We humans have a simple word to greet anyone around us. Just a ‘Hi’ and we can start the conversation and take it anywhere we want. I agree that there are other greeting words, for example, ‘Hello’, but ‘Hi’ is the most basic. We can call anyone ‘hi’ across the world, but can we use this word to communicate with someone beyond this human world, i.e. aliens? Douglas Vakoch, along with his team of scientists working at the Messaging Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (METI), has the same question as well. During an interview, he jokingly said, “It’s daunting”.
METI can be said as an extended part of the Searching for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence i.e. SETI. The goal here is to communicate a series of messages into the beyond for two years now. Northeastern University’s own Adam Cooper has some ideas on this venture. He is a linguistics expert, and said, “If you think about it, having a common foundation of understanding is at the heart of successful communication via language”.
Being the expert that he is, Cooper knows how difficult it is to communicate across languages. The key, as he says, is the necessity of establishing a common ground. We Earthlings can go back to the fundamental building blocks of language and find that common factor with the aliens’ language. Cooper said, “Many linguists support what is termed ‘design features’ of language,” which are nothing but the duality of patterning and discreteness. Cooper further added that language is made up of isolatable and repeatable units.
Cooper, in explaining this phenomenon, said, “At any linguistic level, discrete units can be identified, and these can be manipulated in any number of language-specific ways to create linguistic utterances.” If this is the case for our language, then the alien one would have to work the same way as we do. Everything aside, this research, quite peculiarly, but not surprisingly, reminds of me of 2016 sci-fi drama ‘Arrival’, where a linguist expert has to approach and somehow communicate with some extraterrestrial visitors. If we go to see the similarities, our reality is not that far from this fiction.