Magic: The Gathering playing cards have a secret language that just a few can translate

As difficult as Magic: The Gathering is — with all its numerous and ever-changing key phrases, methods, merchandise, storylines, even complete gameplay codecs — would you consider it additionally has its personal secret language?

Phyrexian was first launched in 2010. It’s a language spoken in-fiction by a loathsome species of cybernetic monsters on the airplane of Phyrexia. Writer Wizards of the Coast has by no means utterly defined the way it works. So, for greater than a dozen years now, a devoted group of amateurs has been working to translate it, going card by card with just a few strains of latest textual content sometimes delivered with new units of playing cards. What they’ve found is a tongue that’s concurrently alien and likewise very a lot part of our world.

Fernando Franco Félix, a science advisor for PBS’ Space Time, is probably the foremost knowledgeable in Phyrexian outdoors of Wizards. A polyglot — that’s, a grasp of a number of languages, on this case together with English, Spanish, and Esperanto — he’s been fascinated with Phyrexian for years now, and maintains a small however devoted following on YouTube.

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“I’ve at all times favored languages,” Félix instructed Polygon from his dwelling in Aguascalientes, Mexico. “What I at all times say is {that a} language is like an artwork gallery, and each side of the language is like an artwork piece. I see languages as the best collaborative murals within the historical past of humanity. You could have hundreds of thousands of individuals and, with out even realizing it, they’re creating this method, which is gorgeous.”

Two copies of the same card, one written in English and the other in Phyrexian.
Phyrexian is written natively in columns, and people columns are learn high to backside and left to proper. For Magic playing cards, Wizards of the Coast prints these columns on their aspect and locations them in reverse order — a format that appears like English, however which would appear weird to a local Phyrexian speaker. Even when a card is tapped (turned on its aspect) Félix finally ends up having to learn it backwards — proper to left.
Picture: Wizards of the Coast

After all, Phyrexian wasn’t created over 1000’s of years throughout a number of cultures. It’s a constructed language, additionally referred to as a conlang. That makes it just like the languages present in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings books, or fashionable conlangs like Star Trek’s Klingon and Sport of Thrones’ Dothraki and Valyrian. After all, you possibly can simply discover paperwork on-line that may train you how you can communicate like an elf or a Klingon. However not so with Phyrexian.

“They defined that it was an actual language [and] that they employed linguists to create this language,” Félix stated, “however they’ve by no means defined the way it works. And so I noticed that as a problem.”

Because it seems, Félix was greater than as much as the problem. He and his neighborhood of collaborators have created a Phyrexian dictionary. In January he used it to turn out to be the primary particular person to translate a Magic card written in Phyrexian earlier than the English-language model of the cardboard was launched to the general public.

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However how? Félix says it’s largely a guessing sport.

“You attempt to make good guesses,” Félix stated. “You attempt to see in case your guesses maintain up. If they’ll’t maintain up, you attempt to provide you with one thing else. In the event that they do maintain up, you most likely acquired it proper and you’ll proceed shifting on.”

Félix defined that whereas Phyrexian is a novel building, it derives lots of its quirks from current languages. For instance, it makes use of a consonantal root system, identical to Hebrew and Arabic, to create an assortment of simply acknowledged phrase stems. However Félix thinks its system for conjugating verbs is clearly derived from German. Its alphabet shares related options with Hangul, the alphabet utilized in Korea. The script used to write down Phyrexian shares related options with Hindi and Sanskrit. Phyrexian additionally makes use of a inflexible set of punctuation marks, together with notations for marking tense, quotations, and the start and the tip of a sentence. There may be even a manner of marking the place the place a reader ought to pause to take a breath, a type of caesura embedded into the grammar of Phyrexian itself.

However during the last 12 years, followers have solely been in a position to observe Phyrexian in a really slim context, specifically the foundations written on collectible buying and selling playing cards. Typically there’s a little bit of taste textual content on the backside of these playing cards, a quote or a pithy epithet introduced with restricted context. Félix and his neighborhood are hungry for extra. These texts are fragments of Phyrexian literature.

“My dream is that someday [Wizards publishes] a really brief story, lower than 1,000 phrases, however it’s all written in Phyrexian,” Félix stated. “Then they only allow us to go to city with it. I’m fairly positive we may decipher it.”

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What about truly talking Phyrexian? That will take fairly a bit longer to tease out in full. Phyrexians are half machine, in spite of everything, and their language consists of components the place native audio system are obliged to slap their specialised metallic mouth components collectively for emphasis.

“We’ve only a few examples of spoken Phyrexian,” Félix stated, “and those we now have are very distorted as a result of they’re alleged to be spoken by these monsters, they usually’re very arduous to grasp.”

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