1. Berniemeister

    Berniemeister New Member

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2016
    Messages:
    7
    Likes Received:
    1

    (First Contact Sci-Fi) Alien learning to communicate

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Berniemeister, Nov 30, 2016.

    Hi everyone. I just joined the forum today. Thank you in advance for considering my question.

    I'm well into an outline and have done some exploratory attempts at writing a first contact story. I am thinking about ways in which the uber intelligent alien (humanoid) might try to make itself understood to the human protagonist. The alien meets the human protagonist by accident (on Earth) and the alien tries to communicate. It wants to learn to speak English.

    In this story the alien will eventually learn to speak English, but I'm focused right now on what the first attempts at conversation might look like.

    Any thoughts, ideas or suggestions would be appreciated. Also, if you've seen this treatment in other works, I'd appreciate a reference I might be able to look up.
     
  2. EnginEsq

    EnginEsq Member

    Joined:
    Oct 29, 2016
    Messages:
    176
    Likes Received:
    124
    Assuming your alien is from another world (as opposed to another universe),
    before your alien gets to Earth, have them watch Sesame Street. A lot.

    Old analog TV broadcasts would be pretty easy to decypher.
     
    Cave Troll likes this.
  3. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 23, 2013
    Messages:
    3,413
    Likes Received:
    2,925
    Welcome to the site! I'm guessing you won't want to take this to the level that Arrival did (the entire plot was about trying to work out the semantic details of each other's languages), so for just a few quick-and-dirty tips: have you ever looked at SOV classification, have you ever looked at the Ten Hundred Words People Use The Most, and have you looked at how ESL speakers start out speaking English differently from native speakers?
     
  4. Sal Boxford

    Sal Boxford Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jul 12, 2016
    Messages:
    336
    Likes Received:
    248
    Location:
    UK
    Does the alien have a sense of hearing? Does it pick up similar frequencies to our own? Does the alien even suspect that the minor disturbances of the air the human is making with part of its body are an attempt to communicate, or is it trying to decipher the incessant wagging of the human's foot?

    @Simpson17866 Arrival sounds interesting. That's the recent movie, yes?
     
    Simpson17866 likes this.
  5. NiallRoach

    NiallRoach Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 7, 2015
    Messages:
    694
    Likes Received:
    575
    Location:
    The middle of the UK
    A lot of miming, and lot of repeating words.
    When we teach absolute beginners, we start with "this is a cup" (or whatever is nearby) and make them repeat it until it's stuck, then we introduce new objects, making sure to keep the wording exactly the same, until they cotton on that "cup" must be the white thing, and table must be the other thing. Then we move to "Is this a cup?", have them repeat it, "Yes, this is a cup."
    If you go slowly and they're trying to learn, you can build up from there. It's abhorrently slow and tiring, but it works.
     
    Iain Aschendale and Simpson17866 like this.
  6. Berniemeister

    Berniemeister New Member

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2016
    Messages:
    7
    Likes Received:
    1
    Yeah. Assume that humans descended from their race. We're very close genetically.
     
  7. NiallRoach

    NiallRoach Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 7, 2015
    Messages:
    694
    Likes Received:
    575
    Location:
    The middle of the UK
    This is an immense point. I'm cooking a first contact novel in my head right now, where the aliens are essential giant gasbag jellyfish that communicate via colour, have no sense of hearing, and poor resolution vision everywhere except their underside (so they can see where they're putting their tentacles/what's going in their mouth). Learning to communicate with them would be incredibly hard, but that's why I'm interested.
     
  8. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 23, 2013
    Messages:
    3,413
    Likes Received:
    2,925
    Yes, and it was absolutely fantastic (Please don't look for spoilers if you plan to watch it).

    @Berniemeister How much do the aliens' cultures know about our own?
     
    Sal Boxford likes this.
  9. antlad

    antlad Banned

    Joined:
    Nov 28, 2016
    Messages:
    297
    Likes Received:
    96
    If we descended from them, did they continue to evolve as we did? Will the alien still have the same vocal capacity? If they have learned to communicate differently, their muscles that control speech would have atrophied, or changed for a new purpose.
    Maybe read/watch videos of people trying to learn animal communication. A lot of our communication with each other is through movements that have become global. Would the alien understand them, or run away when a person raised their arms up to signify not knowing something? Communicating with my dog is mostly all body language on both sides (we are very close).
    Has the language changed at all for your setting? I always felt that the longer we went a species, the more English would shed words and so many languages would be integrated, there would almost be an Earth language made of a bunch of words from different languages.
     
