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Sun Apr 4, 2021, 07:32 PM

Alien Languages May Not Be Entirely Alien to Us

Last edited Sun Apr 4, 2021, 08:06 PM - Edit history (1)

Hat tip, a member of DCRTV.com, who posted about this on March 28, in the mailbag

LIFE & ARTS | IDEAS | ESSAY

Alien Languages May Not Be Entirely Alien to Us

Evolution should favor some universal traits in the emergence of any form of communication on any planet

By Arik Kershenbaum
March 27, 2021 12:01 am ET

Human contact with alien civilizations may be more likely than we think. A recent NASA study estimated that there should be at least four habitable planets (and probably more) within about 32 light years of Earth—a cosmic stone’s throw away. Those planets could just now be receiving (albeit faintly) our television broadcasts of the 1989 inauguration of President George H.W. Bush. But would aliens understand those broadcasts? Would we understand aliens? Could we ever interpret their languages?

The 2016 movie “Arrival” portrayed scientists frantically scrambling to decode an alien language. Although the on-screen aliens communicated—and even thought—in a completely different way from humans, the hero played by Amy Adams of course eventually succeeded. But off-screen, alien language may be so, well, alien that we could never understand anything about it. How do we approach dealing with something so completely unknown that it may also be completely different from anything we might expect?

In fact, questions about the nature of possible alien languages are tractable. Language remains the lone thing that appears to separate humans from other animals on Earth. The comparison of human language with animal communication can help, should we ever frantically need to decode an alien signal. After all, aliens will have evolved their language on a planet that is, like Earth, also full of non-linguistic species. But what really is the difference between language and non-language?

As a first step, let us consider why we think that this essay is language but birdsong isn’t. Some birds sing incredibly complex and varied songs. The mockingbird, for instance, combines up to 100 different song types into long sequences that rarely repeat themselves. Can we really be sure that the birds aren’t speaking to each other? Or think of orcas (killer whales), which have a repertoire of more than 100 different calls. Might they be using their complex communication to talk?

These unanswered questions point us in the direction of how to decode alien language. Perhaps we could identify a telltale fingerprint of language—some kind of statistical test that would give an unequivocal sign that a particular signal from outer space was indeed an alien message and not just noise. Such a language test would also indicate whether pigeons are in fact talking about you behind your back: If their cooing passes the language test, that would indicate that they were truly saying something.

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Reply Alien Languages May Not Be Entirely Alien to Us (Original post)
mahatmakanejeeves Apr 4 OP
PurgedVoter Apr 4 #1
mitch96 Apr 4 #2
Irish_Dem Apr 4 #6
lagomorph777 Apr 5 #13
Irish_Dem Apr 5 #14
Martin68 Apr 5 #15
Irish_Dem Apr 5 #16
Martin68 Apr 5 #17
Irish_Dem Apr 5 #19
Martin68 Apr 5 #21
Irish_Dem Apr 5 #22
Martin68 Apr 6 #23
Irish_Dem Apr 6 #24
Walleye Apr 4 #3
exboyfil Apr 4 #4
mitch96 Apr 5 #10
exboyfil Apr 5 #11
mitch96 Apr 5 #12
Buckeye_Democrat Apr 4 #5
niyad Apr 4 #7
keithbvadu2 Apr 4 #8
TreasonousBastard Apr 4 #9
Marcuse Apr 5 #20
Martin68 Apr 5 #18

Response to mahatmakanejeeves (Original post)

Sun Apr 4, 2021, 08:05 PM

1. There is evidence that some birds can communicate pictures.

Birds have been know to communicate enough detail to identify specific humans that they have issues with. Octopi are not the most social but they have been know to bond and to communicate by changing color.

At one time I heard an organ playing a piece of music. I was unfamiliar but I got an image in my mind of a beautiful city across the river and then the loss of it. I was moved to tears. Later I found out it was by Bach and was his interpretation of Psalm 137, An Wasserflüssen Babylon.

While I have enjoyed many a piece by Bach, and I suspected it was by him or one of his better imitators, I was amazed when I found out the image was one that Bach had managed, over the distance of time, to communicate.



I think it is quite possible that we might be able to easily learn a truly alien language, but I also wonder if bees, birds, octopi, elephants, whales or dolphins demonstrate that we are not wired to comprehend every method of communication well.

