speak it, I almost imagine impressionistic painters trying. With quick movement of the paint they try and capture all that complexity. Like talking in slow motion.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Very true, I haven't thought of this - thank you for the good idea. Cubism and attempts to show each pose from different perspectives simultaneously probably are attempts to translate as well, although I would imagine this style used more for language-learning textbooks than for actual art.

      Delete
    2. Sorry, not trying to be confusing though what I wrote is cryptic. Just think about a doppleganger. It's either in its based form or copying someone: the none and the one. Now think of two dopplegangers: the together, and this is truly a deadly situation; i.e., one doppleganger is bad enough. Hope that helps

      Delete
    3. I'm thinking of a pair of dopplegangers serving an evil cultist in an urban environment...

      Delete
    4. Thank you for the explanation.

      In this particular case I view doppelgangers who have no precise control over each part of the body – i.e. if they have only full assumed form and only their default form, one and zero state – in the same way I would view illiterate humans. I think each doppelganger could learn the precise control over each part of their body (i.e. that they can change only a hand, or only a skintone), just as literacy is a teachable skill in human culture. Some master it well, some barely, some DG might have an analogy to human dysgraphia.

      I also don't view doppelgangers as inherently evil – more self-serving, maybe, but not more evil than elves or dwarves or humans can be evil.

      An interesting game, I think, would be to play as doppelgangers infiltrating evil cult for the sake of good (or even shiny goodies, as adventurers do): without ability to have all the memories of the replaced target, and severely outnumbered by highly paranoid cultists, open combat is a suicide, so such mode of play would require a gathering and reading on social clues, piercing together their infiltration disguise and blending in through planning, improvisation and roleplay. A heist, in a sense, only it can be taken up to eleven as DG inherently have more tools for it.

      Delete
  5. I really like the language.

    Regarding the official functions of the DG city, I imagine there could be one ur-official of each institution, whom the first recruits model their forms and minds after, and the second recruits after them etc. So as long as at least one DG is fully in the "office form" the institution can theoretically live of forever. But probably over the course of years, some officials eventually get sloppy with changing between their "office form" and their "true form" (perhaps adopting the looks but not the demeanor) or start suffering from the overlaying of memories of several dozen bodies. A DG city arranged in this way (ie. not through masks, but through full adoption of office-forms for carrying out official duties) could eventually degrade into a Kafka-esque bureaucracy, where the original ideas and motivations of different office-forms have been thinned out like stencils repeatedly xeroxed. And you could also have great heist-adventures where you need to collapse an entire power structure by tricking everyone in supporting functions to change out of their office-forms, leaving no-one left for them to mimic back to and thus removing all the accumulated experiences and insignia that make up the institution.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. For this case they probably have some form of restoration of forms, a meditation/self-indocrination exercises which are usually unused because nobody really wants to go through such mental contortions, but in the time of the crisis it serves as 'reset' button for chosen or altruistic individuals, so the heist will only create a short reprieve and then the infrastructure would be back and probably even more efficient. I believe that doppelganger infrastructure/culture would be more resilient to meddling than that as adaptability is a part of their whole mode of being.

      Delete