Translations for the "Beanish" in xkcd 1190 "Time"
Randall Munroe expressed the belief that the words (if not the entire language) could probably be figured out. That suggests that there are enough clues in the comic itself to come up with a good match for everything. In particular, it should be a relatively straightforward argument that assigns meanings to all of the words with consistency and parsimony (i.e. without contradiction, and following Occam's Razor by avoiding absurd assignments).
Beyond the foregoing, there are few limitations: the writing system is given to us without indication od whether it is an alphabet, an abjad, a syllabary, or an abugida. This has to be figured out. There is little indication as to whether the language has a written form, or if the words as-written look the same as those as-spoken, but as we'll see, that is answered by comparing frames 2816 and 2901 to spoken words found elsewhere.
Clearly, one should approach this by trying to guess meanings for some of the "easy" words, i.e. the more obvious ones, and work step by step to "harder" words. For example, in frame 2703 "Cueball" is learning the word ᓭᘖᔭᓄ, and guesses (frames 2707 and 2709) that it could mean "water" or "drink", and certainly other interpretations are possible for this single word. But ᓭᘖᔭᓄ and words with very similar spellings appear elsewhere (for example, frame 2797) and from those we can narrow down the possibilities.
Sometimes a word appearing in one phrase or utterance can be guessed, and that theory applied to derive a guess for the use of a word in another phrase/utterance. Alternately, the second appearance could be guessed "independently" (without considering the first appearance), and that guess applied backwards to the first time we see the word. Both approaches should be considered, and whichever approach yields the most satisfying combination of interpretations is more likely to be the answer. To illustrate this principle, we'll first consider ᘊᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑ/ᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑ and ᘝᘊᓭᒣᖊᐣᖗ.
Food and first aid: ᘊᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑ/ᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑ and ᘝᘊᓭᒣᖊᐣᖗ
Cuegan first encounter the Beanies in frame 2657, and by frame 2660 it is clear that they share no common spoken language. The two parties have different priorities: for Cuegan, the most urgent matter is to deal with Megan's injury; for the Beanies, the issue is figuring out why some foreign people remain in the area that will be flooded, and what if anything can be done to rescue any from their "tribe" that are imperiled. Thus, their initial communication is likely to be across purposes.
They are unable to communicate by speech but it is expressed fairly clearly that Megan is injured on the knee, and the Beanies then do something that Megan seems to believe is first aid. During this exchange, one of the Beanies says ᘊᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑ ᘝᘊᓭᒣᖊᐣᖗᐨ in frame 2671, just as Megan has pointed to the "some kind of paste" that is being put on her knee and asked for it to be identified. This alone does not help us decode either of the words in ᘊᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑ ᘝᘊᓭᒣᖊᐣᖗᐨ, because the Beanies might just be saying something unrelated like "relax, trust me", or "I don't understand". But the phrase ᘊᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑ ᘝᘊᓭᒣᖊᐣᖗᐨ appeared as most of the earlier utterance ᓭᘈ ᘊᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑ ᘝᘊᓭᒣᖊᐣᖗᐨ, which is completely the same except for the initial ᓭᘈ; this is what was said to one of the Beanies right before they disappeared off to the right and came back with the first aid treatment. This pretty much leaves only the possibility that ᓭᘈ ᘊᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑ ᘝᘊᓭᒣᖊᐣᖗᐨ means "go get the ᘊᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑ ᘝᘊᓭᒣᖊᐣᖗ" or "let's use the ᘊᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑ ᘝᘊᓭᒣᖊᐣᖗ" or similar.
To work out the rest of the phrase, we notice the single word ᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑᐨ in frame 2792, which is pretty clearly related to ᘊᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑ : only the first "letter" is missing. The shorter ᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑᐨ (as transcribed here) has 6 symbols, and the longer ᘊᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑ has 7, so it's quite likely they are two forms of the same word (perhaps a singular and a plural, or different tenses of a verb, or a noun and the adjective derivative thereof, like sand and sandy).
The other word ᘝᘊᓭᒣᖊᐣᖗ does not appear anywhere else, either in whole or in part. So we have a small isolated translation puzzle: two words whose interpretations depend on each other, and upon the context of the scenes in which they appear, but are separable from the rest of the larger Beanish translation puzzle. We can tackle this problem two ways:
interpret ᘊᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑ ᘝᘊᓭᒣᖊᐣᖗᐨ from frame 2671
interpret ᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑᐨ from frame 2792
Since frame 2671 came first, this was the first approach that was tried by the Time fans. By guessing that "ᘊᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑ ᘝᘊᓭᒣᖊᐣᖗᐨ" was indeed an answer to Megan's question "what is that?", and assuming that her description "some kind of paste" is accurate, the utterance "ᘊᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑ ᘝᘊᓭᒣᖊᐣᖗᐨ" might mean "paste for-healing", or something more specific like "aloe leaves". It could even mean "panther salve" (an ointment for treating wounds inflicted by panthers). There is no particular reason to believe that the Beanies would think Megan needs to know the ingredients of the paste, so an answer using "general-purpose words", like "healing salve" seems more attractive.