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Response to mahatmakanejeeves (Original post)

Sun Apr 4, 2021, 08:10 PM

2. I think it's interesting that we worry about communicating with aliens but we cant communicate

with our closest animal relatives. Primates? well yea sign language. What about other forms of life right here on earth. It would be good foundation if we really did find people from other worlds who would like to communicate with us..
I mean it's not rocket science, eh?.. sorry I could not help my self.
m

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Response to mitch96 (Reply #2)

Sun Apr 4, 2021, 08:35 PM

6. I was thinking the same thing. Why not practice with the animals who live on our own planet.

Research is showing that many animals have a more sophisticated communication process that we previously thought.

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Response to Irish_Dem (Reply #6)

Mon Apr 5, 2021, 11:56 AM

13. Absolutely! We need to get much better at deciphering animal languages.

That might also help us to connect with, and respect, our fellow inhabitants of this tiny rock.

The article mentions a statistical test - there are statistical tests used today; they are very helpful in cryptography and in examining animal languages. Also, dealing with mysteries such as the Voynich Manuscript.

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/may/17/university-backtracks-on-disputed-voynich-manuscript-theory
https://listverse.com/2017/01/08/10-mysterious-hidden-texts/

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Response to lagomorph777 (Reply #13)

Mon Apr 5, 2021, 01:35 PM

14. Yes deciphering ancient Earth texts would also be a great way to figure out alien languages.

Yes and to connect with our own planet and inhabitants.

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Response to Irish_Dem (Reply #14)

Mon Apr 5, 2021, 04:40 PM

15. As far as we know, animals do not have "languages." Communicating with sound is not necessarily

using a language. Birds communicate danger, territory boundaries, and availability to mate, but no specific details. I believe it is possible that the Cetaceans (Orcas, whales, dolphins) might have a language, but nobody has been able to prove that yet.

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Response to Martin68 (Reply #15)

Mon Apr 5, 2021, 04:47 PM

16. We don't really know. The study of animal language has been based upon human language.

Norm Chomsky, world's preeminent linguist, said that using human language acquisition skills with apes is an insult to apes.

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Response to Irish_Dem (Reply #16)

Mon Apr 5, 2021, 04:54 PM

17. Chomsky's theories are only one approach to language analysis. If he is right, though, then

we would expect primates to have some evolutionary foundations for the "deep structure" Chomsky theorized underlies all languages. I think it is unlikely that something that complex would suddenly arise in Homo sapiens without building on an existing brain structure.

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Response to Martin68 (Reply #17)

Mon Apr 5, 2021, 05:26 PM

19. It is hard to argue with Chomsky's claim that language is innate, wired-in, a Darwinian adaptation.

No one has been able to refute it with any vigor. (Disclaimer: I have a PhD from a very cognitive psych program.)

It only makes sense that non human creatures also have a communication skill set or "language" along the same lines but of course idiosyncratic to their species. Darwin was clear that his principals apply to all species on the planet.

And no, it would not be a sudden phenomenon, evolutionary processes are eons in the making.

And to further apply Chomsky's work, there would be a developmental component to "language" acquisition in all animals.
The young of the species with wired in capacity for communication, but learning in clear stages.

So Darwin + Chomsky = All species follow the same communication pattern.

I don't bet, but I would bet a lot of money that alien life is going to follow the same formula.

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Response to Irish_Dem (Reply #19)

Mon Apr 5, 2021, 06:55 PM

21. I bow to your experience, education ad skill set. While I don't have a degree in language, I

taught English as a second language in Japan for 21 years, and did a quite a bit of research on linguistics and the acquisition of language in children. While Chomsky is highly respected, there are other views that I think answer questions that Chomsky's don't. Being immersed in the field as you are often requires coming down on one or another particular theory. I don't think it is quite as settled as you suggest. I agree that there must be a genetic, "innate" component of language in the brain, but exactly how it functions and what actual parts of the brain perform which functions of that innate ability is not known.

I think we too often fall into the trap of assuming that because things are the way they are, there could not be any other way for them to be. Language wouldn't necessarily have to be verbal in an alien species. It could be based on frequencies of light, or something chemical like smell and taste. Would the deep structure of such a language have to resemble ours? At any rate, I don't claim to have any answers, I just try to keep my mind open to new possibilities because I don't think we've fully plumbed the depths of language and the forms that life can take.

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Response to Martin68 (Reply #21)

Mon Apr 5, 2021, 07:53 PM

22. You seem very knowledgeable about linguistics and Chomsky's work.

Yes if you are interested in language acquisition in children, then of course you will know Chomsky's writings.
Chomsky is all over the developmental psych literature. Since you are boots on the ground so to speak in terms of lang acquisition, you would know much better than I about specific ed/psych folks in an applied way.

