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Gallifreyan Language

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Jamdog
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« on: May 19, 2011, 08:02:47 pm »

Firstly, apologies if this is in the wrong place, but I couldn't find anywhere to just discuss aspects of the Whoniverse that weren't related to episodes or merchandise.  As the Gallifreyan number system (which I will mostly cover) appears on the Doctor Who New Series Adventure books, maybe 'Silence in the Library' is the best place for this post.

As I already said, I wish to discuss the Gallifreyan writing systems.  There are two of these.  Firstly, Old High Gallifreyan comprised of simple runes and symbols.  Secondly, Circular Gallifreyan which is made up of interlocking circles.

As Old High Gallifreyan is fairly well covered HERE, I'd like to concentrate on the more modern Circular Gallifreyan, which was created for the 2005 season of Doctor Who.

There doesn't appear to be any particular pattern to any words, as the examples below illustrate:


And a more complicated example can be seen on the Chameleon Arch (Fob Watch) that the Master uses to become Professor Yana, and the Doctor uses to become John Smith.  The Chameleon arch uses the two left-side images of these three:


The numbers shown in the image above, however, are used in every one of the BBC New Series Adventure books.  Both on the spine, and inside as chapter numbers.

This only shows 6 numbers though, which seems odd, until you look at the numbers in the books, here are the chapter headers I scanned in from the NSA books:


This clearly shows that the numeral '0' is a plain hexagon, and that the numbers start with the Most Significant Number (MSN) at the top and Least Significant Number (LSN) at the bottom, so for chapter one , the Gallifreyan number reads 000001, and chapter seven has 000010, and chapter 14 is 000020.

Timelords therefore use a base 7 number system!  Is this just to confuse us humans?

The more observant of you will now notice a 'typo' that exists in all New Series Adventures books that use this number system for chapter headers (some don't), which is that the number 13 actually uses the Gallifreyan digits 14, when it should be 16 (in base 7) - 14 in Gallifreyan is 11 in Human decimal, and if you compare the images for 11 and 13 above, you will see they are identical (except for the text over them).

Does anyone else have any insights into the Gallifreyan Circular method of writing, as there is very little about it on the internet.

Known other good examples are:
Hand-written on the Doctor's betamax video tape in 'The Idiot's Lantern'
On a screen and hand-written note in Yana's lab in 'Utopia'
Written by the Visionary in 'End of Time'
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« Reply #1 on: May 19, 2011, 08:58:52 pm »

I always just thought it was random symbols drawn together in production that didnt actually mean anything
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« Reply #2 on: May 19, 2011, 11:20:12 pm »

I always just thought it was random symbols drawn together in production that didnt actually mean anything
I guess that most of the 'words' are exactly that, but once a word has been created by the production team or artist, it soon becomes canon, and must always be used for that particular word.

I know that an art company, Department Six sells a lot of the Doctor Who concept art (at scary prices), and the Chameleon Arch art above was from their site.  I don't know if they are involved in the process of actually designing the Gallifreyan words or not though.

I'd love to know though if there are certain rules governing the design of the words.  Would it be possible for someone like me to, for example, work out what the Gallifreyan word for 'Elephant' might be, simply by extrapolating from examples and using the rules, or is each word conjured entirely from the artists mind at the time of it's creation?

Also, the top image above is the longest list of Gallifreyan words I've seen anywhere on the internet.  Does anyone have any other known words that can be added to it...?
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« Reply #3 on: May 20, 2011, 02:37:11 am »

OMG in Gallifreyan I'm 30 next year!  Shocked Noooo! I've only been 20 for 3 full days Sad
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« Reply #4 on: May 20, 2011, 10:44:28 am »

I've moved this into TGSITG where all the DW non episodic chit chat is Smiley
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« Reply #5 on: May 20, 2011, 01:46:02 pm »

OMG in Gallifreyan I'm 30 next year!  Shocked Noooo! I've only been 20 for 3 full days Sad
My wife just pointed out that the Doctor is 909 years old, but is that Earth years or Gallifreyan years, and in which number system?

