1. ajbc_08
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    ajbc_08 Member

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    Learning foreign languages

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by ajbc_08, Nov 21, 2010.

    Hey guys,

    I haven't written for a while, but I'm working on a concept at the moment that I think I could turn into a work-able story.

    There's one aspect that I'm having trouble figuring out though. Basically a human is held on an alien ship, and the captain wishes to learn English from the human, and the human wishes to learn the language of the alien.
    Basically I need a way for them to communicate with each-other, so that they can swap languages in a sense, teaching each-other over a period of time.

    I've been struggling to come up with a way for them to credibly be able to do this. I'm sure its happened in history before? In ancient times how did tribes who encountered eachother learn their respective languages? Just some short way to explain how it happened would be good. In the mean time I'll get researching.

    Any ideas would be greatly appreciated,
    Cheers
     
  2. Raigoki
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    Raigoki New Member

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    Hi there!

    I'm new here so please don't kill me! :) i think they've learned the language by consistently saying the word while touching or pointing the subject. for example, I'm touching my nose and saying "ilong" continuously. (by that you'll know "English" is not my native tongue :D ) repetition is the key to understand any language.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Trouble is, humans encountering humans still have many things in common. Something as simple as a smile transcends language pretty universally. Eyes averted downwards signify acceptance of the other's dominance, as does kneeling or prostrating. A furrowed brow signals suspicion, anger or fear. A voice pitched low at reduced volume signals calm. Arms open wide and low with open palms facing outward signals that you come in peace.

    First contact with non-human cultures cannot be expected to follow similar conventions, even assuming they are bipedal humanoid in form.

    The difficulty is in finding concepts in common, and tentatively associating them with words. There will always be the possibility you each think you are agreeing on a concept when you are in fact saying different things entirely.

    It could even be that you are culturally so different that you can find no concepts in common.
     
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  4. TobiasJames
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    TobiasJames Contributing Member

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    Alternatively, you can just teach them to read or mimic words by teaching phonics, using sound-symbol correspondence. This is how young children learn to speak, and they start life without any language skills whatsoever. Having a working knowledge of one language makes it incredibly easy to learn another if you apply yourself to it.

    e.g. If a person can recognise the graphemes (images of) C, A and T, and recall the sound associated with each letter, then they can blend the sounds together to form a morpheme (unit of meaning, such as a word). This morpheme can then be linked to a concept, such as a cat.

    My tip? Don't re-invent the wheel. We know how Humans learn speech... stick with that!
     
  5. Top Cat
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    Top Cat Senior Member

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    Hmm.

    You're dealing with Aliens - so I'd invent an Alien way of communicating. :rolleyes: If anything, most likely with geometry and mathematics...it's something we're likely to share - a decimal system...if one believes in crop circles ;)
     
  6. rpgnerdette
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    rpgnerdette New Member

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    personal experience

    There is definately a lot more to think about than just, learning words. Different countries on earth have so many different gestures, facial expressions, etc. Aliens, would have many different.
    Ex: Humans can point to themselves and say their name, point to the other person and shrug...generally getting the point across my name is bob and your name is fred.
    You need to decide how much the aliens know about our planet already, and if they have studied us at all. What things do they have on their planed that we have on ours? Do they have technology that resembles ours in any way?

    I ended up living in a situation where I had no idea what anyone is saying. Learning the word for apple and such was easy, it wasn't so easy realizing that in asia, you can stand ALOT closer to somebody when speaking and if you don't it can be offensive. Or that you address people different ways based on how old they were. Things like that can be difficult.

    For some inspiration on this I would watch the movies "The Thirteenth Warrior" and "The Fifth Element" both good films, also both with a person learning another language over time.
     
  7. Top Cat
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    Top Cat Senior Member

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    You ought to read on some complex linguistic theory, to be honest :rolleyes:
    Language is grammar, and very complex. But also - what're you're thinking of goes beyond that and into theoretical debates about perception and language. What comes first - the language or the way we understand things..?

    For example, a certain tribe in Africa has no number system - merely some and 1. Therefore, there was no language for it - but also argue that because there was no language - there was no concept. Serious head feckery :D

    Similar with another tribe that had no labels for colours - only for light and dark. So, I guess I'm saying is that words are the least of your concerns. How do these aliens think? And how does language inform this?

    Of course, you could just regurgitate some Klingon.
     