  10. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Apr 20, 2016
    Messages:
    1,289
    Likes Received:
    1,238
    Forget aliens, try to figure out how you would communicate with another species on earth. We're the most intelligent creatures on earth, but we're certainly not the only ones with a complex grammar to our language. Meerkat, certain birds, dolphins, all have fully formed languages.

    The difference in intelligence between us and your aliens might be just as dramatic. We like to think of ourselves as the apex of evolution, but we're not.

    The biggest problem is that language doesn't represent any special universal thing. It's a way of vocalizing abstract thoughts in a human mind and transferring that information to another human mind. Concepts that humans simply don't have, will be incredibly difficult to translate.

    The only things that are truly universal are mathematics and physics. Richard Feynman once posited a question to an interviewer of how we could describe ourselves to an alien that we couldn't see using only universal language. He figured well we could describe our chemistry with diagrams of atoms. We have a mass, well that could be represented as a scalar to those atoms. What about height? Well, that's distance, there are some universal distances like the distance light travels in the time it takes for an electron around a hydrogen atom to flip its spin. But then he asked how to describe that our heart is on the left side. There is no universal way to describe left and right.

    Even simple things like numbers are anthropocentric. Base 10 is not special in any way mathematically, in fact, base 12 is far easier to do arithmetic in.
     
    Sal Boxford likes this.
  11. Berniemeister

    Berniemeister New Member

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2016
    Messages:
    7
    Likes Received:
    1
    In this story, we find out later (after the alien has learned to speak English) that today's humans are their direct descendants as their race came to Earth 50,000 years ago and inseminated an earlier form of homo sapiens. The earlier form died off but the ones they created became us. So from a language perspective, they are capable of all the same sounds, etc. and they spent some years living here on Earth long ago.
     
  12. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2015
    Messages:
    17,920
    Likes Received:
    27,060
    Location:
    Where cushions are comfy, and straps hold firm.
    Ignoring your lack of how hybridization works. (IE: It is .00000000000000000000000001% possible, and the offspring would be sterile.)

    So with that bit of science out of the way that we will negate for the sake of story.
    If they are so close to humans, how could they be so vastly more advanced? That
    would mean that on every planet/moon in the galaxy with all the conditions are
    perfect for human/humanoid species would evolve in such places. Also consider
    that they would have had to have an evolutionary start just as our planet was starting
    to cool from it's creation (I know a long head start to be that far advanced under
    the circumstances you present). Are they carbon or silicon based? This can drastically
    affect the potential for a hybrid.

    For the sake of the argument we will just assume they are carbon based species,
    and have created Humans from having sexual congress with Neanderthals and
    Homo Sapiens some 50K years in the past. The former just could not produce an
    offspring that was robust enough to survive without going through all forms of
    extra attention to keep them from dying at a very young age, or in there early 20s.

    (Homo Sapiens killed off the Neanderthals in our reality, because we segregated
    the duties of the males and female, where as the Neanderthals were egalitarian.
    Which meant that the offspring of the Neanderthals had high infant mortality
    rates because the females were shouldering all the same responsibilities as the men.
    Homo Sapiens figured out that the females took care of the offspring, and the males
    provided vital resources and protection for the females and the offspring. Score one
    to the Homo Sapiens for having equity in their offspring, willing to fight for the next
    generation to continue the species as a whole.)

    Getting back to the discussion at hand. These elder Humanoid creatures would be
    astronomically more intelligent than today's modern man. The catch is during their
    evolution they kept some of the same qualities of their bretheren 50K ago, such as
    vocal cords. And if as you say that these ETs and Humans are that close in genome
    to be able to create us which an alien genetic mutation of the original native Homo
    Sapiens. This would mean that modern Humans and Homo Sapiens would be
    dramatically evolutionary different. Which means that either Homo Sapiens had
    to have gone extinct at some point, by either being bred into extinction. Or by the
    new genetically superior Humans that killed off the Homo Sapiens once they found
    them to be considered inferior , once they reached significant numbers to have a
    proto-war of genocide. (Kinda like what we did to the Neanderthals. And Hitler
    thought he was being original.)

