Alien language

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Alien languages, i.e. languages of extraterrestrial beings, are a hypothetical subject since none have been encountered so far. The research in these hypothetical languages is variously called exolinguistics, xenolinguistics [1] or astrolinguistics. [2] [3] The question of what form alien languages might take and the possibility for humans to recognize and translate them has been part of the linguistics and language studies courses, e.g., at the Bowling Green State University (2001). [4]

Linguistics is the scientific study of language. It involves analysing language form, language meaning, and language in context. The earliest activities in the documentation and description of language have been attributed to the 6th-century-BC Indian grammarian Pāṇini who wrote a formal description of the Sanskrit language in his Aṣṭādhyāyī.

Bowling Green State University public university in Bowling Green, Ohio, United States

Bowling Green State University (BGSU) is a public research university in Bowling Green, Ohio. The 1,338-acre (541.5 ha) main academic and residential campus is 15 miles (24 km) south of Toledo, Ohio. The university has nationally recognized programs and research facilities in the natural and social sciences, education, arts, business, health and wellness, humanities and applied technologies. The institution was granted a charter in 1910 as a normal school, specializing in teacher training and education, as part of the Lowry Normal School Bill that authorized two new normal schools in the state of Ohio. Over the university's history, it developed from a small rural normal school into a comprehensive public university.

Noam Chomsky (1983), basing on his theory of the existence of a genetically-predetermined universal grammar of human languages, holds that it would be impossible for a human to naturally learn an alien language because it would most probably violate the universal grammar inborn in humans. Humans would have to study an alien language by the slow way of discovery, the same way as scientists do research in, say, physics. [5]

Noam Chomsky American linguist, philosopher and activist

Avram Noam Chomsky is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, social critic, and political activist. Sometimes called "the father of modern linguistics", Chomsky is also a major figure in analytic philosophy and one of the founders of the field of cognitive science. He holds a joint appointment as Institute Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and laureate professor at the University of Arizona, and is the author of more than 100 books on topics such as linguistics, war, politics, and mass media. Ideologically, he aligns with anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism.

Genetics Science of genes, heredity, and variation in living organisms

Genetics is a branch of biology concerned with the study of genes, genetic variation, and heredity in organisms.

Universal grammar (UG) in linguistics, is the theory of the genetic component of the language faculty, usually credited to Noam Chomsky. The basic postulate of UG is that a certain set of structural rules are innate to humans, independent of sensory experience. With more linguistic stimuli received in the course of psychological development, children then adopt specific syntactic rules that conform to UG. It is sometimes known as "mental grammar", and stands contrasted with other "grammars", e.g. prescriptive, descriptive and pedagogical. The advocates of this theory emphasize and partially rely on the poverty of the stimulus (POS) argument and the existence of some universal properties of natural human languages. However, the latter has not been firmly established, as some linguists have argued languages are so diverse that such universality is rare. It is a matter of empirical investigation to determine precisely what properties are universal and what linguistic capacities are innate.

Linguist Keren Rice posits that basic communication between humans and aliens should be possible, unless "the things that we think are common to languages—situating in time [and] space, talking about participants, etc.—are so radically different that the human language provides no starting point for it." [6]

Keren Rice Canadian linguist

Keren Rice is a Canadian linguist. She specializes in research on Slavey, an indigenous language spoken in Canada's Northwest Territories, and has long been involved in maintaining and revitalize the language.

Communication is the act of conveying meanings from one entity or group to another through the use of mutually understood signs, symbols, and semiotic rules.

McGill University Linguistics Professor, Jessica Coon was consulted for the linguistic aspect of the 2016 film Arrival . While acknowledging that the graphical language in the film was art without linguistic meaning, she stated that the film was a fairly accurate portrayal of the approach human linguists would use in trying to understand an alien language. [7]

McGill University English-language university in Montreal, Quebec

McGill University is a public research university in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. It was established in 1821 by royal charter, granted by King George IV. The university bears the name of James McGill, a Montreal merchant originally from Scotland whose bequest in 1813 formed the university's precursor, McGill College.

Jessica Coon is an associate professor of linguistics at McGill University and Canada Research Chair in syntax and indigenous languages. She was the linguistics expert consultant for the 2016 film Arrival.

