The Universal Translator Blog is a sub-project of the LCARS 47 Development Project, a unique freeware canon accurate LCARS application suite.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Ferengi Writing, part 1

The design for the Ferengi script is a syllabary. I decided to base the script on a syllabary for one reason: Keiko O'Brien's school room in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine shows a large number of Ferengi symbols laid out in a chart. This same chart displays the English alphabet as well as the Cardassian and Bajoran Scripts. The Ferengi block of text is five characters high, fourteen characters across. This resembles the layout of a Japanese kana table; a kind of syllabary used in writing Japanese. 

As well as Japanese, inspiration for how the script works comes from  Linear A and Linear B writing systems of ancient Crete, that were syllabaries, used primarily for recording business transactions, inventories and contracts etc. I found this to be appropriate for the Ferengi. The Mayan script also served as a major inspiration in terms of function; an hieroglyphic script with a syllabic base, it is used to write a more complex language than the syllables the script represents. This is why I based the spelling system on a combination of Mayan and Linear B (Linear A is undeciphered).


As Ferengi Script is syllabic, glyphs can stand for either consonant-vowel combinations or simple vowels. However, Ferengi phonotactics is far more complicated than this; words and syllables can contain sequences of consonants, both at the beginning and/or end of a syllable, e.g. [triska] 'metal', which is CCVCCV or [uuwmoks] 'Oo-mox', which is VVCCVCC. Consonant clusters such as this are indicated using echo vowels. These vowels can either match the main vowel of the syllable (synharmony), or mismatch it (disharmony). The rules for synharmony and disharmony are as follows:

  • A CVC syllable is written CV-CV, where the two vowels match: yo-po [yop] 'I, me, my'. 
  • Some consonants, in particular [s], [h], [l], [r], [m], and [n], may be left unwritten at the end of a syllable or before a consonant; this is called 'under-spelling', and is uncommon, except in very common words: lo [los] 'you, your (pl)'.
  • A syllable with a consonant cluster is written the same as a CVC syllable, so: so-ko(-o) [sko] 'to do', ti-ri(-si)-ka [triska] 'metal', o-we-ke(-se) [hoeks] 'Hoex (proper noun)'.
  • A syllable with a long vowel (CVVC) is written CV-Ce, unless the long vowel is [ee], in which case it is written CeCi: du-pe [duup] 'to inherit, receive', de(-i)-mo-no [deemon] 'DaiMon (Captain)'. 
  • Long vowels in words of more than one syllable can be under-spelled: ge-re-ko [greeko] 'Greko (proper noun)'.
  • A syllable with an r-coloured vowel (CVrC) is written with a final a if the vowel is [e, o, u], or with a final u if the vowel is [a] or [i]: vo-pa [vorp] 'Vorp (proper noun)'. Where the r-coloured vowel ended a syllable, ra or ru were used: po-fa-ru [pofar] 'small ship, runabout'.
  • A preconsonantal nasal [n/mC] may either be written in full, indicated by modification of the following syllabic glyph, or be left unwritten: fe-re(-ne)-ki [ferengi] 'Ferengi'.
  • Word final [h] or preconsonantal [h] is not indicated: pa [pah] 'that'
  • Word final vowels may be emphasized with V symbols or the y and w symbol groups respectively: bi-ri-ye [briiy] 'to tell, instruct', pi-ta-a [birta] 'Birta (proper noun)'.

C = consonant, V = vowel.

In part 2, I will be discussing paragraph layouts, writing direction, and just what those hexagons actually mean.


  1. And now the kindle touch "does" Ferengi


  2. Oh... I also managed to get DOSBOX running on these linux based boxes...

    just in case we NEED the ability to run win code.

    I also own all the relevant build systems for all the OS (MS + Linux) if it ended up being a rebuild from scratch job (as dosbox may not do the business) ...

    thanks again.