Applying these theories to ᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑᐨ in frame 2792, we now need to apply the constraint that one word in the first, two-word phrase is also being used here. The prevailing guess "healing paste" then leads to the conclusion that ᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑᐨ is "paste" or "cream" and "ᘊᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑ ᘝᘊᓭᒣᖊᐣᖗ" is something like "first aid cream". They're eating "paste" or "cream".
interpret ᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑᐨ from frame 2792
interpret ᘊᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑ ᘝᘊᓭᒣᖊᐣᖗᐨ from frame 2671
This approach requires that we start with the second utterance, ᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑᐨ in frame 2792, treating it alone as if we did not yet know of the conversation in frame 2671.
By the time we reach this scene, it has been established that the Beanies are teaching at least a few words to Cuegan. We had the "water" interaction around frame 2703, and soon we get the survey map (frame 2797). Teaching nouns is pretty easy, if the noun is a physical thing that you can point to, or by using pictures. Since these Beanies are from a culture that has been involved in the evacuation of many people from the doomed lowlands, there is even a decent chance that these particular Beanies have done some language-teaching or -learning with other strangers.
The thing being identified by the word ᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑᐨ is edible, and described by Cueball (frame 2791) as "It's good, whatever it is." This all suggests that the Beanies are teaching a noun, and that ᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑᐨ means "food" or is more specific (a type of food), either a type of plant or animal species (like "chives" or "mutton"), or a general type of food-substance (like "paste" or "cream").
Looking at this scene alone (still not considering the first-aid interaction) it seems much more likely that the Beanies would identify the food they are eating by its species type ("chives") rather than by the substance type ("cream"). The former word is more useful, tangible, and relevant, and the Beanies know they're teaching basic vocabulary to beginners. But we'll keep "cream"/"paste" as a possibility for now.
Now we take these theories and go back to frame 2671. Either a specific ingredient ("chives", "mutton") or a type of substance ("paste", "cream") could work, so long as that can also be interpreted as part of what the Beanies said to Megan during the first-aid interaction. Right away we now know that the Beanies did not say "relax, trust us", or "we don't understand you" in frame 2671, because there's no way to reconcile those theories with the appearance of the single word ᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑᐨ describing food. But "chives" or "paste" would fit, so long as this food is from a source (e.g. a plant) that also provides a first-aid remedy.
Now look at frames 2787 through 2792. They take off their backpacks and sit down, and are eating something which gets passed by hand from Beanies to Cuegan (they are not eating something off the ground: the plants in this area are completely undisturbed by their visit, as seen in this frame diff).
In frames 2667 through 2677 we saw a vessel or container being used to hold the ᘊᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑ ᘝᘊᓭᒣᖊᐣᖗᐨ, but this eating scene we see no vessel or container holding the ᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑᐨ; they are eating it right out of their hands. It was passed by hand from Beanie to Cuegan without a container. Therefore, based on the visual evidence, the interpretation "cream" or "paste" seems very unlikely. It is a fairly solid, reasonably dry foodstuff. This combines with the earlier suspicion that a food species type is the more likely way the Beanies would describe this new food in a single word. So ᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑᐨ must be the name of the base ingredient (most likely a plant) from which the first-aid paste in 2671 was prepared. Frame 2671's other word ᘝᘊᓭᒣᖊᐣᖗ can now be interpreted as "paste", or perhaps "medicinal".
There are not many plants that are used as a food and are also used for first aid, and would grow in a Mediterranean climate. Yarrow (A. millefolium) has edible leaves and was used in ancient times to "stanch the flow of blood from wounds"; onion has some antibacterial effects. There are probably a few others. Interpreting ᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑᐨ as the name of an animal seems very unlikely. I prefer yarrow because it is a topical astringent, precisely what Megan needs for her injury.
We are left with one detail, the discrepancy between ᘊᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑ and ᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑ. Now that we know that the shorter form is the name of a plant, and ᘊᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑ ᘝᘊᓭᒣᖊᐣᖗ is a compound describing a medicinal paste made therefrom, it seems likely that ᘊᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑ is a modified form, and ᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑ the more basic form. If ᘝᘊᓭᒣᖊᐣᖗ meant "medicinal", then the phrase might be "medicinal yarrow", but in that case there would be no need to change the form of the noun. Instead I suspect that ᘊᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑ is what you get when you turn the noun ᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑ into an adjective: the phrase means "yarrowish paste" ("paste-of-yarrow") or "yarrowish medicine".
