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reconstructing a mysterious cipherlang

In January 2014, I uploaded a YouTube video titled "Barney Error". I created subtitles for this video in English, as well as Pig Latin because I had a weird obession with it at the time. This soon developed into a relentless obsession with translating the video into many other conlangs and cipherlangs. The list of public subtitles for this video is as follows:

Yeah, obviously I had to use up a lot of spaces for actual languages and random English dialects just for these silly fake languages. Selbish (also known as Selbistainian) was my first ever non-cipher conlang, and it's a whole other can of worms. The Viesa subtitles are actually in the very first version of the language, back when it was a very simple cipher that was easily computer-translatable.

But the most mysterious of them all is the one fittingly labelled "I FORGOT WHAT THIS LANGUAGE IS CALLED". It seems to be a language that, as far as I currently know, has no records or information anywhere aside from this one video. In 2016-17 I deemed it to be a cipherlang I made around the time known as "Shoche", which does have other records, but they have all been lost to time. However, once I actually looked at it for more than 3 seconds, I quickly ruled this out. It was then apparent that this was a different cipherlang that I have no memory of ever creating. So in 2020 I started to reconstruct it, and now that I've rediscovered this strange language I shall now reconstruct it even more.

the subtitles

Here I will present the subtitles for the Barney Error video, in English and the mysterious cipherlang.

English Cipherlang
Get out! Voh enah!
No! Ne!
(gong sound) (veney jenanex)
(random voices and sounds) (Kunexep geniyens unex jenanexes)
We interrupt your game "Stay Away from Johnathan" with a Barney Error. Fo inhoqameha cenab vupen "Jehucu Ufuc wekep Johnathan" fihet u Okek ew Barney.
Barney got killed by Infinite Budgets. Barney riqi zi Inwinihen Zaxvohs.
Infinite Budgets put a bomb in Barney's lair. Inwinihen Zaxvohs mahi u zepbe in qunik ew Barney.
The bomb will explode in fifteen minutes. Heto zepbe odmeqexeno in hon-wigen pinahens.
Do not turn off your PS3. Repeat: Do not turn off your PS3. Ne haken-ewewu cenab PS3. Komonut: Ne haken-ewewu cenab PS3.
(Alarm) (Uqukep)
You have made your first attempt to get away with this. If you do it again, you won't be warned. Cena puxeni cenab enenep uhopemeh ew voh-ufuc-fihete hetij. Cena ne zono fukenan iw cena xe ih uvunin.
(Explosion) (Odmeqexan)
(Cricket Sound) (Yekiroh Jenanex)
That is right! And you will see what happens! Hand, fix the timer! Hetuh ij yekoyeh! Fuh tumonas, unex cena joona! Tunex, widu heto hipener!
(zapping) (bumeg)
Thank you. And the timer is down to ten seconds. Hetuneru cena. Unex heto hipener zo uh hon joyenexes.
(Bleep) (Zeqoom)

the ciphering

Since this is a cipherlang text with it's English counterpart right in plain sight, reconstructing how it works is quite easy. Here is the basic mapping of English letters to cipherlang letters:

I quickly noticed a pattern here: the consonants in alphabetical order are mapped onto the consonants in reverse alphabetical order, and likewise for the vowels:



However, there is much more to this language than just this basic ciphering scheme. There are many exceptions to this letter mapping, as well as grammatical alterations and completely arbitrary changes. These are all described in the section below.


'e' is inserted bewteen some consonant clusters.

'n' is inserted between vowel clusters.

vowel 'y' becomes 'i': 'by' -> 'zi'

Silent 'e' at the end of words tends to remain unchanged: 'game' -> 'vupen'

Often times, consonant translations will favor pronunciation over exact spelling: in 'attempt' -> 'uhopemeh' the double 't' is singled; in 'cricket' -> 'yekiroh' the 'ck' is just treated as 'k'. There are some (perhaps unintentional??) exceptions, such as 'off' -> 'ewewu'.

Some words seem to have 'n' suffixed to them for no discernable reason, such as the aforementioned 'vupen'. Maybe I was poorly trying to imitate Esperanto's accusative case??? I can't tell.

