Observer Talk ~ Fringe Television - Fan Site for the FOX TV Series Fringe

Observer Talk

      Email Post       10/02/2012 11:00:00 AM      

Hello, welcome to a new feature on Fringe Television, hopefully this will be a weekly post for this season, but that really depends on the Observers !

I want to start analysing the Observer language from each episode and seeing if there is anything it can tell us.

First though you will have to go though an Observer Langauge primer to understand why it is so interesting

The idea that the Observers had a different language first appeared all the way back in season 1 episode 4 - Arrival

I remember some attempts to decode this at the time but with little success.

We did see some more examples of Observer writing after that, but the symbols seemed to change style. In fact they look more like the symbols used on the communicator device first seen in The Arrival and more recently in season 4's Making Angels

The symbols I am concentrating on are the ones that made a prominent appearance in season 4's Letters Of Transit because vitally that episode gave an English equivalent of what the characters meant.

Actually it was just before that episode I realised what they were as the promo trailer for the epsiode had the words HEED, SERVE, OBEY and three sets of characters that looked like the original observer notebooks. My logical assumption was that the characters were the literal translations. That followed on into the epsiode where the signs in the train station made more and more sense if you could identify the characters.

I started matching the letters to the English equivalents and refining the actual character by looking for multiple examples. In the earliest version of the key below I had dashes and dots belonging to the wrong characters, but once you see the same character next to or inbetween a different letter you can extract the correct strokes that make up a symbol.

The image below is my attempt at detailing each character with it's English equivalent. There are upper and lower case letters, numbers and punctuation that have been identified. I've tried to include a couple of examples from different fonts or handwriting from the show.

The recent Observer Protocol Wanted videos helped to cement this and revealed quite a few more characters which is why this key is so complete.


As you may observe the characters are completely random in nature and don't make a lot of sense. Take the lower case t character as an example, it is completely daft to use this set of 6 individual strokes to make a t equivalent. The only reason I can think of for this is so that no one would ever be able to translate the language if they found the notebook as you cannot guess at what the characters are.

My next source of reference is the press kit that was sent for the season 2 episode August.

That document contains the majority of the characters we have seen on the language signs and a few extra ones that have yet to be identified, but are probably the missing characters from the alphabet key.

As you can see from my translation below most of it seems like a random arrangement of characters, apart from a couple of sections, the runs of numbers. From that I have assumed that the characters for 8 and 9 are correct as I don't believe they have been on screen yet, but it makes complete sense given the other numbers are correct.

The question is why that document does not translate to the Observer language ? Was it an attempt at misdirection or simply a set of characters used that at the time of production no one knew what to do with ?


One thing this translation did was make me smile when I realised that the trap set for September in season 4's final episode literally means 5 as you can see from the press release version the 5 character matches the trap symbol.

Going back to the translated letters one slight oddity in the key is that we have one character that seems to represent / and ? whether that is a mistake I don't know, but it is a little strange.

It is also worth noting that there seem to be mixed rules on using upper and lower case letters on signs and computer screens. For example take the Observer protocol videos, the WANTED equivalent has an upper case W followed by all the rest in lower case.

So now to this weeks season 5 opening epsiode where we see some more writing on the Observer Carbon Monoxide machine. The only characters that are loud and clear are on the error message that is displayed.

My translation of this is shown here, there is a character that appears on the press kit document but I currently have no English translation for it, Shown as ? in the image.

Unfortunately the words are not English equivalents so I can't yet work out what that character should be.

My guess is that because the "Natives" now know how to speak observer the messages have been encrypted to make them harder to understand. I have tried some basic decryption techniques but with little success. So if anyone has any ideas then please post them in the comments.

Talking of unknown characters these are the ones I have identified that are not yet translated. They are mainly from the press kit and in all likelihood they are going to equate to G, J, K, Q, X, b, j, q, z and possibly some other punctuation.
I have created a True Type font file with my version of the symbols and if there is enough demand I'll publish the unfinished version for anyone to use until the full set can be identified, but until then here is a short message for you.

All that remains is to go back to where it all began and September's Notebook but it is bad news, I can't translate it. It contains characters that are either not the ones I am familiar with, or it is September's handwriting that is very odd or we just aren't meant to know. He is writing right to left so I have tried flipping and rotating the image but which ever way I do it it still makes no sense.

The other possibility is that, as some others have suggested, some of the symbols he is using are actually word equivalents not just letters so there is a whole other level of translation to be done.

It probably means that it isn't important in the grand scheme of things and that answers only lead to more questions, but I'd still like to know !

If we see some examples of the symbols in the next episodes I will try and translate and bring updates if there is anything new revealed.

17 Comments:

Cerece Rennie Murphy said...

Zort70 - It is so incredible that you have taken the time to do this and share your knowledge with us. I am a sci-fi writer and I hope one day I am worthy and lucky enough to have fans like you. I just tweeted this to Wyman. I hope he sends you the missing pieces you so richly deserve. You are amazing.

Zepp said...

