Wednesday, April 18, 2012

O is for Oh, man is that A To Z Thing Still Going On? (A to Z Challenge, Star Wars Blogathon)

This morning, as I drove in to work and tried to ignore the soul-crushing tedium of rush hour -- it takes me 15 minutes to get almost to work and 17 minutes to go the last 1.2 miles to my office, and oh how I wish we had public transportation I could take -- I had this thought:

What if, when we finally get in touch with the aliens, they don't speak their own language?

Oh, I'm crazy? Crazy like a Tralfamadorian.  Were they crazy? I don't remember.  I think they were actually kind of sane.  Anyways, that's what I'm crazy like, which is to say, not crazy at all.

Consider the only frame of reference we have for communications with other planets: us.  We are beaming communications out to the stars at a furious rate, including but not limited to (as we lawyers like to say) Australia sending 20,000 Tweets to the cosmos.  (The aliens now know exactly what Nathan Fillion thinks about stuff and junk.) 

Those communications cannot move faster than the speed of light.  One of the nearest planets is Gliese581, only 20 light years away.  So if we shot a beam of light with some sort of communication in it towards Gliese-- say, we let Gliese581 know that by the time the communication gets to them, Nathan Fillion will feel free to tell them the endings of all the movies that were released this week and they can just suck it up with whatever appendages they use for sucking -- it would get there in 20 years. 

Imagine then the Gliese581ians turn around and respond immediately because, say, they all just happened to be checking their I-mailTM (that's I-mail, short for Interstellar mail and as I have decided to become a patent troll only for trademarks I have now trademarked that name) right as it arrived (their response would probably be something like "Thanks for spoiling The Hunger Games for us, Nathan Fillion!"), their response would take 20 year, at least, to get back to us.

So it'll be 2052 at least by the time we find out whether the Gliese581ians think  Nathan Fillion is funny or if maybe they're a little put out by him, too, now, and that may not seem like such a long time but 50 years ago, our language was a little different than it is now:  People in 1962 didn't use the same slang as we did and many pop cultural references people in 1962 would take for granted we don't get nowadays, which is why my kids don't think I'm hilarious.

How many people, today, for example, would know what The Watusi is? 




The problem gets even worse if you take longer to get the message there.  Back in 1787, it was common to have that extended S in writing that makes Congress look like Congrefs in formal writings, and that was only 225 years ago.


What about going back, say, 700 years?  Here's a snippet of language then:


Ymende. þet þis boc is uolueld ine þe eve of þe holy apostles Symon an Iudas / of ane broþer of þe cloystre of sanynt Austin of Canterburi / ine þe yeare of oure lhordes beringe 1340.


That's English, as they spoke it in Kent in the 14th century.  And that's what Nathan Fillion's tweets will look like to our descendants if it takes 350 years for our messages to reach a star and then they send one back.


Worser still, what if the people (?) who send the message are not the people we get back in touch with?  The Russians were the first ones to really reach space on our planet, but if you (you being an alien) surveyed the Earth now you would probably try to get in touch with someone in the United States, which means that if you got a communication from the Sputnik satellite (it only beeped, but let's pretend) and then spent the last 60 years traveling here and preparing to deal with what you assumed was the dominant culture and then got to our planet and, while your ships were cloaked did a quick technological survey and landed where you figured the most dominant culture was, you'd end u maybe in the US, maybe in Tokyo or Shanghai, but probably not in Moscow, and you'd be all ready to drink vodka and tell Yakov Smirnov jokes and pound your shoe on the table, that being the extent of my knowledge about Russian culture, but we wouldn't get it because we're not Russian, we're American (or we're Chinese or Japanese if that's where you, the hypothetical alien, landed.)

In other words, the alien alphabets we study may well be as alien to the aliens as they are to us when we finally make that first contact that actually was probably made back in 1947.

There's my thoughts for the day.  Here's question number 54 in the Great However Long It Takes, 100-Question Star Wars Blogathon, worth 30 points:

 What was Mace Windu's homeworld?


PT got yesterday's question right, and Emperor Blutonatine got the 10 points for being the last commenter on the post.  I like that rule, so I'm going to make it permanent: the person who leaves the last comment on a post gets 10 bonus points, the last commenter being the person whose comment was last  when I put up the next post on this blog. 

Today, that last commenter gets 10 points, plus commenter number 4 gets 10 points.

************************
Remember: You can get 1,000 points by mentioning the Yellow Hill fundraiser on your blog; here's the post where I explain that, and you can  click here to go directly to the Yellow Hill fundraising page.  If you don't want the points, you can in the alternative link to/mention it and get a free book of mine.(Find my books here.)

Have you written your blogfest entry? The Triweekly Blogfest Challenge -- prize is $10 -- is to post something on the theme of "Han shot first, but Time-Traveling Elvis shot second" by April 29.

Here are the standings.


98 comments:

Rusty Webb said...

Haruun Kal?

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

Everytime I saw him, he was on Coruscant. So I'm saying Coruscant.

Andrew Leon said...

You know, that's kind of a disturbing thought.
Except, not really.
I should have had that thought!

Andrew Leon said...

Oh, is there a deadline for that Yellow Hill thing? Because I was thinking about posting about it with my letter Y post. Or, maybe, I'll just stick it in tomorrow.

PT Dilloway, Superhero Author said...

I guess we should just hope the aliens have a universal translator or a Babelfish. Or maybe we should get started on making one. Though really in 700 years we'll probably all be communicating in text message speak. Or just memes of cats.

Rusty Webb said...

If aliens were able to take the beeping from sputnik and figure out Russian comedians from the 80's then I think they won't have any issues dealing with our cultural drift.

I'm sure they'll be done with us when they get their first directed message from earth in their Imail and it's an offer for mail enhancement.

Andrew Leon said...

Going for last...
Of course, then, I'll be going off to sleep :(

PT Dilloway, Superhero Author said...

I should stay up all night and then not go to work just so I can keep refreshing this page and making comments.

Andrew Leon said...

If you do that, you deserve the points.

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