OT: Non-human languages (was OT: Dolphin intelligence (...))
|From:||Jörg Rhiemeier <joerg_rhiemeier@...>|
|Date:||Wednesday, July 2, 2003, 14:12|
Andreas Johansson <andjo@...> writes:
> This is related to why I scrapped my then chief coniverse in, IIRC, 1997, and
> started the one in which most of my conlangs are spoken in. The old one
> contained several intelligent extraterrestrial species, and I eventually came
> to feel that they failed to live up to my modest demand for plausibility in
> two ways: 1) the existence of several alien civilzations at roughly the same
> technological level as we but none significantly more advanced must be
> essentially nil,
> and 2) no matter how alien I tried to make the
> extraterrestrials, they still seemed way to human.
It is really hard, if not outright impossible, to invent an alien race
that is not a kind of human stereotype in disguise. Most sci-fi authors
"alienize" their aliens by giving them a non-human anatomy
(and be it a few amendments on the human body plan) and some
salient personality trait. The problem with this is that the aliens
are defined by which way they differ from humans, and the humans
thus represent a "normal type". That is of course complete bull.
One "solution" I used in a con-universe (which I have put aside
a few years ago) was the one from the Traveller RPG: an alien race
once colonized the vicinity of the solar system many thousand years
ago, and for unknown reasons relocated humans to hundreds of
planets; then the aliens conveniently disappeared. Thus,
I could mess around with lots of exotic but still human cultures
which also were fairly homogenous with regard to their tech level.
> Should we one day meet 'intelligent' extraterrestrials, we might very well be
> able to discuss maths and astronomy with them, but I'd be quite pessimistic
> about the possibilities for meaningfully discussing things involving emotions
> and Weltanschauung.
I am not very optimistic about the possibilities of inter-species conversation,
either. Their mindset will most likely be so alien that we and they have
rather little to say to each other.
> Dolphins may be a better bet, since they are not too
> alien - their brains, as far as known, work much like ours - but I still
> expect their minds to be quite different from ours, perhaps to the point of
> making communication deeper than "the fish is over there" pointless.
Possible. But as you say, the difference between human and dolphin
minds will most likely be small compared to the difference between
human and ET minds. And yet human-dolphin communication
will be difficult.
> I've never tried to make any of my conlangs 'truly non-human', not even
> Yargish, which is supposedly spoken by non-humans, because I do not believe I
> could possibly succeed. Anything I create will be either a human language, or
> not a language at all.
It is fairly easy to design a language with a *phonology* that violates
well-established universals of human language; but it is much more
difficult to come up with a clearly non-human *grammar*.
A language with a non-human phonology and a human-like grammar
is the linguistic equivalent of the usual "humans-in-disguise" aliens.
One of the more successful attempts towards a non-human grammar
is Jeffrey Henning's Fith, a sketch of which can be found at
which has a grammar based on a LIFO stack. But even that is probably
more "human-like" than what actual extraterrestrial intelligences
I for my own part don't seriously mess with non-human languages,
at least not with languages for extraterrestrials. (I occasionally
sketch languages of non-human fantasy races such as trolls
or magically animated toys, but my main conlang projects
involve human languages.) I know that whatever ideas I can
come up with will mostly lie within the range of human languages,
and thus I feel little need to invoke non-human speakers. The diversity
of human languages is interesting enough, anyway.
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