So the guys from that one episode of TNG:

In short: Great episode.

In not so short: Crew cannot talk to aliens. Aliens abduct Picard to planet surface where they fight monster and learn to communicate. Meanwhile the crew makes various attempt at figuring out what’s going on. Just for Picard to arrive in the end and do a Captaion’s soliloquy, in Tamarian.

I mostly hear people comparing the Tamarian language to emojis. Listen up kids, emojis are not a language. You can certainly communicate a lot with them. You can also communicate a lot by saying Pi-ka-chu over and over with emphasis.

But human languages, whether they are spoken, signed or written, not only have signs but ways of combining them. And while some ways are rather conventional, you can say some innovative things like: “How much for this red EPS conduit, chaDIch?” Not so with Tamarian. Darmok is never there when walls fell. Tembo is. Kira’s eyes are not red. Sokath’s are. If these were elements of a language they’d be all over the place instead.

There is also the thing about the universal translator. It can translate some of the things the Children of Tama say. Espicially locational phrases like “Kira at Bashi”, possessive phrases like “Tembo, his arms wide”. It also understands words like arms and wide. This surprising. The words Kira and Bashi are not translated, because they are proper names. But how does the translator know that? The phrase means “tell a story”, because apparently that’s what the Kira person did. So if the translator tried for a translation shouldn’t it say “tell”? Because when you use a metaphor all the time, it’s just a word. You wouldn’t be surprised that I’m currently using keyboard and mouse while writing this blog post- which are metaphors. Because neither am I working a piano, nor was a member of family Murinae hurt in making this.

Well, the writers offered some explanation. There is a scene where Riker and Trois try to research the names the Tamarians said, specifically the epidosde’s eponymous “Darmok”. He is, the computer tells them, a mythical hunter from Shantil III. So the answer is: The Tamarians aren’t speaking Tamarian. They utter words in another language, maybe one from Shantil III or from some people who have visited there. Apparently the universal translator got that and translated Shantilian or whatever it is. The question is why they didn’t pull the system logs and find out what the algorithm came up with. People have suggested Enterprise should get a linguist. I suggest they get a system administrator.

This also explains why we find this emoji structure instead of a proper language. The Tamarians utter Shantillian phrases concurrently to speaking their original language. Maybe it’s some form of telepathy that is incompatible with Betazoids. Maybe it’s ultraviolet flashes on their faces or anything else the UT doesn’t pick up. In any case the original Tamarian language is not spoken words.

What we are seeing is an interspecies creole, a language that arose when two language communities met and persisted as its own thing. That means, at some point the Tamarians were visitied by the Shantilians or people who knew the Shantilians. I’ll calll them the S regardless. Fits nicely with the Ts. So the S and the T tried to talk. The S were your typical talking humanoids. The T, while capable of making spech like sounds, didn’t use them as their main channel for communication. They figured something out regardless to communicate with one another. Maybe the S showed the old Tamarians picture stories. About Darmok and Jalad. About Tembo and Kira and Sokath and Miral.

The T picked up on the sounds the S made. They could repeat them. They didn’t really learn Shantillian, but saying those S phrases accompanying the picture stories, while using their own T channel for the main infnormation, that became all the rage. So when the Tamarian captain explained his plan he likely gave detailed instruction on that original Tamarian channel: “Beam that guy over there and me down to the planet’s surface, Number 1. Close to where one of those monsters live”, while underlining that by uttering “Darmok and Jalad”.😎