If we can understand the aliens?


Many scientists believe that alien civilizations exist. For them, the question is whether we find them at all, and when they find it: in the near or distant future? Let’s imagine that we suddenly come face to face with the alien species. What to do? Of course, the first thing we try to negotiate peace. But if we can understand each other?

Only suitable for the exchange of what we can be sure this scientific information. If the laws of the Universe are the same everywhere, the various descriptions of these laws must be fundamentally equivalent. This assumption underlies the rationale of initiatives like SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) and METI (messaging extraterrestrial intelligence).

Things get trickier when we talk about the language — most important factor in cooperation among people. That is telling about their intentions, we can work together in surprisingly large groups. For this reason, it is likely that any technologically advanced extraterrestrial civilization would have something like language.

If we study a foreign language? The first problem is his environment. People communicate in sound range in the 85-255 Hz range and light in 430-770 THz. But for aliens that evolved completely differently, these numbers may be different. However, the problem is largely technical in nature. Accelerated whale song, which otherwise are inaudible to humans, show, for example, to map a “foreign” messages in a form understandable to the people, it is possible.

A more difficult question is whether we ever to study the internal structure of a foreign language. Today psycholinguistics gives two very different answers.

Generative grammar, according to which the structure of the language is firmly screwed in the brain, believes that it would be impossible. It follows from this that people are born with a built-in universal grammar, which has a number of settings — each of which corresponds to the order in which words and parts of words can be organized in a particular language system. The language that we hear early in life, activates one of these parameters, which then allows us to distinguish between valid and invalid ways of combining words.

It is important to note that the number of such parameters is limited. Although the rules of human languages may differ, proponents of generative models argue that they can vary only within strict parameters. For example, one parameter defines precede or follow the verb objects in the sentence. In English the verb comes first (Bob gave the Apple to Alice), and in Japanese, the object (Bob, Alice, Apple gave). In Russian it does not matter.

Generativity believe that it is extremely unlikely that alien species will have the same language settings as that of the people. According to Noam Chomsky, the leading proponent of this approach, “if a Martian landed from outer space and spoke a language that violates universal grammar, we simply would not be able to learn this language, how can learn English or Swahili. We are created by nature for English, Chinese and any other human language. But we weren’t made for learning languages that violate universal grammar.”

Cognitive approach, on the other hand, considers the semantics (meaning structure) is more important than the syntax (the grammatical structure). According to this view, the sentence “quadrature drinks procrastination” is syntactically well formed but semantically meaningless. On this basis, supporters of the cognitive approach claim that one grammar is not enough to understand language. She needs to work in conjunction with knowledge of the concepts that make up language.

We can also look at our own world and see what organisms may have a striking resemblance, even if developed completely different and in completely different environments. This phenomenon is known as “convergent evolution”. For example, the wings and eyes appeared independently in different animals in the process of evolution many times. Birds in ecologically isolated New Zealand acquired behavior that is peculiar to mammals in other areas.

Cognitive approach expresses the hope that human and alien languages can be mutually intelligible.

Some believe that even the most complex human concepts are built from basic building blocks that are common to all species, like the concepts of past and future, similarities and differences, object and subject. If an alien species can manipulate objects, interact with their peers and associates concept, we have with him can be quite a common mental architecture to understand its language. It is unlikely, for example, that if an alien species is reproduced biologically, he will not be able to distinguish between genetically related and unrelated groups.

Can we consider cognitive approach is correct? The study of neural functions show that languages can be studied without the specialized structures in the brain. This is important because it means that there is no need to postulate an innate universal grammar to explain language. In addition, it follows that some languages do not fit into the framework of universal grammar. Although evidence of such an approach is still needed, it seems very convincing.

It may well be that people will be able to master xenolinguistics. Obviously, some aspects of the alien language (like our poetry may not be available. Similarly, some species can take so far from us in the mental universe that the attempt to understand them would be an attempt to understand the language of the stones. However, it’s worth a try.

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