<i>Arrival</i> (film) 2016 American science fiction drama film directed by Denis Villeneuve

Arrival is a 2016 American science fiction film directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Eric Heisserer. It is based on the 1998 short story "Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang and stars Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker. The film follows a linguist enlisted by the U.S. Army to discover how to communicate with aliens who have arrived on Earth, before tensions lead to war.

See also

A formal description of an alien language in science fiction may have been pioneered by Percy Greg's Martian language in his 1880 novel Across the Zodiac, although already the 17th century book The Man in the Moone describes the language of the Lunars, consisting "not so much of words and letters as tunes and strange sounds", which is in turn predated by other invented languages in fictional societies, e.g., in Thomas More's Utopia.

Communication with extraterrestrial intelligence

Communication with extraterrestrial intelligence or CETI is a branch of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence that focuses on composing and deciphering interstellar messages that theoretically, could be understood by another technological civilization. This field of study once was known as exosemiotics. The best-known CETI experiment of its kind was the 1974 Arecibo message composed by Frank Drake.

Animal languages are forms of non-human animal communication that show similarities to human language. Animals communicate by using a variety of signs such as sounds or movements. Such signing may be considered complex enough to be called a form of language if the inventory of signs is large, the signs are relatively arbitrary, and the animals seem to produce them with a degree of volition. In experimental tests, animal communication may also be evidenced through the use of lexigrams. While the term "animal language" is widely used, researchers agree that animal languages are not as complex or expressive as human language.

Related Research Articles

Charles Francis Hockett was an American linguist who developed many influential ideas in American structuralist linguistics. He represents the post-Bloomfieldian phase of structuralism often referred to as "distributionalism" or "taxonomic structuralism". His academic career spanned over half a century at Cornell and Rice universities.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to linguistics:

In linguistics, transformational grammar (TG) or transformational-generative grammar (TGG) is part of the theory of generative grammar, especially of natural languages. It considers grammar to be a system of rules that generate exactly those combinations of words that form grammatical sentences in a given language and involves the use of defined operations to produce new sentences from existing ones.

Cognitive linguistics (CL) is an interdisciplinary branch of linguistics, combining knowledge and research from both psychology and linguistics. It describes how language interacts with cognition, how language forms our thoughts, and the evolution of language parallel with the change in the common mindset across time.

Deep structure and surface structure are concepts used in linguistics, specifically in the study of syntax in the Chomskyan tradition of transformational generative grammar.

Principles and parameters is a framework within generative linguistics in which the syntax of a natural language is described in accordance with general principles and specific parameters that for particular languages are either turned on or off. For example, the position of heads in phrases is determined by a parameter. Whether a language is head-initial or head-final is regarded as a parameter which is either on or off for particular languages. Principles and parameters was largely formulated by the linguists Noam Chomsky and Howard Lasnik. Many linguists have worked within this framework, and for a period of time it was considered the dominant form of mainstream generative linguistics.

<i>Syntactic Structures</i> book by Noam Chomsky

Syntactic Structures is a major work in linguistics by American linguist Noam Chomsky. It was first published in 1957. It introduced the idea of transformational generative grammar. This approach to syntax was fully formal. At its base, this method uses phrase structure rules. These rules break down sentences into smaller parts. Chomsky then combines these with a new kind of rules called "transformations". This procedure gives rise to different sentence structures. Chomsky aimed to show that this limited set of rules "generates" all and only the grammatical sentences of a given language, which are unlimited in number.

A Martian scientist or Martian researcher is a hypothetical Martian frequently used in thought experiments as an outside observer of conditions on Earth. The most common variety is the Martian anthropologist, but Martians researching subjects such as philosophy, linguistics and biology have also been invoked.

Linguistic competence is the system of linguistic knowledge possessed by native speakers of a language. It is distinguished from linguistic performance, which is the way a language system is used in communication. Noam Chomsky introduced this concept in his elaboration of generative grammar, where it has been widely adopted and competence is the only level of language that is studied.

In linguistics and social sciences, markedness is the state of standing out as unusual or divergent in comparison to a more common or regular form. In a marked–unmarked relation, one term of an opposition is the broader, dominant one. The dominant default or minimum-effort form is known as unmarked; the other, secondary one is marked. In other words, markedness involves the characterization of a "normal" linguistic unit against one or more of its possible "irregular" forms.