If we assume it's Earth years as all time measurements in Doctor Who are usually in Earth time, then in the Gallifreyan number system, he's 2436 years old in the base-7 Gallifreyan number system!
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« Reply #6 on: May 20, 2011, 05:59:21 pm »

OMG in Gallifreyan I'm 30 next year!  Shocked Noooo! I've only been 20 for 3 full days Sad
My wife just pointed out that the Doctor is 909 years old, but is that Earth years or Gallifreyan years, and in which number system?

If we assume it's Earth years as all time measurements in Doctor Who are usually in Earth time, then in the Gallifreyan number system, he's 2436 years old in the base-7 Gallifreyan number system!

Maybe that's the explanation for the Third Doctor claiming his life covers "thousands of years" Cool
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« Reply #7 on: May 21, 2011, 11:47:25 am »

To be honest, although there are some cool theories above, I really think this all comes to nothing more than the whim of whoever is tasked with coming up with a new symbol when the call comes for it. If there was more to go on, hundreds of known words for example, then the liklihood of being able to extrapolate a language from them would be higher.

I guess that most of the 'words' are exactly that, but once a word has been created by the production team or artist, it soon becomes canon, and must always be used for that particular word.

The problem here is that nothing in the books is technically classed as canon in the show proper unless they appear. On top of this, as we seem to be shown each week with the new episodes, nothing that is considered canon is safe, especially something like a symbol which could easily be changed or reused somewhere else without the majority of people even knowing. When the show returned in 2005 a set of symbols was created for use which apparantly had a meaning behind them, but the same symbols have been used elsewhere for different things which essentially scrubs their meaning.
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« Reply #8 on: May 22, 2011, 02:48:56 pm »

I have a tattoo of Gallifreyan symbols.  Before I got it, I did a TON of research on circular Gallifreyan and was actually surprised at how little there is out there.  But I suppose that's because no one on the show has actually 'needed' to use or speak Gallifreyan in any real sense.  In Star Trek Klingons etc. actually speak the language to each other and in fact, a linguist was brought in to create the language.  I believe it was the same guy who wrote the language of the Atlanteans for the Disney movie Atlantis.  But for Doctor Who, that level of detail wasn't necessary so it was never done.  As a result you have a mish-mash of stuff that has been created by various people working on the show over the years.
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« Reply #9 on: May 23, 2011, 06:53:04 pm »

Can we make it up and send it to the Beeb? Cheesy
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« Reply #10 on: June 26, 2011, 05:04:06 am »

Can we make it up and send it to the Beeb? Cheesy

Making up the rest of the language is an absolutely brilliant idea!! though it will take quite a while...
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« Reply #11 on: June 26, 2011, 12:06:58 pm »

I agree, although I assume you'd have to get some rights to use the existing symbols as a basis, but the creation of a new fixed language that could be used in Doctor Who for the next several centuries (yeah, it's run almost 50 years, I expect it to run for a few hundred more!) would be awesome.

I do have a couple of Klingon dictionaries, and have learned some of Tolkein's elvish (language and script) and dwarven runes.  If complex new languages can be created for Lord of the Rings, and even Star Trek, then why not Doctor Who?!?
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« Reply #12 on: June 26, 2011, 04:26:27 pm »

I agree, although I assume you'd have to get some rights to use the existing symbols as a basis, but the creation of a new fixed language that could be used in Doctor Who for the next several centuries (yeah, it's run almost 50 years, I expect it to run for a few hundred more!) would be awesome.

I do have a couple of Klingon dictionaries, and have learned some of Tolkein's elvish (language and script) and dwarven runes.  If complex new languages can be created for Lord of the Rings, and even Star Trek, then why not Doctor Who?!?