Well yes I fully admit I simplified my point to a cheesy talking point. Linguistics is not my area of expertise. I am just spit balling here.

There is nothing at all settled when it comes to brain development. And yes we do have areas of the brain which are clearly linked to language. But we always get into trouble trying to link specific brain anatomy and functionality. The way the brain operates is much more complex and we are still in the horse and buggy stage of learning about it. There is thought that the brain is not really a separate organ; higher level brain type cells are scattered throughout the body.

I took three semesters of doctoral level neurobiology some decades ago, and I realized at the end we know jack about the brain. But right now, neuropsychology is very popular with good funding and I hope we can move forward.

And yes I totally agree our downfall is being human-centric when we think about alien species. I have loved science fiction since childhood and I always try to think outside the box. But there is no way around it, I am stuck thinking like a human.

And yes of course, alien communication probably won't be verbal? Most of the species on our planet do not communicate with speech. Though some do vocalizations as a way to communicate. (My little dog talks to me with her barks and behavior. I unfortunately understand what she is telling me most of the time. I say unfortunately because it is often difficult to discern if I am training my little dog or she is training me. I put money on the latter.)

Yes aliens could communicate along the lines you mention and certainly in ways we cannot even imagine.

But my point is that I believe Darwin's theories will cross time and space. Each being must be survival oriented, must be adaptive, or will perish? Whether that being lives on Earth or on Mars.

I know I am being a human here, but I do believe that some Earth principals will be universal across sentient beings in the universe. Dawin's theory of adapt or die. Our spiritual belief in good vs evil.
Some sort of family unit for the development of the young.

Will Einstein's theories about the universe be the same theories developed by other life forms across the universe?

This would be a good topic for an article. Would be fun to see what others thought. But of course when we actually meet other beings from planets far away, our minds could be blown to find that humans know nothing. And our scientific body of literature holds no water except here on Earth.

Oh my gosh, an ESL teacher in Japan for two decades!! I am jealous.
I lived in Japan as a child (career military dad.)

Where were you in Japan? I was near Tokyo and then later in Okinawa.
I know things have changed a great deal since I lived there.
I have Japanese friends who tell me stories about modern day Japan.

Do you like your work? The Japanese culture is different from our own.
But as a child I loved everything about Japan.

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Response to Irish_Dem (Reply #22)

Tue Apr 6, 2021, 12:08 AM

23. Thanks for the thoughtful and understanding reply.

Yes, language must be related to "reality" and we assume must include something like nouns, verbs and adjectives because that is the only way WE know how to communicate our understanding of reality. I'm not sure we can get around that, but who knows? Maybe verbs are not essential?

I moved to Japan from my 2-year Peace Corps teaching assignment in Liberia, West Africa. I loved teaching English in Japan because the school where I taught was a two-year program with five hours a day, five days a week. The first 6 months were spent largely gaining the student's trust that they could speak English without being laughed at, and by the last 6 months we were discussing English short stories, current video news, and really interesting intercultural communication topics. I lived in downtown Tokyo, and after marrying a Japanese woman we lived in a Tokyo suburb 45 minutes by train from my school.

We moved back to the States in 1998, I got a Masters in science teaching at UVA, and ended up teaching conservation (my major was a biology) and then taking a position as a field technician in watershed management and water quality protection education. I retired in 2019.

Thanks for this dialog. Language will always be my primary interest.

By the way, Okinawa is an amazing island. My wife and I took a trip visiting Naha in Okinawa and then island hopping down the Ryukyu island chain that stretches almost all the way to Taiwan. A wonderful island culture and amazing coral reefs.

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Response to Martin68 (Reply #23)

Tue Apr 6, 2021, 05:52 PM

24. Interesting.

Perhaps language will reflect the basic nature of each specific alien species. A very active, aggressive species will love verbs. A more thoughtful intellectual species will like nouns. An artistic, lyrical, emotive species will love adjectives. So we could see variations in the parts of speeches emphasized according to the personalities and world view of each species.

Yes I know about the hesitancy issues. I have traveled in China, and some of the young people can speak English but they don't want to do it for the reason you describe. Once I got college students speaking to me, I was amazed that they spoke English quite well and actually understood what I was saying.

Oh my, you made a great deal of progress in a very short period of time. The parents must love you!

You are quite versatile obviously on a number of levels!

You are welcome, yes very enjoyable discussion.

