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Jun 01, 2023 7:38 PM
The thing you've wanted all along is to be Amenta? You sure about that? Okay.
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There is a planet of mysterious black-haired aliens (and sometimes orange-haired aliens and all of them if they live long enough become white-haired aliens) in a borderline-seasonable orbit around a smallish yellow star, sporting a nitrogen-oxygen atmosphere and extensive liquid water oceans. There is one natural satellite; there are no artificial satellites. Nighttime lighting is sparse and consistent with fires. There's no sign of railroads. No one is using radio.

Many of the aliens build settlements and practice agriculture. Most of their settlements would make a red neighborhood seem unbelievably clean. There are two pockets of unusual cleanliness on the planet, one city that no one actually seems to live in which exists for ritual purposes and, far away from there, a region where things seem... slightly better? Substantial effort has gone into keeping the cities... less unclean... and on the basis of counting individuals of different sizes it maybe looks like they might be doing something like population control? Hard to tell when at their tech level a sensible population policy still involves a lot of babies and rather fewer older children.

In that slightly more promising region, there's a strip of not quite untouched but definitely mostly avoided wilderness cutting off a peninsula from the rest of the land. There are people on both sides of it, armed with preindustrial weapons, not at this specific moment killing each other. Yet.

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Wow. They know even Amenta wasn't super tidy in its early civilization but yikes.

Their playbook is full of scenarios for aliens of various tech levels and various apparent political situations. This is a promising one, apart from a bit of a scramble to rearrange people so everyone the least bit hyper can stay aboard and a triple-check of their supplies of disposable plastic.

Then a shuttle lands on each side of the divide, in the densest available habitation of both.

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The city is a bit too dense to land in without squishing something and out past its outermost defenses the land is still used densely even if mostly for farming, but if they time it right there's mostly-unused space in the middle of a nearby archery range.

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That'll do. They have mountain bikes but ideally wouldn't need a horrid commute to get from where people live to their shuttle. Probes already checked the air, so they come out relatively underdressed for an alien planet, the better to look nonthreatening. The greys are armed and everybody's got light body armor on but it's nothing bronze age folks will recognize.

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Armed aliens come out to meet them, not yet attacking, just very wary. One of them speaks.

Another alien runs deeper into the city shouting.

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A green haired alien waves and speaks back, hopefully conveying that they lack a common language if nothing else.

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The alien who already spoke to them tentatively tries pointing to objects and naming them.

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The visiting aliens love this! Yes, please, name objects! They will try reproducing the sounds.

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Sure, here's a sword and a belt and a tunic and a wristguard and an archery glove and a bow and arrows and some kind of native flower and - the name of the city? the word "city"? the word "wall"? something - and a boot and a bag and the sky and the ground and humans and a horse. The specific local trying to talk to them is not great at helping them produce the right sounds, and the language has phonemes not found in Tapap (there's a voicing distinction) or Anitami (it has two different liquids).

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These Amentans are Tapai, but the specific people who were sent on this expedition can pronounce lots of sounds and hear lots of distinctions. They should be able to get at least most of the ones produced in such similar mouths; they were prepared to find much weirder vocal apparatus, if any, before they were zeroed in on this planet and its confusingly Amentanoid inhabitants. They write down all the words and try to elicit some verbs.

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The locals are a bit confused about the attempt to solicit verbs but eventually get it. Their verb conjugations mark tense (there are... twelve tenses? it's hard to tell without actually eliciting examples of each one but they seem to follow a pattern), animacy, and person (for both subject and object - and then there's something slightly different for middle voice), and as they move into full sentences they start an awful lot of them with modal particles, and oh by the way the apparent stresslessness of the language only applies at the level of single words, sentences differ in meaning depending on which words are stressed. It's one of those languages that frontloads all the difficulty, where a learner has to have progressed pretty far to start using sentences at all.

But the locals do seem to be willing to keep teaching them verbs for a while.

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Awesome. They (at least the ones with green hair) have absolutely nothing else going on that is more important than learning verbs and nailing down all these tenses and voices and so on.

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After a while someone else comes by to take over trying to establish communication. This person, who gives her name as Elu, isn't armed, and starts by checking how much the visitors seem to be retaining.

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The visitors pause a lot, and sometimes consult their notes, but do not seem to have completely forgotten any words they had down in the first place, somehow.

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Then they're going too slowly. Elu launches into a long story at full conversational speed with lots of gesturing and mime. (It's about the founding of Sesat. The way she tells it it's mostly about wrangling people.)

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This is very helpful! The visitors nod along and whisper to each other and take notes and occasionally repeat back a word that isn't clear (to a team of fifty up in the ship) from context.

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Afterward she starts testing them again, now with questions like "what is the opposite of east?" and "what year was it three years after the end of that story?"

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They can answer this, albeit not always in the correct declension! They seem to appreciate that she's checking up on their understanding.

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Oh, are they struggling with declensions? Great, she can aggressively demonstrate all seven declensions for all three levels of animacy. (The levels of animacy are not intuitive. The language itself, for instance, is an animate nonperson.)

And how about them? Can they be enticed to demonstrate their language for her?

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They seem like they'd really rather learn hers but will say a few words of theirs if she really really wants, and also all introduce themselves!

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Their apparent reluctance makes her much, much more interested, unfortunately, though she can pause to let all the soldiers introduce themselves and then resume pestering the visitors about their grammar.

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...how about they split up and they have one of the people with silvery hair talk in Tapap while everyone else focuses on learning Sesati?

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That works. Elu gets one of the soldiers to work on learning Tapap (much, much more slowly) while she gets back to teaching them Sesati.

She starts trying to explain concepts too abstract to point to.

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They appreciate this! They're making so much progress and she's so helpful! They are a little slower on the uptake with abstract concepts because they don't necessarily share all the same ones, but they are still doing impressively well.

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"...Do you think we can have a conversation now about where you came from and why you're blocking the archery range, at least if you can ask questions when there's something you don't understand?"

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"Do you want our house we move it? It moves!" says one of the green haired people, slowly and with frequent note consultation. "We put house where people, for talk from people."

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