Continuing With the Same Methodology
The rest of the steps here are presented in an order that satisfies the same objectives used to decide which way we should solve ᘊᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑ/ᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑ and ᘝᘊᓭᒣᖊᐣᖗ: In my opinion this order requires the fewest/least-arbitrary combination of assumptions and produces the most satisfying combination of interpretations.
Before we continue with words, let's look at the "cloudy English" spoken by the long-haired character "Rosetta" in frames 2865 through 2919. Here lie several clues about her native language's grammar, pronunciation, and conceptual space. The most obvious thing we can glean from Rosetta's words are the punctuation symbols for statements and questions.
The word ᓭᘈ appears only once:
2663 (first aid scene) ᓭᘈ ᘊᒣᓭᐧᖊᔑ ᘝᘊᓭᒣᖊᐣᖗᐨ
The other two words were just handled in the food section, so we have "ᓭᘈ [yarrow] paste."
The first aid scene, and several scenes to follow, involve three "Beanie" people. In frame 2656, Beanie-1 is the one closest to Cuegan and Beanie-2 is the one in the middle. They are distinguished by very small differences in their heads. Beanie-1's hat has a wider "brim" and a smaller "cap". Beanie-2 has the least amount of hair over the side of their face (though they do have hair on the back). Beanie-3 has the most amount of side hair. This post has five labeled images from the first-aid scene.
In frame 2662, after Cuegan have just realised they have no spoken language in common, Megan has removed the improvised bandage and is showing the wound on her knee. Beanie-3 reacts rather theatrically, lifting both arms and putting one hand to his mouth. Then, in frame 2663 Beanie-2 utters "ᓭᘈ [yarrow] paste." to Beanie-3, who goes off to the right (to the nearby camp first seen in frame 2681), returning with the "[yarrow] paste", which is used as a first aid application to Megan's wound. While he is gone getting the paste, Beanie-2 is inspecting the wound and speaking to Beanie-1 (with the as-yet-completely-undeciphered utterance "ᙐᖚᐧ ᘊᘖᑫᘖᒣᐣᖚ ᘛ ᓭᑦᐧ ᙐᖚᑫᕋ,ᐨ"). It is Beanie-2 who administers the treatment.
Since it is the same Beanie giving the utterance "ᓭᘈ [yarrow] paste." as who actually administers it, it seems pretty likely that ᓭᘈ means "get" or "find".
(Accompanies confirmation of teaching "ᓭᘖᔭᓄ" during the Hellen Keller interaction, frame 2703)
The water-words: ᓭᘖᔭᓄ and ᘊᓭᘖᔭᓄ
(We are taught ᓭᘖᔭᓄ = "water" by proxy, frames 2701, 2703, 2707. ᘊᓭᘖᔭᓄ has similar letters and appears in 2723 (as the last word in a message which is illustrated in 2726, 2727); then in 2797, followed by ᓭᘖᔭᓄᐦ "Water!" emphasising its meaning)
Balearica, ᘊᓭᐧᖚ or ᘊᓭᐧᑲ
(Seen on map, 2901 alongside the only two "seas" that have legible labels, one of which is ᘊᓭᐧᖚ and the other is ?ᓄᐣᔭ southeast of Calabria.)
(The other sizable "sea" on the map, 2901; one glyph is obscured. This might be something like "north", "salt", "black", etc. with the full name ᘊᖊᑦᓄ ?ᓄᐣᔭ being something like "north sea", "salt sea", or "black sea" respectively; but it's equally sensible for it to be the name of the place/region like "Caspian")
(In 2723 with ᘊᓭᐧᖚ "Balearica", right after Cuegan have told where they came from,)
(ᖽᘛᕋᑦ in 2659, hypothesised second-priority question that the Beanies would try to ask after realising there is an as-yet-unevacuated stranger wandering on the continental shelf; and in 2861 with a dual-person answer to Rosetta's question, from which we know that the answer is not "I don't know", and therefore it is something that the three Beanies definitely know, which really limits the possibilities of what they might be saying.)
[Name of castle], ᘊᒣᑦᖽᘝ
(In frame 2822 the beanie says ᘊᒣᑦᖽᘝ and points to the castle)
Going to go to, ᖽᔑᐣᘖ ᖚᐧᘖᖗᑫ ᘝᐣᖽ
[Name of leader], ᘊᓭᘖᑦᓄ
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