It really is super interesting that his peculiar work, Zort70. This work, dedicated, makes us "enter" a bit, somehow, in the closed world of the Observers, so I see. I'll try to use your keys code, at least for part of his brilliant work here exposed. My language, Portuguese is already difficult for me to adapt to English, so it will be a "battle" my very particular, trying to use this to your code to understand the "language written of the Observers", no doubt. But, anyway, that his peculiar work, transports me decidedly into the universes of Fringe, thank you.

milostanfield said...

What fun! Zort70, I bet you can't wait for 5.02, when Peter dresses up to go undercover.

I'm really interested in the Loyalist tattoos, which seem to differ according to how each Loyalist fits into the hierarchy of this dystopia. The transit cop in 4.19 was an easy HEED, an authority figure with enforcement powers. I think the bouncer in the 4.19 club scene was OBEY but I'm not sure. Still looking for SERVE.

I'm thinking a hierarchy of rank from higher to lower: HEED, OBEY, SERVE. Maybe like the Alphas, Betas, and Deltas of Huxley's "Brave New World". This is a classic totalitarian tactic, divide the oppressed into factions fighting for little scraps of power, preventing them from uniting to overthrow their oppressors. It's worked before and is working right now. (I have a certain society in mind, but will decline to state). This divide and conquer strategy may explain why Etta's pimp friend got shot in 4.19. If this Loyalist divide is big our Fringe team may have more to worry about than the Observers and getting their tech together.

Gonna need more caffeine (the poor person's cortexiphan) before I tackle your message, but I will!

Zort70 said...

Thanks for the comments, you are very kind.

This is the sort of thing I love about a show like Fringe as there is so much to enjoy on and off screen.

Zort70 said...

@ milostanfield I think the serve is on the proper soldier class, i.e. not the guards like the one in the train station.

These are a couple of pics from letters of transit - HEED and OBEY

I didn't get a clear enough picture of serve, but I'm sure it can be seen on the soldier in the old Massive Dynamic parking garage.

Aluisio A. S. G. said...

Hey Zort70, nice work you've done!
I hope you post that font ASAP!

milostanfield said...

The tat on the "man in uniform" that Etta tortures looks like SERVE but it's a bit blobby and the last letter doesn't look like an E.

milostanfield said...

Sorry, forgot to mention that's from the 5.02 preview.

cortexifan said...

@Zort70, that is great. I definitely want that font. I do have one question though. I remember from the "August" episode that Astrid said you need repetition in order to make it a language and that wasn't the case with the notebook. What changed? Did their language evolve?

Zort70 said...

Cortexifan, good question.

Why there was a shift from what was in the original notebooks, which may have been word based, to what we have seen recently which is letter based is a bit of a mystery.

It could be that the Badservers formalised the language so that they could communicate with the tame natives and then decided to use both languages on signs to enforce the separation between native and Badserver.

Purely from a production point of view it just adds another dimension to the show and gives fans something else to latch on to and talk about and I love them for doing it.

Sarah said...

when you mentioned septembers notebook the actor Michael Cerveris made up the writing and started the language this was mentioned on a Fringe show and tell video (link below). that Septembers writing in the notebook, Miachael's notes In Arrival was exploited and made into the observers writing
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TRE56vXRA1U

Zort70 said...

Thanks Sarah, I've seen that and it is interesting that there are two distinct languages, one we can semi understand and one we can't.

Here is a link to the already published font - This isn't mine, and I've just tried downloading but the zip file appears to be corrupt, at least you can see the letters on this page.

tankadin said...

It could be like certain Asian languages where there's two ways if writing: a "formal" form that uses pictograms to describe the message and an "informal" form where characters are used to spell out words.

The formal version could be used for purely Observer to Observer written communication, and the informal could be used in cases where "normal" humans may need to read it, on signs for example, after they've learned the basics of the language of course.

Charlotte said...

Just something to add here, in the last episode Peter and Etta's tattoos translate as SERVE and OBEY respectively- so we finally have a good look at the SERVE tattoo!

Nick Hof said...

The Offical Observer Font has been released. It is hidden withing the new webiste RewardWire.org.

Now it can all be translated. Great wor on his though. It is amazing how much you got on your own.

Je Arcanum said...

So, the observers are from the future and it would be likely that in the future, languages melt together, like in Firefly where they use chinese or new words like shiny. Same could be the case with the observers. Perhaps it is not really a code, but really a future language. Symbols could be a evolved version of what we use today, maybe some of it like chinese/japanese (some also look asian) and so on, where one symbol can have lot's of meanings, like words, situations or feelings etc.

Another thing could be, since technology is becoming more and more important, and since the observers seem to be observer-like (no hair for instance) because of some tec in their bodies, that some of the language is influenced by or the language is all computer-language, like 0 and 1 today (they could also have an entirely different system).. a number of symbols could stand for a certain letter/word/meaning, just like zeros and ones is being translated by the computer into letters and pictures... since observers are acting like machines with no emotions this makes the most sense to me.

Anyway, Keep on your good work, you are awesome!

enigmationist said...

a font can be downloaded at: http://www.rewardwire.org/css/fonts/observer-regular-webfont.ttf

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