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A human (contemporary, western) makes contact with an alien. Not wanting to engage 'governments and scientists' the human wants to communicate with the alien.

The alien is physiologically incapable of speech (and devoid of other obvious channels of communication perceptible by humans), plus devoid of any own resources (items/equipment) - "stranded". Also, lacking ability for any more expressive body language. Still, it's mentally advanced as much or somewhat more than humans, has a prehensile (if clumsy) limb (not suitable for sign language) and is able to write and draw.

Of course drawings (on provided paper) are the initial method of communication, but obviously they are very limited. The alien wants to learn the human's alphabet and written language.

What kind of resources (books, learning aids) or techniques commonly available today could the human provide? Assume budget is tight and basic secrecy is needed. There's good and good wits on both sides, but no specialist knowledge.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't really see why the alien couldn't learn our alphabet, even if it doesn't understand the oral language behind it. Deaf people can do it. If your problem is that the alien cannot write, then you can use a typewriter (or a more advanced computer). $\endgroup$ – Maxime Lucas Mar 3 '15 at 12:31
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    $\begingroup$ What senses does the alien have? This seems like rather a strange creature to have attained sentience if it can't actually do anything... $\endgroup$ – Tim B Mar 3 '15 at 13:01
  • $\begingroup$ @TimB: Hearing, touch, sight - they do have their own methods of communication - but it's imperceptible for humans' senses. (you might imagine their speech organs don't work in Earth atmosphere.) $\endgroup$ – SF. Mar 3 '15 at 13:12
  • $\begingroup$ @skysurf3000: Surely deaf people can do it. I always wondered how though. (also, they usually start with the sign language, writing only coming later.) The alien understands the concept of writing and can learn the alphabet "by rote" quite easily, but developing language by associating pictures with written words without any more specific guidance would take many years. Surely the idea of 'resources for deaf people' would work, save for the likehood that sign language is needed. $\endgroup$ – SF. Mar 3 '15 at 13:18
  • $\begingroup$ What kind of communication are we talking about here? Do you want to point him in the direction of the nearest black hole, or are you going to try and discover the meaning of life together? $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Mar 3 '15 at 14:46
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I mean absolutely no disrespect to individuals who are born with extreme disabilities, nor am I insinuating that they are somehow like this alien, but there have been people who have been born, blind and deaf, and thus have been cut of from all normal means of human communication, and yet have been able to rise above that to live happy fulfilled lives with the help of very patient and loving teachers.

The story of Helen Keller jumps to mind. Though she was not born blind and deaf, she lost those abilities from illness when she was just one year old. In-spite of that she eventually earned a college degree. If I remember correctly it was actually her that began to try to communicate by making up her own signs, which those around her began to recognize by association. Later her teacher would spell words into the palm of her hand after letting her feel an object. Eventually she learned braille and even how to feel sign language shapes made by others with their hands, and of course she spoke to others using sign language.

So while your alien could maybe not make signs, if it could draw then it would make sense it could at least see or feel letters, flashes of light, or similar stimuli. People communicated internationally for a long time using nothing but a button to type out Morse code. Surely an alien capable of drawing could push a button, or even use a keyboard.

Small animals have also been taught rudimentary communication through association of objects with sounds, smells, flashes of light etc, and have learned to communicate back needs or desires by reproducing the same using things like buttons, or levers.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is all fine and dandy if we take it at leisurely pace of many years of child growing up, a scale of a decade at least. I may not have written this in the question, but how could it be done within - say, half a year to a year? Are there books or resources that could streamline the process? Or is it all down to skill, dedication and patience of the teacher, developing new words to teach "as they go"? $\endgroup$ – SF. Mar 3 '15 at 14:20
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    $\begingroup$ I googled "books for teaching the deafblind" and came up with this right off. amazon.co.uk/Teaching-Children-Who-Deafblind-Communication/dp/… And it looks like there are a lot more resources to. I would think they would give a lot of ideas of how to go about working with your supposed alien friend. $\endgroup$ – skribe Mar 3 '15 at 14:25
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Always thought a cool Star Trek series called first contact could be separate episodes related to first contacts. The 'universal translator' although an interesting concept and designed primarily to make the show watchable without subtitles in every episode would be a far fetch. However I have thought about how to first establish communication and I think the best method would involve numbers. Other words are difficult to describe without using words where numbers can be counted. The numbers 1 through 10 drawn say as domino pips with the word underneath would be a perfect way to start. We then make an alphabet so they can see we have 26 letters and see how we combine letters to make words and the words are easy to understand across any intelligent race capable of language and allows the alien or foreigner to write their word for the same number underneath and draw their language. In less than 60 minutes the two species could easily understand the words for the numbers 1-10 and what the alphabet looks like (if the other language uses an alphabet based word system and not pictographic/hyroglyphic type words). But even if they did we'd still have a common base with with to build a shared concept translator. Once both sides could see the word and hear the word and likely see the alphabet that makes up the word they can build on those 10 known words to establish a growing lexicon of translations based on harder concepts and more complex word phrases/sentances.

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... incapable of speech (and devoid of other obvious channels of communication perceptible by humans), plus devoid of any own resources (items/equipment) - "stranded". Also, lacking ability for any more expressive body language. Still, it's mentally advanced as much or somewhat more than humans ...

when i read this, i remembered Dr. Steven Hawking as he was played in The Theory of Everything movie. even in his case, a non-computer-aided method of communication has been found, i.e. the "glass table with letters and colors" (sorry i don't know how it is called correct).

therefore, maybe his real primer tells you more than you could ask/imagine, and again, there are many publicly accessible information on his biography and life.

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    $\begingroup$ The difference is that while Hawking has even less ability to interact (just cheek twitch) vs clumsy but legible writing/drawing skills here, he developed his disability while knowing a commonly understood language. The problem is establishing the initial vocabulary on a reasonably fast schedule, with no common vocabulary to start with. $\endgroup$ – SF. Mar 25 '15 at 6:28

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