Friday, April 20, 2012

Q is for "Quit Pretending This Is Even Vaguely Related To The" (A To Z Challenge, Star Wars Blogathon)

What do you suppose the odds are that when the aliens find us or we find them, they'll only speak to us through music?

Lots of languages in the world are tonal languages -- languages in which the meaning of a sound made by a speaker changes, sometimes drastically, based on what tone the speaker puts into it.

This is a Thai Tongue Twister:


That is the sound ma repeated four times:

 mǎi mài mâi mái/ 

But when said with the proper tone, it means:

"Does new silk burn?" 

In a sense, all languages are musical, but tonal languages are  almost explicitly music -- the line between a piece of music and a sentence in a tonal language is blurry at best, because the same sound repeated with different tones means something drastically different.

When I heard about tonal languages, I immediately thought of the scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind that opens this post -- those five notes that anyone who's ever seen the movie (and probably lots of people who can't) can hum to themselves, some of the most famous music that ever graced a film,  and it was used to communicate between two vastly different species.

Apparently, John Williams had no real reason for picking those five notes -- he said it was more or less arbitrary from the various combinations he worked out for the movie.  And I wasn't able to find anything that talked about how or why Spielberg (who had help on the script) chose to have the aliens use music to communicate with us Earthlings.  So I will leave you with this:

And with the thought that maybe we'd better start teaching scientists how to play music, or musicians how to do science. 

Or just get some Mandarin Chinese speakers to help us out; Mandarin is a complicated tonal language, too.  I've always wanted to learn Chinese, and now this is another reason to do so.

Question number 55 in the Great SEEMINGLY NEVERENDING 100-question Star Wars Blogathon, worth 17 points:

 Which Star Wars character had a brief cameo in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and where?

Commenter number 5 gets 10 points, plus the last commenter 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.) (If you've done this, leave me a link and I'll get you the points.)

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.


Stephen Hayes said...

I was never good at math or music and it seems to me that the two are related. Music is made of notes suspended in time with mathematical precision. Many scientists believe that math is the universal language, along with music, which is why both are included on the Golden Disc that Voyager is taking outside of our solar system.

PT Dilloway, Superhero Author said...

As a subtle in-joke, Dennis Muren (who had just finished working on Star Wars) put a small R2-D2 model onto the underside of the mothership

PT Dilloway, Superhero Author said...

I don't think we have any way of knowing how the aliens will contact us or what language they will use. If we're lucky they'll have some kind of telepathy or something to let us see what's going on.

Last year on "Robot Chicken" there was a parody of "Close Encounters" where the aliens play the five notes and then the military plays five notes and eventually it turns into an epic rap/dance battle-type thing like those "Step Up" or "You Got Served" type movies.

Rusty Webb said...

I like that you often ask such deep questions... that isn't a joke by the way, you do, and I do like that.

But the common thought amongst the SETI loving types out there is that any civilization that builds things, like radio telescopes, would have to understand mathematics to do so. Sounds like sound logic to me. And I've heard it said that music is the purest form of math.

But, if we start playing theme songs to Eddie Murphy movies to aliens, we're probably assuming that they have something like musical appreciation. Or that there really are universally understood concepts, like music.

I mean, biologically, it's possible they don't have anything akin to ears, that small pressure differentials in the atmosphere are meaningless to them, maybe aliens are deaf, or only hear in a much lower tonal frequencies than we do... so, I'd think it's more likely that we'd try to communicate with an alien by challenging them to a nice game of soduku...or bridge... before whipping out the 'ol acoustic and playing free bird.

PT Dilloway, Superhero Author said...

More points! MOOOORE!

Cindy said...

I went to that Yellow Hill fundraiser page and it's blank??

Andrew Leon said...

As I've said before, though it's been awhile, you need to read The Sparrow. Seriously.

And I plan on doing my Yellow Hill thing on my S post (tomorrow's post), because I want to be able to wager the points on this weekend's whammy, so look it for it there so I can have me my pointses.

Andrew Leon said...

Okay, post is up: