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Is it possible to control the development of language externally?

An example being aliens living in hidden spaceships outside of our atmosphere but doing things during our history to control how our language developed.

How would they do this without revealing themselves?

Edit:

The goal of the aliens is to allow two species from different planets who have not yet met to talk with relative ease. This means they can either manipulate current languages or maybe create a new language and convince everyone to learn it. The language should be known by the higher educated people on both planets, but not necessarily everyone.

This is for a story, not a conspiracy theory :P

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    $\begingroup$ You might want to give us a bit more details. What do they want to achieve? What can they do to "doing things during our history", etc. As it is, it is a bit broad... $\endgroup$ – bilbo_pingouin Aug 6 '15 at 12:52
  • $\begingroup$ They want to establish a common language between more than one species in preparation for a meeting of the species in the future. $\endgroup$ – Varrick Aug 6 '15 at 12:59
  • $\begingroup$ And how much can they do to influence us? And are they trying to influence all populations, or only some. How long they can wait? You might consider editing your question to add more precisions. $\endgroup$ – bilbo_pingouin Aug 6 '15 at 13:01
  • $\begingroup$ Edited, they've got the whole of human history as a timeframe to acheive this. $\endgroup$ – Varrick Aug 6 '15 at 13:10
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    $\begingroup$ Huh, that's where Klingon came from... $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Aug 6 '15 at 13:17
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Reading your question, I've thought of a really cool an interesting solution. It's inspired from Snow Crash, specifically the bit about neuro-linguistic programming.

To quote Wikipedia,

The book presents the Sumerian language as the firmware programming language for the brainstem, which is supposedly functioning as the BIOS for the human brain. According to characters in the book, the goddess Asherah is the personification of a linguistic virus, similar to a computer virus. The god Enki created a counter-program which he called a nam-shub that caused all of humanity to speak different languages as a protection against Asherah (a re-interpretation of the ancient Near Eastern story of the Tower of Babel).

Suppose the aliens could hardwire a language directly us, perhaps encode it into our genome so that we would naturally develop the brain connections (the connectomes, if you want to use fancy jargon) that would allow us to understand it.

It wouldn't be as obvious as allowing everyone to speak it, or forcing it on a group of people. Rather, it would be enough to allow civilizations to develop similar but non-identical versions of this language throughout history, and then allow archeologists to easily decipher the language (which is widely attested in many parts of the world). Perhaps the ease with which the language was deciphered was not lost on the archeologists, and there could be all kinds of competing theories trying to come up with explanations for this.

This would require the language to have a recognizable written form, of course. Writing might be a more reliable means of communication with aliens as well, since speech requires pretty complex equipment, whereas writing just requires a pen).

If you wanted to base your world on ours, you could take a specific language, just like Sumerian (which is actually pretty mysterious to us, though for different reasons), and develop fictional details around it, such as very similar scripts found in some ruins in meso-america dating to the 6th millenium BCE (this is before the script is attested in Sumer).

Edit: I just realized a rather amusing aspect of using Sumerian. One thing that makes Sumerian mysterious is that it's a language isolate, which is probably why Neal Stephenson picked it for Snow Crash in the first place. Having it turning up in all sorts of different places is kind of ironic, and could be a kind of easter egg to anyone who catches on.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site. Good first post. $\endgroup$ – James Aug 7 '15 at 18:48
  • $\begingroup$ Not problem, you'll find world-building has a few quirks not terribly common to other SE sites, but its very entertaining. $\endgroup$ – James Aug 7 '15 at 19:13
  • $\begingroup$ I have accepted this as the answer as it gave me the idea that all the connectome would have to do is release small amounts of a hormone such as dopamine in response to particular vocal sounds when thinking of basic concepts. A sort of dictionary map as it were. $\endgroup$ – Varrick Aug 10 '15 at 19:06
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Our alien friends already tried this by introducing constructed language, Esperanto, which has about million[1] passive speakers.

Then they realised that they do even better and constructed a language which makes it easier to understand for more aliens and Earth citizens. It is called Slovio*

With new languages you do not go very far.