We lived in Tokyo for three years, then in Naha for two years. The two locations were so different. Naha was a tropical paradise and at that time totally undeveloped. Yes gorgeous. The only thing that was scary were the typhoons.

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Response to mahatmakanejeeves (Original post)

Sun Apr 4, 2021, 08:24 PM

3. Reminds me of a humorous Kurt Vonnegut story, the aliens communicated by farting and tap dancing

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Response to mahatmakanejeeves (Original post)

Sun Apr 4, 2021, 08:25 PM

4. There are ancient languages we can't decipher

These are human languages. What makes us think we can decipher alien language. Granted if can repeat communicate in short time spans, there is a chance.

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Response to exboyfil (Reply #4)

Mon Apr 5, 2021, 08:27 AM

10. "ancient languages we can't decipher".. I wonder how much different this is than decoding

encrypted messages during the war?. We got the German and Japanese codes why not... say..Dolphin? Whale speak? and is Northern whale speak different than southern whale speak I wonder how you say y'all in whale speak? click squeee boop?
m

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Response to mitch96 (Reply #10)

Mon Apr 5, 2021, 08:59 AM

11. In a sense proves the point

Codebreaking requires a Rosetta stone of sorts. Whether it involves having access to an actual
Enigma machine or using fake messages to prompt responses (such as water desalination system is offline at Midway).

If a helpful alien provides that Rosetta stone then we might have a better chance. Still you have to deal with the speed of light. If we are going to learn and communicate with an alien civilization, ti is most likely going to be with a sophisticated AI probe that has come to our solar system (think monolith in 2001).

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Response to exboyfil (Reply #11)

Mon Apr 5, 2021, 09:04 AM

12. " Codebreaking requires a Rosetta stone of sorts"

I thought it was interesting that the code breakers picked up on the operator always signing off with "Heil Hitler" at the end of the trans mission. From that they picked out key words that repeat. Us humans are good at pattern recognition..
Yes the midway water desalinization ploy was pretty cool...
I wonder what rosetta stone could be used with dolphin and whale?
m

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Response to mahatmakanejeeves (Original post)

Sun Apr 4, 2021, 08:28 PM

5. Yes, it would be a very interesting field of research!

It goes beyond the likes of Noam Chomsky, whose research pointed out several universal traits among different languages of humans.

Finding universal traits among our animal brethren would be very intriguing research, at least to an INTP personality type like me.

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Response to mahatmakanejeeves (Original post)

Sun Apr 4, 2021, 08:38 PM

7. Forget aliens and other species on this planet. We, as humans, have difficulty communicating with

others who appear to use the same language we do. I freely admit this. I recognize, for example, that gqp'ers appear to use English. I mean, I recognize that the words they use are recognized as English. I just don't recognize the way they use them. Was it Twain who said that Britain and America are two countries separated by a common language??

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Response to mahatmakanejeeves (Original post)

Sun Apr 4, 2021, 09:19 PM

8. Look for a preponderance of 'e's.

Look for a preponderance of 'e's.

How to serve man......... It's a cookbook.

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Response to mahatmakanejeeves (Original post)

Sun Apr 4, 2021, 10:48 PM

9. Well, so far we haven't cracked the codes of dogs barking or cats screeching at each other...

although we have a glimpse of what they are saying to us.

Aliens, who may use entirely different senses to communicate?

Years ago, I was reading a NY Times magazine article about communication with gorillas. The reporter asked an old silverback which of the two researchers there he liked better.

The gorilla answered, in sign language, "Bad question."

We have a really long way to go.

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Response to TreasonousBastard (Reply #9)

Mon Apr 5, 2021, 06:02 PM

20. We are working on it.

[link:https://www.geekwire.com/2020/meowtalk-app-that-translates-cat-sounds-is-pet-project-for-former-alexa-engineer/|
Using data science and machine learning, MeowTalk listens to the sounds a cat makes and offers up a human language translation, promising to remove the barrier between pet and person on interactions ranging from “feed me” to “let me outside” to “I’m in pain.” With user input, an out-of-the-box version of the app can be trained to understand a specific cat.

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Response to mahatmakanejeeves (Original post)

Mon Apr 5, 2021, 04:57 PM

18. Scientists have always assumed communication with intelligent alien life would start with

Last edited Tue Apr 6, 2021, 10:34 PM - Edit history (1)

mathematical and scientific facts that we assume are universal. The structure of the hydrogen atom, the value of Pi, the wavelengths of radio waves and other electromagnetic radiation, etc.

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