Meet the developer who designed Assassin’s Creed Valhalla’s fictional Isu language

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Fictional languages are fascinating. Unlike real languages that have developed for centuries and are still constantly adapting, fictional ones are meticulously crafted over relatively short spans of time, and are often made by small groups of people to add an extra bit of life into a fictional world. You’ve likely come across one if you’re into your fantasy - Dothraki from Game Of Thrones, Elvish in The Lord Of The Rings or Dragon Age, and Skyrim even has its own dragon language, Dovahzul. It’s a part of world building that often goes overlooked too, because these languages are often already translated, so you don’t really have to think about them. But for some linguists who choose to leave their creations a mystery, they can be an absolute delight to decipher.

This was exactly the case with the folks who recently figured out Isu, a fictional language in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla used by an ancient race of human-like beings. Watching their video on exactly how they managed to translate some Isu texts was incredibly impressive, but it got me wondering, who went to all that effort to make it in the first place? The answer is Antoine Henry, associate director at Ubisoft Singapore.

Henry tells me the plan to come up with the Isu language started out as a wild idea he didn’t think would actually happen.

“The idea of creating a language for the Isu came about during a casual discussion with [narrative director] Darby McDevitt, where I was telling him about my passion for languages and creating them,” Henry tells me over email. “When he mentioned creating one for the Isu, I thought it was just one of these crazy ideas you come up with in a discussion for the fun of it. Even though we were both excited, I didn’t think he was serious at all. Months passed and I thought that would be the end of it. Then one day, out of nowhere, Darby contacted me to see how we could make it happen!”

Some Isu text and its translation you can find in the present day sections of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

Their main goal when creating the Isu language was to “add a layer of depth to the Assassin’s Creed universe”. The Isu lore already goes pretty deep too - they’re an ancient and advanced race of god-like people who made the human race to act as their workforce. You can find info on them dotted about in Valhalla, (and the entire series) which essentially tells an alternate history for our world. However, because the Isu created us, them having their own ancient language meant that it had to develop into the more modern languages of the human race. That’s where some clever reverse-engineering comes in.

“It seemed logical that they would have taught humans, at the very least, some of their language in order to communicate with them,” Henry says. “To convey this, the Isu language has been designed as a fictional ancestor to Proto-Indo-European - the theorised common ancestor to one of the largest families of languages on earth.”

“The process of creating the Isu language was writing in reverse a history of how humans learned it from the Isu, and how it then evolved over time to become Proto-Indo-European,” he adds. “I started from old languages in that family (Latin, Ancient Greek, Sanskrit, etc.) and academic reconstructions of what Proto-Indo-European could have been like, and worked my way backwards from there.”

“Languages have an aesthetic to them, and as a creator, it’s great to have control over that.”

A language created like this is usually referred to as a “conlang” (literally, constructed language), and it requires a lot of knowledge of how real languages work. Henry tells me he’s been conlanging professionally for years, but even with all that experience, creating the Isu language wasn’t exactly the easiest of jobs.

“The biggest challenge was to find a balance between credibility as an ancestor to real languages and artistic intent. Languages have an aesthetic to them, and as a creator, it’s great to have control over that,” he says. “But at the same time, I wanted to make sure it fits the lore we had decided for it. Sometimes that meant letting natural linguistic (de)evolution drive the creation process. In a sense, I feel like I discovered this language as much as I created it!”

Another difficulty Henry faced was trying to make the language connect with the existing lore of Assassin’s Creed. Previous games already have various symbols and glyphs that artists have used, and Henry tells me he wanted to use some of these pre-existing bits to make it feel as though the language had always been there.

Once players began exploring Valhalla they could uncover the Isu language in all its glory. It took just two months after the game’s release for some lingo-savvy fans to decipher it, figuring out the rules by studying some of the in-game translations to help them work out untranslated text.

“We completely intended for the community to decipher some of the language, but I would have never imagined that they would go as far as they did,” Henry tells me. “They managed to break down words and rules that I didn’t even think could be identified! I am amazed by their passion and dedication. As a creator when you see this, it really makes the effort worth it.”

Seeing as the language has been mostly figured out now, I wondered how doable it would be to learn to read, write and speak it. Henry reminds me that the Isu language is designed for an advanced race who have a sixth sense, so there are aspects of it that we could never truly comprehend. Despite that, the answer is still yes, you can learn it - as well as a simple human possibly could, anyway.

He says he actually recorded an “Isu 101” video for Gudmundur Thorvaldsson and Chantel Riley (the voice actors for Valhalla characters Sigurd Styrbjornsson and Layla Hassan), so could understand how to speak their Isu lines. The only problem with the language is that there aren’t really any words for normal things we’d want to talk about in 2021.