Good point there... To the BBC! (how exactly do you contact BBC?)
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« Reply #13 on: July 04, 2011, 08:23:49 am »

chrissymarieb, what was it you got tattooed on you?   It's good that you did the research - as with any unfamiliar language, you have to know what it's saying!  Lots of people out there are talking about getting tattooed with the Doctor's name, as shown (?) in 'A Good Man Goes to War', but i see two issues...first, the Moff refuses to conform that it is the Doctor's name (but says he'll reveal all after loads of fans have had it tattooed on them...the man is evil!).  And second, if the Doctor is at all typical of his culture, they clearly don't share their real names with just anyone, and to me, anyway, it would feel like some kind of breach of etiquette.  But circular Gallifreyan is beautiful, and if there were a way to write out phrases, I could see myself getting something done.

There are Gallifreyan symbols for some concepts on DeviantArt - don't know if anyone already linked to these: http://drawlingnell.deviantart.com/gallery/25422320
They seem to be invented by the artist, but they fit the style nicely.

I'm also a big fan of what Tolkien called 'the secret vice' - I love fictional languages, and I'd love to hear more of this one. 
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« Reply #14 on: July 04, 2011, 11:32:49 pm »

There are Gallifreyan symbols for some concepts on DeviantArt - don't know if anyone already linked to these: http://drawlingnell.deviantart.com/gallery/25422320
They seem to be invented by the artist, but they fit the style nicely.
Wow, I hadn't seen those, but they are great!  It would be interesting to get the artist who made those, to explain how they created each symbol, the process they went through, and if they had any pattern that they worked to.

I'm also a big fan of what Tolkien called 'the secret vice' - I love fictional languages, and I'd love to hear more of this one. 
Ditto!  Grin
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« Reply #15 on: July 06, 2011, 10:23:11 pm »

Really cool! Grin

I like Human, keyhole, space, Time and impure the most I think Smiley human for its simplicity Cheesy Evil
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« Reply #16 on: January 26, 2012, 01:31:19 pm »

Not really got anything to say about this, it just struck me as really odd that this page, with less than 20 replies, has been viewed over 14 thousand times Shocked

I do however love the symbols and I am sort of jealous that Chrissie has them tattood on her. I may have to copycat that Tongue

I think I have to agree with some of the others though that while this is actually pretty fascinating, I don't think there is actually anything deeper to look into than the fact that the designers liked particular designs. I don't think they were intentionally trying to write script with the images.
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« Reply #17 on: February 09, 2012, 03:59:47 pm »

Not really got anything to say about this, it just struck me as really odd that this page, with less than 20 replies, has been viewed over 14 thousand times Shocked
I suspect the (now) 15½ thousand readers of this post may be people Googling for "Gallifreyan Language" or "Gallifreyan Writing" and finding this post.  This shows that there must be a lot of interest among fans, who would love the Gallifreyan writing system to have rules set in stone, and that there is a need for an English<->Gallifreyan dictionary!
I don't think there is actually anything deeper to look into than the fact that the designers liked particular designs. I don't think they were intentionally trying to write script with the images.
I suspect this too, but I feel that when these designs were created, they weren't completely random.  They all fit loosely within a circular theme, and looking at the symbols for 'Thrust' and 'Decelerate' at the top of this thread, you can see that they are opposites.  How have the designers tried to make the symbols 'look' like the words they describe?
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« Reply #18 on: February 22, 2012, 01:01:38 am »

You guys are right. I found this thread via google search. I'm thinking about designing a Gallifreyan language. But the complexity is hurting my head.
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« Reply #19 on: March 06, 2012, 03:05:37 am »

As there is nothing (as far as we can tell) describing the actual set up of the words or symbols, I believe the best idea is to take what we have from the show, and combine that with the ones made by Drawlingnell (posted above). If we take words with similar spelling, meanings, and setups, we could essentially make a basic system. For example, the shape and position could be the letter, and in order of counterclockwise. How far out they are could be the meaning...not like that exactly, just an idea. I may make some prototype drawings based off these.
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