How to Train your Warjack: Voice of the Voiceless 2

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This week, I will mostly be talking about animal communication, and how this can give some guidelines for how ‘jacks might communicate via venting steam, clanking machinery, and other “vocalisations”.Just a quick one, because I’m preparing to defend my thesis in… er… 36 hours…

Communicative signals are intentional behaviours which carry meaning – that is, information that corresponds to the environment is some way. These are distinct from informative signals, which are not intentional. Body posture and other body language is usually informative. Another example is a bird flying away when it sees a predator – other birds in the flock can still use this information, but it’s not actually communication.

 Also distinct from communication is language. There’s some debate on exactly where the line is, but the usual suspects that distinguish language from mere communication are reflexivity (communicating about language with language), displacement (communicating about things that are not here and now), arbritrariness (the meaning of language is unrelated to its formal properties), cultural transmission (the meaning of a sound varies by culture), productivity and generativity (language users can recombine sounds for new meaning in a way animals can’t.)

The reason that I make this distinction now is that I don’t believe warjacks to be capable of true language – they’re restricted to communication. The systems they use for this can be very complex. For example, bees use a complex “waggle dance” to communicate the location of food to other bees. It appears to have grammar like properties, using speed to indicate distance and angle relative to the sun to indicate location. However, they cannot create novel sentences – the waggle language, however complex, never incorporates new waggles.

However, we’ve established that we like the idea of warjacks learning, so some room for innovation is needed. Just not on the level that humans can acheive.

Animal communication transmits simple information. I’d limit warjack vocalisations to basic emotions and basic states of the environment

1) Presence of a threat – anger or fear. Probably not fear for itself, but for its master/master’s friends. These two vocalisations should be similar enough in type (both steam, for example) but a different pitch
2) Frustration – when the ‘jack wants to do something but isn’t allowed. This should be of the same type as the anger signal (i.e. steam vent if anger is a steam vent) but at a different intensity, pitch, and/or rhythm.
3) Joy – on an animal level, joy means you just got reinforced for something, and nothing is threatening to take it way. This should be a different type to the “danger” vocalisations above.
4) Relaxation – the end of a stress cycle comes with a massive winddown – after the fight or flight, a long, drawn out, sigh-like version of the “joy” signal.

Pretty much everything else should be some variant of this. Warjacks have no need for food signals – they’re all about the stress-cycle of battle. For labourjacks, they should express mild versions of this for their longer, but lower intensity, stress-work cycle. Maybe with some added singing, because I like the idea. They should, however, be able to communicate (probably with hand gestures) to other labourjacks they work with, or indeed other people. But that’s more of a body language thing – unless there’s a falling bit of masonry to trigger their “DUUUUCK” vocalisation.

And that’s it from me for this week,

Te Nosce,



One thought on “How to Train your Warjack: Voice of the Voiceless 2

  1. Good luck on your thesis! I generally use something like this, with the ‘jacks basically changing the “tone” of the vocalization (always steam venting of some form or another) by combining it with body language. Well, one of the ‘jacks has a scrapsaw and supplements its vocalizations with the high-pitched scream of the saw on occasion. I also occasionally alter the glow of the eyes or use a flare of the furnace (as I maintain that ‘jacks have some regulation of their furnace system to keep them going and to allow them to go from “standby burn” to “combat burn” on command rather than necessitating turning valves and pulling levers).

    Their communication is generally limited to what you listed, with the occasional overtone of positive or negative emotions (Thunderwicket dislikes being left behind, and makes a low-volume vent with slumped posture and tilted head, Bob hates being held back from a fight and makes a high vent whistle combined with a scrapsaw scream and hopping from foot to foot with a flare of the furnace, etc).

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