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A team of 50 humans visit Mars via a flying saucer. They discover canals and a city teeming with Martians. The Martians speak English, but how?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by James, Vincent, Mołot, L.Dutch, dot_Sp0T Jul 1 '17 at 11:30

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ Maybe because it makes it easier for the reader to understand what they are saying? $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jun 30 '17 at 21:21
  • $\begingroup$ I'm sure this is a duplicate of some question on the site, but I can't seem to find it. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jun 30 '17 at 21:22
  • $\begingroup$ Martians have become such great fans of American sitcoms and movies, so they learned to speak the language :) $\endgroup$ – Alexander Jun 30 '17 at 22:10
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling Maybe this one? How can I explain english existing in a fantasy worls? Though I feel there was a question that focused on space somewhere... $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Jul 1 '17 at 11:30
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    $\begingroup$ I do not see this as opinion based at all, anymore so than every world-building question that involves any element whatsoever of magic or fantasy. The question is "How do I plausibly justify English speaking Martians, without just hand-waving? Can I ground this in something realistic?" If THIS is opinion-based, so is just about every other question on world-building that doesn't stick to known physics! $\endgroup$ – Amadeus Jul 1 '17 at 14:53
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They are smart, and have been listening to our television and radio broadcasts for over a century. The Martians, in fact, are about a century ahead of us in electronic transmission of information. When we were first using a telegraph, they had already advanced beyond that to what is our "modern" communications infrastructure.

This includes highly compressed (using mathematical algorithms) data that, to us, always looked like just noise (the more compression you get, the more the message looks like a random string of 1s and 0s, because compression is the recognition and removal of structure in data, thereby leaving what looks like noise). (Further, no matter how fast your transmitting medium, even at the speed of light, transmitting less data is faster than transmitting more: So compression is an evergreen technology, always useful, and always better if it does more).

Plus our other infrastructure: hard-wire cables, fibre-optic, lasers, etc reduce the noise we are sending out into space considerably; we really don't have to send any noise at all if we were very concerned about that.

The Martians have chosen to minimize their own radio "leakage" and have stayed a century ahead of us in the necessary technology, so we have never noticed them. Until we arrived. But they have been monitoring OUR transmissions since we first began. That is how they know English.

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    $\begingroup$ Speed of light is about propagation delay, not amount of information content. If you transmit continuously, the information doesn't arrive any faster because it's compressed, but the information you wanted to transmit will take less time to transmit because there's less to be transmitted. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jun 30 '17 at 21:26
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    $\begingroup$ P.S. The Martians are very long-lived and even fifty years later the Martians are still pissed off that Data was killed at the end of the last Star Trek TNG movie; if we want to open trade with them, they say they are willing to cure cancer for us, in return for one little favor --- Paramount has to rewrite that ending. Convincingly, it better not be a hack job. $\endgroup$ – Amadeus Jun 30 '17 at 22:15
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A pretty standard SF workaround is that the Martians are telepathic, and to keep us from freaking out they arrange that we "hear" them in our own language. Which would really be the only way that concepts of any detail could be comfortably conveyed. It is not freaky at all when you hear a sound and realize that a nearby creature is making it, especially if the sound is words in a language you understand. Even if the creature is not moving its mouth, much.

Telepathic projections affecting visual input would be considered frightening hallucinations and it is hard to convey detailed concepts via smell, taste, or waves of raw emotion. Or waves of proprioceptive sensibility, if you are Thursby's proprioception people.

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The truth is Martians don't speak English. In fact, they speak Martian or, at least, one of the Martian languages. The Martians have thought transference or a form of linguistic telepathy. When they speak their Martian language is translated into English or whatever language is spoken by the person they are talking to.

Since this takes place in an alternate reality where the tropes of nineteen-fifties science-fiction are its reality and this includes thought transference as a means to break the language barrier between humans and aliens.

The boring alternative answer is learning English had become the latest fashion trend. Since all Martians are super-smart it only took them a few days to become completely fluent in English.

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