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Alien Languages

 
crlisle
(@crlisle)
Bronze Star Member
Posts: 243

Do all aliens in sci fi stories speak English?
How do I show an alien speaking another language and being translated by a machine or chip of some kind?
I was considering using Spanish and translating it.
Or maybe Latin?
Or should I just stick to the alien speaking English?

Which is best?

Thanks for help with this.
Gracias por la ayuda.

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Topic starter Posted : July 22, 2020 3:15 pm
Dustin Adams
(@axeminister)
Gold Member
Posts: 995

I recommend what the classics have done. Universal translator, the TARDIS translates for us, etc. Mention it once then use English. Unless we aren't meant to understand each other.

What always pings my brain is when a universal translator is in effect, then an alien swears, like when Klingons yell Bach Loch! or something. Maybe there's no translation. I know several Jamaican swear words that don't translate. That's a good way to remind folks they are alien and speaking an alien language. Like when a show shows us the outside of the ship for a second or two before going inside, just to remind us we're in space.

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Posted : July 23, 2020 2:20 am
crlisle
(@crlisle)
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Posts: 243

What always pings my brain is when a universal translator is in effect, then an alien swears, like when Klingons yell Bach Loch! or something. Maybe there's no translation. I know several Jamaican swear words that don't translate. That's a good way to remind folks they are alien and speaking an alien language. .

Oooh, I like that idea! Thanks Dustin

2020 Quarters: 1st -- R, 2nd -- HM, 3rd -- HM, 4th -- SHM
2021 Quarters: 1st -- HM, 2nd -- HM, 3rd -- Pending, 4th -- Pending
"Invasion" to be published in Daily Science Fiction
"The Last Dance" to be published Feb. 2022 in the LTUE Anthology, Parliament of Wizards
"My Ten Cents" published in Sci Fi Lampoon, vol. 2, Dec. 2020
"Never give up. Never surrender." - Galaxy Quest

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Topic starter Posted : July 23, 2020 6:37 am
TimE
 TimE
(@time)
Silver Member
Posts: 339

I had langa-weasels who could read the Broca’s area and angular gyrus and equivalents in brains of any creatures and thereby learn languages. They were bred to be interpreters and dependant on their owners and they couldn't be trusted. It was part of my one attempt at humour and only got HM.

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Posted : July 23, 2020 7:23 am
Dustin Adams
(@axeminister)
Gold Member
Posts: 995

Tim, that first sentence of yours was an alien language. wotf019

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Posted : July 23, 2020 7:24 am
TimE
 TimE
(@time)
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Bullshit and gobbledegook - best way to pull the wool over people's eyes.

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Posted : July 23, 2020 7:25 am
einstein36
(@einstein36)
Bronze Member
Posts: 69

You could do what I did with my sci-fi novel, I made it to where through dialogue or something subtle make a small suggestion that they learned or have a universal translator implanted near their ears and then definitely show the reader later that they are definitely alien by using ancient Sanskrit, a language hardly no one uses anymore unless the aliens were in our past..

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Posted : July 23, 2020 7:36 am
AndyDibble
(@andydibble)
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Posts: 86

You could do what I did with my sci-fi novel, I made it to where through dialogue or something subtle make a small suggestion that they learned or have a universal translator implanted near their ears and then definitely show the reader later that they are definitely alien by using ancient Sanskrit, a language hardly no one uses anymore unless the aliens were in our past..

Incidentally, one of the alien races in my story in vol 36 speak Sanskrit. Although, I did that because their culture was pre-modern India. I'm not sure I'd recommend using a human language for aliens in the general case (I'm not even sure it was the right choice in my story because it still raises the question, "Why are the aliens speaking a human language?").

I'm inclined to think that alien language should be especially alien. Aliens could "speak" with gestures, growls, fragrances, textures, etc. Consider the possibilities before you make the aliens speak just another Indo-European language (English, Spanish, Sanskrit, etc.).

If you're going to use a universal translator at least try to explain how the translator manages to solve the problem of translation (I can't imagine how a universal translator could work, but I can't prove that it couldn't work either -- maybe what TimE said about reading the Broca's area is a hand-wavy start to a solution). Perhaps what I love most about Ted Chiang's "Stories of Your Life" is that he takes seriously the immensity of the problem of translating the language of beings that think very differently than we do.

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Posted : July 23, 2020 12:27 pm
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MrH
 MrH
(@mrh)
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There is the other side of things.

Why can't they all be speaking a generic Universal language and it's only translated to English to benefit the reader. No one is actually speaking English, nor native alien languages, but a universal language. Like English here on earth, or whatever the common one is. Only out there it's more important as the language differences are far greater.

There I go giving away all my good ideas.

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Posted : December 13, 2020 6:49 pm
AndyDibble
(@andydibble)
Bronze Member
Posts: 86

@mrh, I'm wondering how a universal language would work?  Some cultures think that one language is magical or fundamental to reality (Sanskrit was seen this way, Arabic and Hebrew are to a certain extent today by some, etc.).  But I'm more interested in something that's scientifically plausible.

Noam Chomsky gave us universal grammar, but that is only universal to humans because of our shared biology.  Aliens wouldn't have it.

Having a language that is universal to all life seems tricky.  If you could find how cognition in the most general sense has a specific language, I think that would do it.  The challenge is that every natural language we know is largely arbitrary in terms of vocabulary and grammar, and arbitrariness isn't the stuff of universality.

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Posted : April 23, 2021 5:58 pm
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