The Series Premiere of James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction focused on aliens in science fiction. As a linguist, Paul Frommer, the linguist who created the Na’vi language in James Cameron’s Avatar, was interviewed and asked if Earth were visited by “intelligent” alien life, what do you think our first steps to establishing communication with them would be?
A: That’s a really, really hard question. [Laughs] Of course, different science fiction films have gone about it in different ways. The first thing is to try to understand what mode of communication they would have. Do they rely on vocal communication at all? Maybe, depending on what kind of creatures they are, they’re something like chameleons, and their method of communication has to do with color and color changes. Maybe their communication has to do with gestures. If they even have some sort of auditory or vocal communication, maybe they have more than one speech-generating mechanism and they can say things simultaneously, almost like two or three notes creating a chord. That’s the basic thing, figuring out what the channel of communication might be.
Then you have to know enough about them to figure out what they would even want to talk about. One thing I don’t think people have taken into account enough is the fact that if an alien civilization is advanced enough to come to us, then hopefully they will help us understand their communication. It’s not just a passive thing where we’re totally on our own. …Now, if an alien species comes to earth, you would think they would have some interest in trying to communicate with us, so it would hopefully be a two-way street. One of the things I liked about Contact was these extremely super-intelligent aliens did try to make an effort to teach us something, by including a kind of primer in the messages they sent. …That was Carl Sagan, who was a great genius, and that was a very interesting concept. So I guess what I’m saying is, hopefully it would be a two-way street. Hopefully they would help us figure out their communication, and maybe they could figure out our language possibly faster than we could figure out theirs.
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