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I am creating creating a universe similar to Star Wars. It is not like Star Trek where new planets are always being found, it more like Star Wars, where the planets are known, so are the aliens, and new planets/aliens are rarely, if ever, discovered. Should I give all of the aliens a basic language? It might be no more the “hello” “goodbye” and some other basic words. This would add a layer of realism to the world I’m creating. I understand Star Wars gives most aliens basic languages. It would be scientifically realistic. I’m not sure what to do? I might make some languages deeper over time, if the need arises to use the language. Star Trek kind of just makes most aliens speak English. Their would of course be a galactic common, that language will be spoken English, but I will change what letters look like. should I make most aliens have a basic language? Thanks

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  • $\begingroup$ Do all aliens have the human habit of saying things on arrival and departure? $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Aug 15 '20 at 14:05
  • $\begingroup$ No. But many do. That was just an example. I would likely do the words that are important to that particular species. $\endgroup$ Aug 15 '20 at 14:09
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    $\begingroup$ I know this was closed, but why are you asking? If you're writing a story, there should be a purpose to the language, otherwise it's a detail that will distract from your story. Why wouldn't something like "John's eyes began to glaze as he listened to the alien's incomprehensible sounds" not suffice for your needs? "Realism" is actually a bad reason because constructing believable languages is fairly intensive. Visit Constructed Languages and see for yourself. $\endgroup$ Aug 16 '20 at 3:14
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH not to mention that for realism chances are that John wouldn't be able to comprehend enough of the language to be accurately describable. IRL if somebody completely unfamiliar with one human language listens to a conversation, it'd be hard for them to pick out words or otherwise divide the sounds into semantic elements. Words, sentences, even sound combinations might get mixed to an untrained ear. Even things like song lyrics for a known get misheard and misinterpreted when we know the language and we've heard the lyrics many many times. Why'd an alien language be more comprehensible? $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Aug 17 '20 at 12:44
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH one of the judges is just incredibly gracious with "I really hadn't head English sopen like that". I'd love to see alien Music Idol like this. As in, either aliens trying to sing human songs or humans trying to sing alien songs or both. Picture if you will, a human stands in front of a panel of judges and says "I don't know Marsian but I really liked this one" and starts imitating it. The judges just eye each other awkwardly and one asks (say, via a babel fish interpreter) Why were you citing a military speech? But you replaced half the words with "cheese" $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Aug 17 '20 at 22:12
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You should definitely give each tribe / nation / (con)federation of aliens its own language name. Whether you should also invent words in each of those language depends on the story you want to tell, and on the style you choose to tell the story.

  • Most usually, foreign languages are only mentioned but never exemplified. This has been the convention since the very beginning of literature.

    Consider for example the two epic poems which form the foundation of the European civilization: the Iliad and the Odyssey; in those poems, Homer mentions dozens of different non-Greek peoples: the Trojans themselves, of course, but also Carians, Ciconians, Dardanians, Laestrygonians, Lycians, Myrmidons, Mysians, Paeonians, Paphlagonians, Pelasgians, Phaeacians, Phrygians, and others: but not one word of their languages is used in the poems: everybody speaks Greek, because the audience, three thousand years ago as well as today, understands that the story teller provides a translation of the foreign languages in the language of the audience.

    Or take Alexandre Dumas's Three Musketeers, a story with a varied international cast, including French people, German people, Spanish people, English people: how many non-French words are there? Even the English nobility titles are Frenchified: it's "Milord" and his infamous wife "Milady de Winter".

  • But yes, in certain styles of storytelling, sprinkling the tale with foreign words serves to provide a dash of color, evoking foreign lands, or foreign ethnicities. This technique has also been used for a very long time, beginning with Roman writers who sprinkled Greek words in their plays, poems or novels to illustrate exotic or mythical locales, or to let the audience know that the characters were (low class) foreigners.

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Depends on how fast you explore new worlds.

Consider "Stargate" the movie. Watch the rich detail as Dr Jackson slowly learns the language of a single society, based on Ancient Egyptian. Figuring out the differing pronunciation of the vowels vs the language he understood while being an archaeologist. The first 20 minutes of movie time on the planet is him overcoming the language barrier. It is actually well done, and reasonably linguistically plausible.

This fits because one world is deeply explored over the 100ish minutes of the movie. We're exploring a culture to a great depth, and linguistic difficulties set up plot.

Now imagine the 200-and-something episodes of "Stargate SG1", in which they basically meet a new race of people every episode. They're exploring the universe very widely, devoting only 40ish minutes to each new society. Imagine if just the first 5 minutes of every episode were them encountering the local new words and deciphering the new language and figuring out the local words are, before switching to English for the actual plot. That would get old pretty quickly. (It may even come across as a cheap way of filling in worlds.)

Also getting old rather quickly would be an encounter on every planet having someone saying some random sounds to them, waiting for a response, before switching to English. That can occur a few times for humour, but 200 planets in it's going to get old.

If this encounter doesn't happen, and the main characters can speak the languages immediately, then it brings up a trickier concept that can break realism:

Wont that make your characters crazily over-powered?

In a large empire, like that in Star Wars, that wasn't being explored and was already unified, languages would be known in advance. Are your main characters supermen who know every language in the entire empire?

Or are they travellers that try to learn languages en-route; Similar now to learning 5 words of French while flying to Paris, then learning 5 words of German while flying to Germany. This boring part of the story can't be cut, as the audience needs to know the character has learnt the language on the way and are not supermen.

If you have thousands of worlds, and are able to explore them fairly quickly, I'd suggest dropping local spoken languages. Perhaps have the governing body issue a decree banning all languages but English, or have the main character wear clothing with English writing on it, have them famous, or on a wanted poster, or something.

However, if you're audience is going to be spending many hours watching you characters explore a single society, then by all means, make it as detailed as possible.

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    $\begingroup$ Comtrya!! Gleefully claps hands $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Aug 15 '20 at 14:40
  • $\begingroup$ Its like Star Wars where the planets are known and the stories take place in an established galaxy 🌌 $\endgroup$ Aug 15 '20 at 14:55
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There are some hints that aliens in Star Trek do not speak English, but the universal translator removes this problem both for the characters and the viewers. Every now and then there is an episode where the translator does not work and hilarity ensues.

So ...

  • If there is a true first contact, have the characters work towards understanding. If first contact happens infrequently in your stories, you can spend a moment on it. Perhaps some character saying is "I'm getting a transmission. Looks like their version of a contact database. Let's see what our computer makes of it." Or alternatively "Transmit our basic linguistic package."
  • If they meet aliens who are already familiar with Galactic culture, it would be a briefer attempt to find a common language. Similar to "Do you speak English? Parlez-vous francais? Sprechen sie deutsch? Guys, can one of you ask in Spanish?"
  • Once the characters have found a common language, narrative convention suggests to give the rest of the conversation in English.
  • Every now and then, some characters fail to find a common, fluent language, and they try to get by with half-forgotten fragments.
  • Some aliens might have distinctive ways to use the common language. You don't have to pull a Yoda ("Begun the attack of the clones has.") but look if you can find something distinctive.
  • Both human and alien characters might use some alien vocabulary in their everyday talk. A gadget that was invented by aliens and uses their name. A curse. A greeting. Food or drink that jumped species barriers. But don't overdo it, either.
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