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5 Jun, 2018 10:46

ET phone home? Chomsky’s Universal language theory could help us chat with aliens (POLL)

ET phone home? Chomsky’s Universal language theory could help us chat with aliens (POLL)

There is a universal language throughout the cosmos that, once cracked, could allow us to speak to aliens. That’s the opinion of linguistics icon Noam Chomsky, who presented his theory at a space science conference.

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Chomsky, a linguistics professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has long argued the case that the same basic grammar underscores all languages, meaning that alien visitors would find it hard to spot differences between our various tongues.

At a workshop entitled ‘Language in the Cosmos’ at the International Space Development Conference in Los Angeles last week, Chomsky argued that if there is a universal grammar on Earth, the same theory can be applied to languages from outer space – maybe one day we could even find ourselves shooting the breeze with an ET-like creature stranded on our pale blue dot.

Presenting separately, Jeffrey Punske from Southern Illinois University and Ian Roberts from the University of Cambridge, highlighted ‘Merge,’ a Chomsky-borne theory of combining individual words and repetitions to form new sentences, as the key to understanding any new alien language. "To put it whimsically, the Martian language might not be so different from human language after all," said Chomsky.

Douglas Vakoch, the founder of the group Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI) and the organizer of the workshop, has been trying to communicate with extraterrestrials for the last year. METI is trying to work out which type of message could be most understandable. For Vakoch, the idea of that human grammar could also underlie alien dialects has huge appeal.

"That's a radical shift for search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) scientists, who have scoffed at the idea of creating interstellar messages inspired by natural languages," Vakoch told Cnet.

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Professor Emeritus Gonzalo Munevar of Lawrence Technological University provided the dissenting voice. According to Munevar, aliens would most likely have different brains to humans, if they have brains at all, and so would have an entirely different way of communicating. "An intelligent creature whose main sensory modality is electric rather than visual would have patterns of thought completely foreign to us," he said.

So maybe we won’t be repetitively clicking and rhyming to communicate with aliens, and will instead just be wiped out by their superior weaponry in the good old-fashioned way.

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