Secret Yendi Signals

Mark A Mandel mam at theworld.com
Sat Apr 12 13:28:38 PDT 2003

#> "The Sorceress studied him, then abruptly sheathed her
#> sword and made a certain motion with the fingers of her
#> left hand. Upon seeing this, Pel, his eyes widening
#> slightly, made a similar yet different motion with the
#> fingers of his left hand, after which the Sorceress said,
#> 'Follow me, then, my lord Galstan.'"
#	[...]
#> So it seems the Yendi use hand signals to identify
#> themselves to one another.
#> So what information is contained in the signals? Rank,
#> maybe? If it was just a house identifier, presumably the
#> signals would be the same.

#Its definately a House identifier, but I don't think it gives
#rank.  I don't think Yendis have ranks (other than titles),
#and if they did, I doubt they would tell them to strangers
#(especially strangers from their House; these are Yendi,
#after all).

I disagree in part. Imagine a real-world situation: Mr. A is traveling
in a country far from his own, where a different language is spoken. On
the street he sees a stranger, Ms. B, whom he guesses to be from the
same country (by facial appearance, the tune she's whistling, a piece of
jewelry... it doesn't matter). He approaches her and asks in his native
language where he can find a "Homelandish" restaurant. Her first
reaction is surprise at hearing what is indeed her mother tongue, and
then she tells him that she's on her way to a Homelandish restaurant.

What would a non-Homelandish observer report? "He said something I
couldn't understand. Her eyes widened, then she said something similar
but not quite the same." Very much like Paarfi's report.

The question is not in itself a recognition signal, but it's a
vocalization that nobody would produce by chance or by trying to do
something else (e.g., ask "What time is it?" in some completely
different language).  The "recognition signal" is the fact that it's in
Homelandish, supported by its appropriateness to the situation (unlike
the Homelandish for "I disagree in part" or "My father's delphinium has
the measles").

I'm not claiming that the SiG's and Pel's hand signals carried that much
meaning, or even as much meaning as a single word in a sign language*.
But gestures can be much more complex and meaning-bearing than they look
to an uninformed observer, and invented codes often assign complex
meanings to simple signals. Just imagining, for example: the SiG could
have made a single sign that meant "I am currently in service to someone
not of our House. If you have non-hostile business with that person, I
will assist you within the limits of my authority." And Pel's reply
could have meant "I am (also) currently in service to someone not of our
House. I have non-hostile business with your current master, and I
request your assistance with it."

Amateur radio operators ("hams") use three-letter Q-signals in Morse
code to convey specialized meanings concisely. Here's an example from
http://spiffy.cso.uiuc.edu/~kline/Stuff/q-sigs.html :

QSK?	"Can you hear me between your signals and if so may I
	break in on your transmissions?"

QSK	"I can hear you between my signals; break in on my

* Sign languages: My doctoral dissertation was on certain aspects of
American Sign Language. I used to be able to converse in it, though
never fluently.

-- Dr. Whom, Consulting Linguist, Grammarian, Orthoepist, and
   Philological Busybody
   a.k.a. Mark A. Mandel
   a Steven Brust Dragaera fan website