“They would have to discuss engineering the human species, the end of the world, or other topics of interest to the Isu…”

“The community has done a tremendous work breaking down the vocabulary, syntax, grammar, numerals and pronunciation from the extracts found in-game. From this, I think anyone interested enough would be able to speak and write basic sentences,” Henry tells me. “However, they would have to discuss engineering the human species, the end of the world, or other topics of interest to the Isu whose writings are found in the game. Otherwise, they will be a bit short on vocabulary!”

Well, I suppose these could be things we talk about in 2021. The year is young. If you fancy learning Isu yourself, Henry says they might consider releasing more official info on it in the future, but they don’t exactly have plans to release a grammar book. Ubisoft want to keep a few mysteries to themselves, after all, so for now you’re stuck with studying the texts in Valhalla. That’s doesn’t seem too bad a deal though, as Henry puts it:

“What better way to learn than to play?”

ISU is extending their partnership with the city of Sullivan

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VIGO COUNTY, Ind. (WTHI) - Indiana State University is extending a partnership with the city of Sullivan.

In our education alert this evening, this is part of ISU’s Sustainable Cities Program.

This program matches community projects with students.

ISU will extend its partnership with Sullivan until 20-22.

The program partners with a city in Indiana each year.

It’s aimed at working on community-driven projects.

During this academic year, 8-courses have been integrated with at least 15-projects.

The students will help out with housing and neighborhood revitalization.

The coordinator spoke to news 10 about why this program is so important.

“It gives local Hoosier communities in our area the chance to use the student and faculty power we have to answer real-world problems in a sustainable way,” said Garrett Hurley.

Hurley says the program invites more faculty to join the program so it can expand its reach.

ISU cancels World Synchronized Championships, re-sets Beijing 2022 test events

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This year’s World Synchronized Skating Championships, due to have taken place from April 9 to 10 in Zagreb, have been cancelled because of what the International Skating Union (ISU) describes as “the ongoing pandemic and detrimental consequences.”

The Arena Zagreb is currently being used to treat patients suffering with COVID-19 as cases continue to rise in Croatia.

Following an online ISU Council meeting, the world governing body has also announced new dates for cancelled Beijing 2022 test events to be held in Olympic venues in the Chinese capital.

The International Speed Skating competition is scheduled for October 8 to 10, the Asian Open Figure Skating Trophy for October 13 to 17 and an ISU World Cup Short Track for October 21 to 24.

The World Figure Skating Championships, currently the qualification event for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, remain scheduled in Stockholm in Sweden from March 22 to 28 this year.

But the Olympic Qualification status of this event will be reviewed at the next online Council meeting on March 2.

“Depending on the actual entries received by the deadline of March 1, 2021, the ISU Council will evaluate and decide at that time whether and which changes to the Olympic qualification system could be necessary,” the ISU release said.

Competition is underway this weekend at the Heerenveen track as it hosts the second ISU Speed Skating World Cup event of the season ©Getty Images

THE ISU Council has also confirmed that the other pending ISU Events of the 2020-2021 season remain scheduled as planned, “subject to pandemic developments and no quarantine requirements and/or prohibitive/extensive entry restrictions.”

The second ISU Speed Skating World Cup event is currently underway at Heerenveen in The Netherlands, and the World Speed Skating Championships are set to take place on the same ice from February 11 to 14.

The ISU World Short Track Speed Skating World Championships remain planned to be held from March 5 to 7 in the Dutch city of Dordrecht.

The Council ratified its previous decision to cancel the World Junior Speed Skating Championships in Hachinohe City in Japan, which were scheduled for February 19 to 21.

Meanwhile the Grand Prix of Figure Skating calendar for 2021-2022 has been approved, with dates as follows.

Skate America, October 22 to 24 at an undetermined venue in the United States; Skate Canada International, October 29 to 31 in Vancouver; Cup of China, November 5 to 7 in Chongqing; NHK Trophy, November 12 to 14 at a venue yet to be announced; International de France, November 19 to 21 in Grenoble; Rostelecom Cup, November 26 to 28 in Moscow; ISU Grand Prix Final, December 9 to 12 in Osaka.

The French and Canadian events, as well as the Grand Prix Final in China, were all cancelled this season.

Based on information received from the Austria Speed Skating Association, the Council decided to change the dates of the ISU World Junior Speed Skating Championships in 2022.

The event will now be held in Innsbruck from January 28 to 30 2022.

The release added: “The Council is closely following the pandemic situation and associated travel restrictions in Thailand and around the world and a decision about a possible cancellation of the ISU Congress 2021 will be taken at the next Council meeting in early March.

“In case the 2021 Congress would have to be cancelled, the Council would also decide at that time on whether a mail vote on certain motions would be arranged and/or whether a virtual Congress would be held.”

The 2020 Congress was postponed until 2021 because of the global health crisis.