23

As far as I can tell, there are at least four forms of Gallifreyan: (Images are large, so I'm not inlining them)

  • Old High Gallifreyan (same as High Gallifreyan?)
    Old High Gallifreyan
  • Modern Gallifreyan
    Modern Gallifreyan
  • Cut-Out Circles Gallifreyan
    Cut-Out Circles Gallifreyan
  • Circular Gallifreyan
    Circular Gallifreyan

Are the last two the same? They look somewhat different enough to me (#3 seems to have some circles cut out in locations by overlapping circles, whereas #4 doesn't cut circles out but just shows where they overlap), but is there any general consensus on the subject? The Doctor Who wiki doesn't mention a difference, but I'm not so sure personally.

Is there a difference between Old High Gallifreyan and High Gallifreyan?

And are there any more written forms that I don't know of?

  • After the last episode of Doctor Who, this had been bugging me too. I'm curious how fully-implemented Gallifreyan is, if at all. – user1027 Jun 8 '11 at 0:54
  • An average Timelord looks similar to us but they have a more evolved physiology. Therefore it is possible that Timelords have other vocal chords but we can't pick it up because our brains can't see or hear the difference in pronunciation. For example, "p" pronounced "pee" and "puh" are two different letters. Automating that makes 52 letters with human vocal chords disclouding sounds. – user3104 Oct 19 '11 at 19:08
  • Could it be argued that "circular Gallifreyan" is a purely mathematical written language? Was it ever used to communicate casual speech, or only scientific information? – Blazemonger Jan 9 '12 at 17:41
  • @user3104: the International Phonetic Alphabet is an alphabet attempting to represent all distinct sounds in human languages. – Paul D. Waite Mar 17 '13 at 12:03
12

Circular and Cursive Gallifreyan look like two distinct types there (I'm grouping the top two as cursive, and the bottom two as circular).

So my answer is Two.

Some explaining:
Of the two cursive forms, one looks like an alphabet, and the other a letter. Imagine if you will writing out Arabic letters, then separately writing joined Arabic letters in a word. Because of the rules for writing this, it's quite possible that the two would look separate but similar.

Compare:

enter image description here

With:

enter image description here

The first of which is 'The Doctor', the second of which is the letters for 'The Doctor' spaced out.

Of the two Circular forms I'd imagine they relate time-travelling nuances that human languages can't convey. This is perhaps why the crib in one of the later episodes is in the circular form? Maybe it says something like:

Melody Pond of the present who will become River Song in your future who is in the present.

But all you get out of it is a name, cos that's how the TARDIS rolls.

6

There's always the possibility that it's all complete nonsense, the logic being that the TARDIS's translation circuit will just handle it. Some sources cite 10,000,000 letters in the OH Gallifreyan alphabet (whether their use of 'alphabet' is strictly accurate is another matter), which suggests to me that this is the case.

From a linguistic perspective, highly advanced cultures ought not to need such excessive/obtuse alphabets to actually communicate, as it's more likely that they would abstract their language, making it more semantically dense. Ithkuil is an example of this sort of shift. Rather than more words or individual letters, meaning is encapsulated through mutation of stems and affixes.

To illustrate further, how does a species with essentially human biology (and thus, essentially human vocal cords) produce enough phonemes to justify 10,000,000 letterforms? Or the half dozen alphabets I've seen?

  • Between Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, there are collectively well over 80,000 "unified ideographs" mapped in Unicode, plus various rarer ideographs which have not yet been mapped. However, ideographs are not "letters" so this is arguably the wrong comparison to make, and besides it's still several orders of magnitude short of 10 million. – Kevin Aug 9 at 22:20
6

I get the feeling that Time Lords have an extended alphabet. Maybe if we stopped thinking so much like English or Roman/Greek Alphabet language users, and though more along the lines of Kanji/Glyph language users, we might understand Gallifreyan better. i am betting that Gallifreyan has several phonetical written forms like in Japanese, to denote spoken sounds, as well as a concept word form of writing. I imaging that the writing forms and word usage conjugations might change depending on usage like in the Old Latin language or even in the German or French languages. All this would thus end up producing a written language that's very large. Chinese is a large written language with I think 3,000 word glyphs/kanji/characters. Japanese also has 3 forms of written Kanji. The concept word character form-Kani, the spoken phontecial form for natural Japanese sounds - hiragana and for foreign sounds- katakana. So Gallifrey in old and new forms, just might have a written language of over 10,000 characters.

1

Given the extended history that is complicated by time-travel, I think that any cultural shifts are possible, and so Gallifreyan could easily more closely resemble a conlang than a natural one from earth, not just in variety of phonemes, but in the more basic ways that language works. Tenses could be attributed to nouns, or given in two different forms. (One for the object's history, one for the observer, or more.) Letters could be attributed to several phonemes at once. (At 3 phonemes per letter, you can get over 10 million letters with 253 phonemes, and it could easily be more phonemes per letter than 3.)

I suspect that written Old High Gallifreyan had aspects involving the direction and form of the writing, such that one sentence could be written right to left, and another could be written like a mathematical matrix, and yet another in a form more like circular Gallifreyan; later the language would evolve into a formal and informal forms: One informal like the second picture, and one formal like the last two pictures. Often important information like warnings on fire extinguishers and console information is given in the circular form, and more handwritten or generally informal forms are simplified into what could even be right to left forms. I suspect Old High Gallifreyan could've had some letters that would not be pronounced, but instead only read to allow the reader to interpret the format of the text, similar to a riddle, but easy for Gallifreyans, of which we know are much more intelligent.

It's surprisingly possible that only one Gallifreyan language ever developed, even branching into different forms. Before the Age of Rassilon or the rise of the Neo-Technologists, communication was done entirely telepathically, making language irrelevant, so the Gallifreyan language would have to have been made, either during or just before the Age of Rassilon, for the entire empire. It could quite easily have made Latin look like Esperanto ten times over, being made be technologists of a species around twenty times (the Doctor's IQ reportedly is 2000, from one episode) as intelligent as humans.

That would actually mean Old High Gallifreyan (Should that start with proto-?) is a ConLang. To give you an idea of the difference between conlangs and natural languages, first think about all of the things that make English a very weird language that makes no sense, and then browse the ConLang subreddit for a while. They're more logical and modern, but can be much more complicated.

-1

So the original question was on how many types of written Gallifreyan there are and it seems that no one has found more than the original 4.
So there's:

  • Old High Gallifreyan
  • Modern Gallifreyan
  • Sherman's Circular Gallifreyan
  • Rasilonian Gallifreyan
  • Clockwork Gallifreyan
  • CC Gallifreyan
  • Doctor's Cot Gallifreyan
  • TARDIS Console Gallifreyan
  • 1
    Welcome to Science Fiction & Fantasy! It doesn't matter how old a question is added we encourage people to add new and updated answers if more information is found. However, could you edit in some evidence that there are indeed 8 types of written Gallifreyan? – TheLethalCarrot Aug 3 '18 at 8:22
-1

Much more then even the doctor knows of

Old High Gallifreyan

Modern Gallifreyan

Cut-Out Circles Gallifreyan

Circular Gallifreyan

And many others probably existed before the doctor was even born and after the last great time war when he couldn't return to Gallifreyan and when he did return to Gallifrey in heaven sent but in the confession dial they didn't write anything in Gallifreyan whatsoever so who knows?

  • My answer is its quite impossible to know "all" the Gallifreyan languages as Gallifrey is several billions of years old and has had many governments in its time and similar to our language theirs has changed over and over so their might be countless forms of Gallifreyan – Adamant of the 41st century Aug 9 at 20:30

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