  8. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Even among human languages there are some significant differences in how languages can work. Polysynthetic Languages would leave most speakers of Indo-European languages deeply befuddled.

    And these are Human languages.

    An alien language may well have features that are impossible to fathom from a human standpoint. There may be visual elements that are not paralinguistic, but actual parts of syntax, just as an example.
     
  9. Top Cat
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    Top Cat Senior Member

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    Mmm. I'm so turned on. :cool:
     
  10. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Down, tiger. I'm taken. ;):D

    BTW, edited your quote to match my edit of the post because I have a horrid habit of confusing Agglutination with Polysynthesis. The confusion cost me a few marks at university.
     
  11. ajbc_08
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    ajbc_08 Member

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    Cheers for the help guys. Looks like I'll have to hit the books and resource this little chestnut. Just an FYI, the aliens are similar to humans, but they have no knowledge of humanity or language, so both parties would be new to eachothers language.

    I've started writing the novel but I still haven't figured out how they will communicate, maybe the aliens will have some sort of robot that can analyze english, and deduce things like emotion etc but not understand completely, which is something that has to happen when they start teaching each-other.

    Either way, thanks guys
     
  12. sereda008
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    sereda008 Senior Member

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    'elbat' the alien pointed at the table.
    'table' The main returned its gaze.
    'Ugh...Agh...Egh' The alien instructed.
    'Walk with me.' The man corrected.

    Something like this might work, or maybe some form of sign language?

    When I was 5, I have learned German FULLY just by watching German cartoons. You get my point?
     
  13. DaWalrus
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    DaWalrus Member

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    Hopefully, their physiology doesn't get in the way. If the aliens communicate by forming complex color patterns on their foreheads -- good luck. To make it worse, if they have no receptacles to detect mechanical waves in surrounding media (such as ear-drums), they'd have to lip-read.

    They'd have to be able to see, but I can't imagine an intelligent being without vision. Blind fish in deep caves and bats get around without it, but there is too much important information to be communicated by light. I doubt intelligence can develop without being exposed to it, but -- who knows.
     
  14. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    I understand that that can happen across human cultures too. I've heard that when first western contact was made with one tribe the anthropologists were puzzled that everything they pointed to had the same name. It turned out that the word they were given meant "finger" because the tribe didn't indicate by pointing, they indicated by nodding their heads. And they thought the anthropologists were really stupid, having to ask for the word for "finger" over and over again.
     
  15. thesims
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    Don't know if it'd serve your purpose, but there's a type of language known as pidgins. Yes, like the chat client.

    Basically pidgin languages are developed when a group conquers another and they need to interact. The language uses the vocabulary of the substrate (the conquered) and the grammatical rules of the conquerers' tongue.

    It's not exactly what you're looking for but both parties slowly acquire knowledge of the other's language. The main issue with your question is that we learn languages by associating foreign words to familiar concepts.... but aliens/human beings have completely different realities, and thus it's an obstacle to the language acquisition process. I guess you could have them exchange consciousness somehow so that they have a quick glimpse of the other's homeworld and perhaps grasp the language more easily.

    Just throwing another idea: in what circumstances do the aliens capture your human BEING (remember that "human" by itself is an adjective, not a noun)? Prior to the kidnapping, the aliens could have observed the human lifestyle and acquired basic knowledge of English.
     
  16. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not only through conquest. Pidgins also develop for trade, in which case the substrate language is a pretty good indicator of who had the more desirable goods. When children start being taught the pidgin at their mother's knee then it changes from being classed as a pidgin and starts being classed as a creole.
     
  17. starosea2001
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    starosea2001 New Member

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    Ever thought of language not being a barrier at all? They could just work around each other's needs by using commonsense. Throw in a bit of comedy when they make errors but generally each one doing what needs to be done by action and error. Or to make it more dramatic, use silence as a language. Maybe the alien can be advanced communication wise that he can project his thoughts. So many options since they are aliens.
     
  18. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    star... did you notice that this thread is almost 2 years old?

    you can see if a thread is current, by looking at the date over the first and last posters' names... and if last comment was made so long ago, it's not very likely that the original poster is still around to read your advice...

    that said, if your contribution would be helpful to others, then even if it's a stale thread, it could still be worth posting...

    since you're new here, i just wanted to make sure you know how to tell current threads from old ones...

    welcome to the forums!

    love and hugs, maia
     

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