How would aliens communicate?
If we assume that extraterrestrials or any non-human life forms exist on other planets it is interesting to ask how they communicate and how we can communicate with them. Maybe in the very distant future we will be able to learn extraterrestrial languages and communicate with the whole galaxy.
The first difficulty we will encounter if we are going to interact with extraterrestrials will be how to understand them and how to make ourselves understood, language will be of crucial importance if we want to avoid inter-galactic warfare.
Many science fiction films relate these encounters, such as First Contact. Frédéric Landragin's book "How to talk to an alien? Langage et linguistique dans la science-fiction" from CNRS and science-fiction research in which he details the basics of languages, the nature of languages and the modalities of first contacts.
In a wider exchange he also tackles the subject of learning to speak to an alien as one speaks to another while knowing how to speak to oneself in a more philosophical debate.
He explains to us that the first film where the extraterrestrials were realistic was Spielberg's "Encounters of the Third Kind" where the characters had to learn how to communicate with them, which showed that the problem was serious and that a team of scientists had to solve it.
A more recent film such as Premier Contact by Denis Villeneuve tackles the problem of linguistics in depth for the first time and reflects what scientists in the field are doing.
As far as books are concerned the question is more difficult according to him, the best stories are those where contact is finally impossible as in Stanislas Lem's Solaris, where scientists try to contact an ocean without success or when researchers are unable to decipher a message coming from space.
MYSTICAL / INTER-GALACTIC LANGUAGES
If we focus on the theories of extraterrestrial languages that have already been invented we can see that some of them are not so crazy.
Most of the time these languages imagined by the authors are a series of new words integrated into an already known syntax such as French or English. The reason is that this is easier on screen but too easy for a linguist.
We have the work of Tolkien the author of The Lord of the Rings who invented about ten languages like Quenya and Sindarin which are two elven languages. But there is more than that, he has elaborated entire dictionaries for these languages, he certainly possessed a vast knowledge of the lexicon and the written language but it is no less impressive.
The Klingon language of the Star Trek universe that we can also find in the cult series "The big bang theory" is another example of the invented languages even if the level is not the same as Tolkien's.
GOVERNMENTS FACED WITH THE QUESTION
We know that in the United States many experiments and research on extraterrestrials and all other forms of life outside the earth are studying the question of exchange, identification etc....
SETI seeks to detect the presence of extraterrestrial civilizations in other solar systems, but this involves remote communication. If face-to-face communication proves to be real, linguists must address the issue. So far no confirmation from linguists has been made on the subject.
There is a framework, when linguists discover a people whose language is totally unknown, they start by living with them, observing them, seeing their behaviour, listening to them, learning their culture.
Sometimes the use of a recorder can be useful to understand all the variations of a new language, they then transcribe the sounds thanks to the phonetic alphabet and describe the framework in which sentences are pronounced, gestures, looks, tools etc...
If the communication between humanity and extraterrestrials was established there could be very big problems of comprehension, that they communicate with patterns, colors, gestures, vibrations, smells, magnetic fields it could indeed be very complex.
It would therefore require many different detectors to decipher the slightest sign, the slightest imaginable frequency, even undetectable by tools at our level.
The most difficult will be to decipher the content from nothing, from no base, no knowledge or reference. Pronouncing a complete sentence will require experience, knowledge of the culture and customs of the people.
It is useful to promote films about foreign language and more specifically extraterrestrial, it can give a desire, a motivation to all to try to understand and bring knowledge or theories that could work and advance science. We talk a lot about science but linguistics is one of them, not to be neglected what's more, because we might be closer to this kind of experience than we would like to think.
IMPACT ON HUMANS
The discovery and study of extraterrestrials could indeed, transform the world as we know it, learning their language, customs, culture, technology could be an important turning point for humanity.
Understanding and learning a language is very enriching from a personal point of view, even though it has been proven that the way we perceive the world is in no way dependent on the language we speak. Our brains would not be affected by learning other languages except for our ability to retain information.
With science fiction many hypotheses have been made that learning an extraterrestrial language could make it possible to see in the future what is very unlikely.
In most cases the life of man will not really be impacted, but his knowledge will most certainly be impacted.
If you would like to discuss science fiction topics with people from all over the world and explain your crazy theories about extraterrestrials while learning new languages with native speakers you can go to the language exchange section of our site.
Written by: Lisa Lambert, Staff Writer
- Learning Languages
- 11 Mar, 2020
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