    Now to the elephant.
    Why did they come to Earth and mess with the evolution of man to begin with?
    Why did they come back to Earth to see how their genetic manipulation was progressing?
    We are ruling this whole thing as intent, versus being bored, horny, and looking to have
    a party.
    They would be advanced enough to be able to learn language in a short amount of time
    as it would be highly primitive to them, therefore easy. Then on trillion and one questions
    will be tossed at them once they could engage in conversation. From why the did what they
    did, to will you help us solve our petty inferior problems.

    Could make this a controversial story, of bitterness with 'creator and creation'. It may
    sound like a strictly religious based concept, but not in the way. So there will be
    a lot more creation begging for answers to the creator. It would be different if they were
    a scientist interacting with the bacteria on a petri-dish, because the scientist would not
    have sex with the experiment.
     
  13. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Apr 20, 2016
    Messages:
    1,289
    Likes Received:
    1,238
    Cave Troll is right. I didn't even notice that. Alien hybrids simply won't work. You have orders of magnitude more in common genetically with a banana than you would an alien. Also, the majority of us is not encoded in our DNA, they're emergent properties. There is not genetic blueprint telling you to have five fingers, the DNA simply turns on a protein that causes new finger bugs to form and has a self-limiting function in the cells.
     
  14. S~A~W

    S~A~W Banned

    Joined:
    Nov 27, 2016
    Messages:
    43
    Likes Received:
    21
    Location:
    Atlanta
    Frankly, I liked the Mars Attacks method of communication.
     
    Iain Aschendale and Cave Troll like this.
  15. NiallRoach

    NiallRoach Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 7, 2015
    Messages:
    694
    Likes Received:
    575
    Location:
    The middle of the UK
    It is, though, very much acceptable by readers as the one big lie in a story. I don't think it's fair to tell the OP his entire story won't work when a) that's not what he was asking about and b) it's not really a problem anyway.
     
  16. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Apr 20, 2016
    Messages:
    1,289
    Likes Received:
    1,238
    Agreed. I should have chosen my words more carefully. I mean scientifically, it simply won't work. For sci-fi though, such creatures have plenty of precedent: Spock, Worf, Ripley, The Flood... It's perfectly acceptable by sci-fi readers.
     
  17. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2015
    Messages:
    17,920
    Likes Received:
    27,060
    Location:
    Where cushions are comfy, and straps hold firm.
    The Flood is a parasite, not an actual species.
     
    newjerseyrunner likes this.
  18. Sal Boxford

    Sal Boxford Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jul 12, 2016
    Messages:
    336
    Likes Received:
    248
    Location:
    UK
    That sounds brilliant. I love trek-type situations where the aliens are pretty much 'foreigners' with more or fewer bumps on their face than we have, but you can't help thinking if we ever managed to overcome all the obstacles to contact, that's not who we'd meet.

    I'm cooking a longish short story where the race contacted are exactly like us (because I'm really lazy) but are psychically advanced with little knowledge of what we'd call science. They have no concept that they live on a 'planet' in a 'galaxy' let alone that other 'planets' might be inhabited. They suspect the message they picked up (telepathically) came from some (until then assumed mythical) people over the other side of the mountains. I like the idea that something as fundamental as the notion that there could be people beyond the ones you know might scupper contact.
     
  19. Sal Boxford

    Sal Boxford Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jul 12, 2016
    Messages:
    336
    Likes Received:
    248
    Location:
    UK
    Man, I love maths in other bases. I remember our teacher introducing us to base 6 when when were about 8 (because he was a mathematician by training, and close to retirement and just taught us what the hell he felt like). Was a revelation. So exciting. Counting in 10s is pretty much arbitrary!

    Reminds me: there's a guy who had a youtube channel who talks about cool stuff like this. He has a video that outlines some of the peculiarities with numbers, and a whole playlist on linguistics.
     
    newjerseyrunner likes this.

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.
    Dismiss Notice