Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Alien Language

I have written very little in the past, what, month? Year? Not quite, but it's been a while. Dega has left my mind almost entirely, so the title of my webpage is rather outdated, especially since it remains "dago" (I hope I have not mistakenly offended anyone with such a name). Fulludhét has received very little work, my world has received very little work; even so, I have still been making languages. 
     The other day I was just thinking on a more conworldy aspect of conlanging. One that unfortunately takes quite a bit of the fun out of constructing languages. That is reality. And while it may reduce the understandability of a conlang, and perhaps the availability to a human (which I assume we all are) it can be very interesting to think about what a truly alien language might look like, and what the differences could be between the alien beings and our native Earthlings, and--more to the point--how those differences could affect the languages which the alien beings speak. 
     Perhaps my inspiration for writing this was watching Star Trek (yeah, I'm a nerd in more than one way) where the aliens just all start to look the same; maybe one's ridge on their forehead is a couple of centimeters taller than the other's, and its skin color is a slightly darker hue of violet, but they're all just humans in disguise. And while this is of course greatly due to the budget constraints that make Star Trek great (remote controls that shoot laser beams, beautiful grassy, Earth landscapes a million light-years away from Earth, the list goes on), I see it elsewhere too, and I want to see more interesting beings, with something better than six fingers on each hand or four arms (two things I am both guilty of), I want to see beings with strange brains, or something in replacement of a brain, and different physical characteristics, even if their vocal apparati (apparatuses?) remain unchanged for the sake of our beloved languages.
     Perhaps I want to see this happen even if I doubt it will, but perhaps I don't want to; how many alien beings can you fit in a human body? But I digress...


The purpose of life is living; ultimately it comes down to that. One could say the purpose is to consume food, but that is so that we can have energy to live. One could say the purpose is to reproduce, but that is only so that later generations can live. One could say that it is to progress, whether technologically or genetically, but that eventually comes down to an easier, more efficient way to... you got it... live. Communication is a feature of many forms of life on Earth that allows an organism to notify another organism of something important to its survival, or another's survival. Language is a form of communication that allows a speaker to send complex information about complex topics to a receiver, and vice versa. This also helps the survival of the receiver, the sender, or even the community to live.
            An alien life-form may (and in all likelihood does) have very different needs for survival, so their language--if it exists (let's assume it does)--will carry very different meanings or uses depending on the structure of the life-form, the environment from which the life-form originates, and the needs which the life-form has in order to survive.
            Following are a number of aspects of language that will certainly vary between various life-forms:
1       If senses (and thus experiences) are different, or their importance or clarity is different between life-forms, then their emphasis or even existence in any language will be different as well.
2      If the body or life-form’s structure requires different materials to survive, these will have greater importance in the language, influencing some aspects of the language (metaphors?).
3       If the body or life-form’s structure is different than ours, then the mode of communication may (and probably will be) different as well. It may use scent, visual, tactile [whether electromagnetic contact (touch), or temperature], perhaps something with pheromones (like ants and bees), or something else entirely.
4       Another life-form may think and speak absolutely in contrast to our relative tendencies (there's some nasty ambiguity... I'll try it again. Another life-form may think and speak in an absolute manner opposed to our tendency to think and speak in a relative manner). There could also be absolute, single value measurements opposed to our ranges and comparisons. (This one seems very unlikely to me, but I suppose that is my point.)
5       Language could be structured differently than our use of nouns and verbs for actors and actions respectively. We have a level of productivity with which there is nothing to be compared, but another life-form's languages may have a greater or lesser level of productivity with which probably comes more or fewer parts of speech respectively. That is a language with lesser productivity may have words that have far longer and more complex meanings, perhaps entire sentences or clauses. Of course, some languages here on earth are like this, but that is typically a morphological thing rather than a single very unproductive word. I am sorry if I am using the term productivity incorrectly here, but I think it is what I intend.
6       Depending on the mode of communication, languages may evolve and split in many different ways and at faster and slower rates than does ours.
7       Vocabulary will also be greatly affected by drastic cultural differences that are sure to exist between two different life-forms (especially if they exist between two different nationalities of the same life-form).

1 comment:

  1. Small trivia: "Dago", in US at least, is a (somewhat archaic) derogatory term for Italians. I have only heard it used in the wild once in my life (it may have been directed at me, or at another Italian-American student in my high school -- I'm not certain). Anyway, it's a simple word, so no surprise if it happens to pop up in a conlang completely coincidentally.