You have to have real influence in order to go even deeper

Maybe the colonialism era and Big British Empire was not coincidence. But an alien plot to provide more English speakers

Maybe Eastern block, where everybody** was forced to learn Russian was not a coincidence. Maybe it served for the Aliens as a "user base" for better understanding.

And maybe, our effort putting weird languages into Google translate is not coincidence.

* Aliens speaking Slavic language are totally random and not to be connected by the fact that author of the answer also speaks Slavic language

** Not really everybody. But Russian was compulsory foreign language which was educated at least in the socialist Czechoslovakia

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If the planets contain intelligent life, the aliens can simply place a sort of "Rosetta Stone" that translates a language on the planet to a new language which would be used to communicate between each planet's species.

In real life, the real Rosetta Stone was used to translate Greek to ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs. The language was lost over time until the stone was able to translate it. Today, not everyone understands Egyptian Hieroglyphs, but some academics do. If we were to, hypothetically, meet alien life which used Egyptian Hieroglyphs, we could in fact communicate with them.

Edit:

An idea to get it more widely spoken might be to make the text encoded religious and have the aliens preform something that the species itself isn't capable of/looks like magic to them.

For example, the text may say that "He who believes may crush his enemies" then when a conflict arises, have the aliens just drop a nuke (or alien equivalent) on the believer's enemy. Several prophecies like that later, a religion may be formed.

Hopefully if everything goes right there may be a large religious following.

Many religions speak the language originally specified by the religion. For example, some Jewish people speak Hebrew which is over 5000 years old. They speak is as a first language in Israel, so to them it's natural. While the example isn't exactly common around the world, your world may have it more common.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like this answer as a way of allowing the two species to communicate, however I want to explore the idea of having both species naturally speaking a common language due to external influence. $\endgroup$ – Varrick Aug 6 '15 at 13:59
  • $\begingroup$ I like your newly added "Edit:" too. It's starting to seem like the aliens would have to be hugely integrated into a society to get people to actually pronounce the words the same as well. Maybe it will be easier to have them communicate via text and I'll have to change my story a little bit. $\endgroup$ – Varrick Aug 6 '15 at 15:14
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    $\begingroup$ Well, one thing you can do is when someone puts their finger on a word in the language on the stone, the stone "says" the word. Basically the stone would be like an electronic device. $\endgroup$ – Thatguypat Aug 6 '15 at 15:21
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Short, realistic version is No. The way language works is that each person builds their own version based on what they hear around them. So aliens with no verbal interaction have no input whatsoever. The only way for them to get input would be through direct, verbal interaction. Written interaction would be less effective, but still might add a couple vocabulary words.

Let's say that the aliens can disguise themselves as humans for the purpose of getting that direct input. They'll still have a steep, uphill battle.

I was going to write about how I'd go about subtly influencing language in a particular direction as an outsider having extensive contact with native speakers, and I'm coming up completely blank on a practical method. So here's something seriously impractical.

Children learn language primarily from peers, parents, and any other adults they spend significant time with between the ages of 2 and 5. By the time a kid is kindergarten age, most of their internal grammar is fixed, and they use grammar nearly identical to the adults around them.

So the best I can come up with is for the aliens to have a HUGE hidden presence on earth, to the point where every child can expect to interact with several of these aliens in a close manner (pre-school teacher, frequent babysitter, or similar). And these aliens use slightly different language and grammar. Some of the kids would pick up on some of the different speech patterns, and add a few to their native language. Theoretically, this could be done over many, many generations, subtly influencing the language by exposing it to a foreign input. The hidden aliens could slowly change their own language usage over generations to be more and more similar to the alien native tongue. This would be an unreliable method, involving a ludicrous amount of dedication and time on the part of the aliens, and in the end, the result would probably not be what they wanted. This has never been tested, for obvious reasons.

But really, by the time you've got a few million hidden aliens among the human population, why not just teach the alien language in schools? It'd be cheaper and easier, and if it was economically beneficial, it could easily become widely used, much like English is today. Or go the pure sci-fi route, and use telepathy beams to teach language

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