Sheila Finch is an American author of science fiction and fantasy. She is best known for her sequence of stories about the Guild of Xenolinguists.

Cartesian linguistics book by Noam Chomsky

The term Cartesian linguistics was coined with the publication of Cartesian Linguistics: A Chapter in the History of Rationalist Thought (1966), a book on linguistics by Noam Chomsky. The word "Cartesian" is the adjective pertaining to René Descartes, a prominent 17th-century philosopher. However, rather than confine himself to the works of Descartes, Chomsky surveys other authors interested in rationalist thought. In particular, Chomsky discusses the Port-Royal Grammar (1660), a book which foreshadows some of his own ideas concerning universal grammar.

Linguistics in the United States

The history of linguistics in the United States begins with William Dwight Whitney, the first U.S.-taught academic linguist, who founded the American Philological Association in 1869.

<i>Aspects of the Theory of Syntax</i> book by Noam Chomsky

Aspects of the Theory of Syntax is a book on linguistics written by American linguist Noam Chomsky, first published in 1965. In Aspects, Chomsky presented a deeper, more extensive reformulation of transformational generative grammar (TGG), a new kind of syntactic theory that he had introduced in the 1950s with the publication of his first book, Syntactic Structures. Aspects is widely considered to be the foundational document and a proper book-length articulation of Chomskyan theoretical framework of linguistics. It presented Chomsky's epistemological assumptions with a view to establishing linguistic theory-making as a formal discipline comparable to physical sciences, i.e. a domain of inquiry well-defined in its nature and scope. From a philosophical perspective, it directed mainstream linguistic research away from behaviorism, constructivism, empiricism and structuralism and towards mentalism, nativism, rationalism and generativism, respectively, taking as its main object of study the abstract, inner workings of the human mind related to language acquisition and production.

Lectures on Government and Binding: The Pisa Lectures (LGB) is a book by American linguist Noam Chomsky, published in 1981. It is based on the lectures Chomsky gave at the GLOW conference and workshop held at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, Italy in 1979. In this book, Chomsky presented his government and binding theory of syntax. It had great influence on the syntactic research in early 1980s, especially among the linguists working within the transformational grammar framework.

Digital infinity

Digital infinity is a technical term in theoretical linguistics. Alternative formulations are "discrete infinity" and "the infinite use of finite means". The idea is that all human languages follow a simple logical principle, according to which a limited set of digits—irreducible atomic sound elements—are combined to produce an infinite range of potentially meaningful expressions.

<i>Current Issues in Linguistic Theory</i> book by Noam Chomsky

Current Issues in Linguistic Theory is a 1964 book by American linguist Noam Chomsky. It is a revised and expanded version of a paper titled "The Logical Basis of Linguistic Theory" that Chomsky had presented in the ninth International Congress of Linguists held in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1962. It is a short monograph of about a hundred pages, similar to Chomsky's earlier Syntactic Structures (1957). It foreshadows Aspects of the Theory of Syntax (1965), which describes many of its ideas in a more elaborate manner.


  1. An early use of the term "xenolinguistics" in science fiction occurred in 1986, in the novel "Triad" by Sheila Finch (Finch, Sheila (1986). Triad. New York: Spectra. ISBN   9780553257922. New edition: Finch, Sheila (2012). Triad. Rockville, Maryland: Wildside Press. ISBN   9781434447913..
  2. Daniels, Peter T. (1980). "Aliens And Linguists (Book Review)". Library Journal. 105 (13): 1516.
  3. Schirber, Michael (2008). "Use Grammar To Decipher Alien Tongues". New Scientist. 199 (12): 2678.
  4. Course notes by assistant professor Sheri Wells-Jensen, Bowling Green State University (retrieved June 19, 2017)
  5. "Things No Amount of Learning Can Teach", Noam Chomsky interviewed by John Gliedman, Omni, 6:11, November 1983 (retrieved June 19, 2017)
  6. "Alien Interpreters: How Linguists Would Talk to Extraterrestrials". Scientific American. Retrieved 2018-04-09.
  7. "'Arrival' nails how humans might actually talk to aliens, a linguist says". Business Insider. Retrieved 2018-01-19.