'ne' (no) is placed before verbs to negate them: "won't be" -> "ne zono"

The '-(n)i' suffix marks past tense. However, verbs with an irregular past tense form don't seem to be converted to their root form before applying the suffix: 'made' -> 'puxeni'

'-(n)a' might mark some kind of present tense, as seen in 'We interrupt your game' -> 'Fo inhoqameha cenab vupen'

'-u' marks an imperative verb.

'-b' seems to form posessive pronouns: 'you' -> 'cena', 'your' -> 'cenab'

The '-(n)ep' suffix marks an ordinal number: 'one' -> 'ene', 'first' -> 'enenep'

'-an' seems to convert words into nouns: 'explode' -> 'odmeqexe', 'explosion' -> 'odmeqexan'

'-an' might also be a passive verb suffix??? 'warned' -> 'fukenan'

Possessive constructions and noun groupings tend to be restructured into a phrase that uses 'ew' (of): 'Barney Error' -> 'Okek ew Barney'. Interestingly though, "Barney's lair" translates to "qunik ew Barney" without any equivalent for 'the'. "a bomb in lair of Barney" sounds unnatural, but since "Barney's lair" lacks the word 'the', this carries over when the phrase is restructured.

Placing "k'" before a sentence makes it a yes/no question, as seen in: "Don't you see?" -> "K'cena ne joona?". This is directly copied from Selbish.

Verbs that consist of multiple words and/or idiomatic prepositions ("turn off", "get away with") are grouped with hyphens ("haken-ewewu", "voh-ufuc-fihete")

'If' clauses that preceed the main clause ("If X, Y") are apparently repositioned after the main clause ("Y if X"), for some reason.

'That is right! And you will see what happens' -> 'Hetuh ij yekoyeh! Fuh tumonas, unex cena joona' is a bizzare case. First of all, I apparently bothered to change "right" into "correct" for the first sentence. Then for the second sentence, the "what happens" phrase is moved to the beginning for some reason, but then the 'and' stays in the same place! Furthermore, the word for 'see' seems to have a present tense suffix attached, even though the original verb is clearly in the future tense. This all results in a sentence that literally means "What happens, and you see".

In 'zapping' -> 'bumeg', the '-eg' suffix seems to form a gerund or something.

In "the timer is down to ten seconds" -> "heto hipener zo uh hon joyenexes", the word 'is' gets converted to 'be', however in "That is correct!" -> "Hetuh ij yekoyeh!", this same conversion doesn't apply. Probably a mistake or something. Also in the former sentence, I bothered to change "down to" to "at".


I have tried to list all the interesting points in these mysterious cipherlang subtitles, but there might be ones with more details and nuances that I didn't realize, or things I didn't notice to begin with. I am presently feeling a weird lack of energy so it's likely I missed many things that I will instantly notice if I ever come back to this in a different mental state. There are possibly even other rules to this language that I had made up but simply never got to use for this particular translation.

I know very little about this language, and it's unlikely I'll ever have any more information about it beyond these subtitles. But I find it quite interesting that this cipherlang includes its own grammatical alterations, much like my later cipherlang Viesa. I always thought Viesa was the first time I had this idea, but it turns out to be a concept I'd thought of years prior. That being said, this old cipherlang seems to have so many arbitrary quirks based on the intuitions I held as a young child just starting to get into conlangs. It's a contrast to the somewhat more rigorous approach I've taken to cipherlangs since then.

And yeah, I know that cipherlangs are of little interest to most conlangers, and are typically just seen as a baby's first step to making a """true""" conlang, but that's not really how I see it. I still made cipherlangs even when I had made dozens of proper conlangs, because I find it interesting to see how far you can go with a systematic alteration of another language, how much you can make it look and feel like a real language, how much you can try to balance obfuscation with ease-of-use and efficiency... My systematic brain has always felt annoyed with the huge, complex, and endlessly time-consuming nature of creating vocabulary, and the incomprehensible arbitrarity of semantics. Cipherlangs do not concern themselves with these things. And while cipherlangs can often still feel quite boring even for me, sometimes it can be nice to escape the immense complexities of vocabulary and just have some fun playing with words and sounds.

Despite this particular cipherlang's strange and seemingly messy nature, it's interesting for me to look back on things I made long ago. I'd imagine if this were me from like 4 years ago, I'd just be bashing this thing relentlessly and calling it "cringe" or whatever. But I've grown since then, and I've learned to appreciate the things I made as a child. This is no exception. Looking at history is fascinating, what else am I supposed to say.