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Translating Unknown Languages

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by CivEmperor, Feb 6, 2006.

  1. CivEmperor

    CivEmperor Chieftain

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    I had thought of this question from reading the thread about the Chinese and Romans communicating. So the question is...

    Unlike the languages of Earth where there may be people in between that were brought up bilingual that could translate, ie the Persians for the Chinese and the Romans, how would we as humans go on figureing out an alien language if aliens were ever found?

    Not really history but the idea is there.
     
  2. Knight-Dragon

    Knight-Dragon Unhidden Dragon Retired Moderator

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    Moderator Action: Moved to OT, as this is beyond our scope.
     
  3. elfangor801

    elfangor801 So cold....

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    Well, think about it, assuming they make similar noises (Not likely) to us, we could do something with like flashcards and point to something and say what it is in our language. Very first grade but why wouldn't it work? Granted, with more complicated ideas and words it gets harder but that's a good starting point.
     
  4. Becka

    Becka M AS IN MARTINI

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    I think I'll cross that bridge when we come to it.
     
  5. LordRahl

    LordRahl The Objectivist

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    The language of mathematics is universal.
     
  6. Birdjaguar

    Birdjaguar Entangled Retired Moderator Supporter

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    Didn't you see "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"? They used music.
     
  7. Fetus4188

    Fetus4188 Chieftain

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    We've already translated many dead languages that are no longer spoken. I don't see how translated one that's actually being used could possibly be harder.
     
  8. Steph

    Steph Multi Many Tasks man Retired Moderator

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    We don't have to. As Star Trek or Stargate clearly shows, it is a well known fact that any alien specy already speaks English fluently
     
  9. Perfection

    Perfection The Great Head.

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    Well, the first challange is just getting a universal medium. It strikes me as unlikely that the alien senses would be exactly attune to human ones.

    Once that gets figured out really it's all about using scientific terminology to build up a common syntax.

    After that it's easy.
     
  10. carlosMM

    carlosMM Chieftain

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    well, there's a pretty good approach to get started: point at object or perfrom acts, give the word for that. Imitation by the other side will give your their word for it. Build on that database.
     
  11. Verbose

    Verbose Chieftain

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    Except that's how European explorer's in various exotic parts of the went about this:

    Which meant they tried to faithfully write down what the response sounded like - often things with meanings like "What's he pointing at?", "Your finger, you fool!" and the ever popular "I don't know" in the local language.:crazyeye:

    There's said to still be a river in Central America with a name that mean's "What's he saying?" in the local lingo.:lol:
     
  12. Verbose

    Verbose Chieftain

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    I'm not so sure...

    There's the tricky thing called "redundancy" in messages. I.e. most messages in a natural language are transmitted between speakers with a very good prior understanding over how things work in this world. Consequently they can leave out massive amounts of information as "redundant".

    As soon as you start speaking with someone who doesn't have the same store of prior knowledge communication is drastically reduced.

    Now, imagine talking to an alien. What's his frame of reference for starters? We first need to try to establish what we don't understand about each other.

    In the mean time we can essentially play logic and mathematical games, exchanging info that way.

    But that's actually very limited, as natural language is a kind of game with arbitrary rules that defy logic in interesting ways.
    And it's in that kind of social context most of (sane) humanity spends its quality time.

    Dunno about the aliens of course.:)
     
  13. Rambuchan

    Rambuchan The Funky President

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    There is always the possibility that they simply don't want to talk to us either. It'd just be :nuke: :wavey:
     
  14. MrCynical

    MrCynical Chieftain

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    Translating a dead language that is no longer spoken is incredibly difficult, and generally requires some starting point. In the case of hieroglyphics this was the Rosetta stone, and also the discovery that Coptic was distantly related to the language of ancient Egypt. With the combination of a similar spoken language, and a passage of text translated into a known language, the task became (relatively) easy. There are plenty of dead languages that do not have these starting points, and have not been translated to this day.

    With a still spoken language the task isn't quite so difficult, since the point and name an object approach can get things started, and you presumably have some cooperation from the speaker of the other language. Something along these lines must have occurred when Europeans first arrived in America, since presumably the languages would have had practically nothing in common.

    In the case of aliens though, they might well use a different means of communication than speech, which would cause further problems. Translating a language in an unfamiliar form is always going to be harder since you have fewer starting points to work from. A big problem with hieroglyphs for a while was no one was certain in which direction they were supposed to be read (in practice it varies). A more drastic case is the Incan quipus, which are still mostly untranslated.

    I've never been certain about the use of maths as a universal language. For a start an alien culture would probably use a different base than 10, and in any case once you've got the prime numbers, or pi from them, what then? You could send and recieve these in a fairly comprehensible form as a string of bleeps, but it tells you nothing about their language. Maths allows you to talk about maths, but it fairly useless for anything else.
     
  15. Verbose

    Verbose Chieftain

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    You mean they could have been observing us for some time prior to contact?;)
     
  16. carlosMM

    carlosMM Chieftain

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    true, but that only happenes if you read too much into first interpretations. Obviously, you'll need to re-ask after you have gained enough knowledge to understand each other roughly.
     
  17. WillJ

    WillJ Coolness Connoisseur

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    I thought that was love?
     
  18. blackheart

    blackheart unenlightened

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    You're wrong. They had universal translators :p
     
  19. ybbor

    ybbor Will not change his avata

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    ah yes, I remember a story someone in my church told about a missonary who went to a foreign land, and took his notebook and a pencil and started pointing at the things. The man points at a boy and the native says "sdgbi;kasd" (forget what the word was). Sio he writes down "sdgbi;kas = boy" he then points at a woman and gets "sdgbi;kasd." SO he corses it out and writes person. Then he points at a dog. "sdgbi;kasd." Living thing.
    Come to find out, in that culture you point with your lips.

    But I believe the opening post was assuming you only had a block of text from the other culture, and no people to reference it against.
     

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