Translate this symbol from Arrival
January 8, 2017 11:03 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to know what this symbol means from the movie Arrival.

After watching the movie, I thought one of the heptapods' language symbols would make an awesome t-shirt. So, I stenciled that particular one for two sci-fi obsessed family members, and they want to know what it means. According to some articles from November, a 100-word dictionary was created for the film, but it doesn't look like it's been released to the public.

That said, does anyone remember what this particular symbol meant from the film?
posted by klausman to Media & Arts (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This is just guessing - and even with a full clip (rather than a still shot) I'm not sure a regular viewer would know without their dictionary - especially as the Heptapod writing system incorporates full sentences into each symbol. IIRC, at that point in the story they are pantomiming actions and displaying the English and Heptapod words for the action to confirm. The people around her are lifting and carrying equipment. So it could be "humans/are lifting", or possibly "humans/inclusive (we)/are lifting/heavy equipment/now".

This article suggests that the thicker the lines, the more information the glyph contains, if that helps.
posted by Mchelly at 11:58 AM on January 8, 2017

So I checked and this particular still does not appear in the film, as far as I can tell. Other than a very quick glimpse from behind shown in the montage with Ian's voiceover, Louise actually never holds up a poster showing the Heptapod symbols-- she holds posters with English words, and then later uses the tablet to write in Heptapod which is shown on a screen. The scene shown in the montage does appear to be the scene where this still was taken, but nobody's performing any actions during the parts that we see.

In that same montage, a bunch of words are shown on the screen with their definitions, but this one isn't one of them. This symbol is a relatively thin line, with an opening in the upper left, with three "bursts" of varying sizes. The one symbol that looks somewhat similar is WALK, which, flipped and rotated, looks a bit like the left side of your symbol. Unfortunately during the "Ian walks" scene (also in the montage) we don't see the Heptapod's translation. Your symbol doesn't show up in any later scenes either. Perhaps someone could closely analyze her tablet writing program but that would be tough. Screencaps here.
posted by acidic at 2:33 PM on January 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

It sounds like this image might be a set still, which means a faked moment from the film, staged in between takes while filming for the purposes of press / publicity. Therefore it might not be possible to know what it means without watching the movie again to make sure this symbol isn't shown in a different context in which case maybe it is translateable.

You could also try direct messaging the production designer (Patrice Vermette, he's on LinkedIn) and asking him, or writer Ted Chiang (you can look him up via his publisher).
posted by spraypaint at 8:33 PM on January 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I know the linguist who consulted on this movie - memail me if you'd like her contact information to ask her directly.
posted by deeparch at 7:04 AM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

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