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Re Mike, that's a good suggestion, I should at least glance at some
properties of jargons. It seems "Chinook Jargon" is what you were looking
for, tho "chilkoot jargon" turns up several hits from this very mailing
list :)

Adam Walker, as others have said, I will have to assume some technological
assistance. Presumably the technology would have developed while English
itself was shifting due to diplomatic uses. So it won't necessarily be
generating perfect, human phonemes, but rather something smoothed off to
the point where a few other species can actually produce it too.

...Thinking about typical hearing ranges is one of those things that hurts
my brain. I could assume the animals of Earth have a sort of typical
distribution of hearing ranges, but lots of factors probably affect this,
like the density of an atmosphere, the availability of alternatives like
sight, even the chemical ease of building good ears or good brains. Who
knows which factor is actually dominant on a galactic scale?

Herman Miller, I do think speed of communication would be a huge factor.
Even the comparatively small difference between speech and writing makes us
interact much differently. Perhaps it would be a very rare trait amongst
aliens to feel comfortable communicating with another species in real time
as they would with their own kind. There would be certain expectations
though in a functional society. Someone as slow as an Ent would in effect
be given some buttons to press for common phrases, tools for presenting a
prepared speech, and considered otherwise mute.

Regarding treating English as a translation of Common, it will probably
boil down to that anyway. I'd debated presenting things in a 'future
English' (or, deepslang, for Starslip fans). Generally speaking I really
enjoy works that do that, but given the huge gap of time it's not as if it
would be more realistic.

The idea of species with 'fixed word order' wouldn't be a more extreme Yoda
speech... we can understand Yoda (when his speech is even strange at all)
partially because human language actually does accommodate different word
orders. I'm talking about species who have a variety of languages in their
culture, but in every single one of those languages, say, the object comes
first, then some sort of context, then action, then a participant list...
or whatever. If they try to speak English, it'll be maybe odd but
understandable. But if they try to talk to another species, *all* of whose
languages put a verb first, then both species might speak incompatibly odd
versions of English.

Gricean Maxims: Whoops. I've called them "gricean axioms" once before too,
I'll have to clear my head of that somehow.

Anyway by questioning the universality of the maxims I basically mean to
point to the possibility of totally different systems. One simple
possibility, to continue using the analogy to computers (ie, communication
requires a handshake), would be a language which is more literally like a
programming language. Individuals more or less unquestioningly execute
orders given one another. Many of those orders will represent free
exchanges of information, and other orders will help temper individuals
against absolute obedience, but the basic mechanism might be 'hard-coded'
in the sense that no command could make someone stop obeying future
commands.

Another option would be the say-what-you're-thinking setup, which wouldn't
have much of a relevance filter. Individuals would learn to keep each other
on track when specific interactions needed to occur, but that's different
than implicitly crafting communication around that need.

Jörg: What's a metacivilization?

Though I agree it's basically unlikely humans would form a large empire,
the same argument would seem to apply on Earth; and we know Earth has
large-ish empires from time to time. I don't think a Galaxy-spanning empire
is fundamentally unlikely, though maybe the light-speed limit would prevent
it. So I'm assuming there was one, just so it makes sense for humans to
figure into things at all.

Regarding differences in perception... good point... I'll just have to
think about this as I write I guess. Plenty of objects are just objectively
out there though, regardless of which senses you use to perceive them. But
words like 'wet' or 'cold' might become pretty useless.

Now, regarding solitary antisocial individuals; given that octopuses are
pretty intelligent, I wouldn't want to rule out fairly antisocial creatures
becoming more advanced tool users. Most animals cooperate because of social
instincts; but imagine a solitary hunter with no social instincts or just
some territorial instincts, becoming intelligent enough to develop an
intellectual theory of individuals. Society could spread as individuals
figured out how to teach each other; or as they figured out how to steal
each others' technology. Language could conceivably evolve or be invented
as a way for individuals to keep notes; and then language acquisition could
develop as a way to steal others' notes.

Actually one of the Trillisk novels by Michael McClosky presents a scenario
where a species of individualistic inventor-types form a sort of society,
despite being apparently cripplingly afraid of one another (and other
sentients).

And Rosta: I think technology allowing humanesque speech wouldn't be that
complicated. The idea would be to take any part of an alien which has
rapid, fine muscle control, and allow movements of that muscle group to
translate to phonemes. Now certainly, not everyone would have the ability
as an adult to learn complex sequences of movements, but I think it's
reasonable to assume many sentients could. For language perception,
phonemes would need to be translated to something with similarly detailed
sensory differentiation; also whatever sense it's translated to would need
to be able to be held in consciousness long enough to parse sentences. This
is probably more difficult than the language production part, but often a
creature's native language would provide the needed sense and brain areas.

Of course, it might be a bit of a stretch to assume a galactic society
doesn't have true translation software. But then again, translating between
alien languages might be a deeply challenging task. Also if I start
assuming a realistic number of today's tech problems have been solved, I'd
quickly get a society more alien than I could easily think about. I'm
trying to challenge myself with the aliens, not the tech. :)