How Could We Communicate With Aliens, If We Ever Find Them?


The idea of communicating with aliens, often depicted in science fiction, is now being seriously studied by scientists.

This field of study is called xenolinguistics, focusing on the potential forms of extraterrestrial languages and how we might understand them.

The Search for Alien Communication

Scientists, including biologists, anthropologists, and linguists, are exploring what non-human, off-Earth languages might look like.

Unlike the fictional Klingon language from “Star Trek,” real-world researchers are investigating how alien languages might be structured and if we can decipher them.

Douglas Vakoch, president of Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI) International, co-edited a new book titled “Xenolinguistics: Towards a Science of Extraterrestrial Language.”

This book examines human and animal communication systems to suggest how we might communicate with non-Earth intelligence.

The Role of METI

For over six decades, scientists have been searching for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) by listening for signals with radio telescopes.

METI, on the other hand, focuses on actively sending messages to potential alien civilizations, aiming to make meaningful contact.

Vakoch emphasizes the importance of conveying our intentions in these messages, not just the content.

The book proposes that universal grammar principles seen in Earth languages might apply more broadly in the universe.

Communicating Intentions

A common concern about METI is the fear of alerting hostile aliens to our existence.

Vakoch argues that any civilization capable of interstellar travel would already detect our accidental radio and TV signals.

The goal of METI is to show that we are intentionally trying to start a conversation.

The Universal Language of Math and Science

The messages we’ve sent into space so far have relied on universal principles of math and science.

Vakoch suggests that language might be an even more fundamental tool for communication, as it existed long before humans developed math and science.

Core Principles of Language

Jeffrey Punske, co-editor of the xenolinguistics book, believes that the core of language might be fundamentally constrained by external factors.

If so, it’s likely that a non-human intelligence would share this core, although their cognitive systems might differ from ours.

New Perspectives on Language

Bridget Samuels from the University of Southern California is researching the origins of language in our species and the limits of variation in human language.

Studies on animal communication have provided new insights into how human language is both unique and similar to other communication systems.

The Invariant Laws of Physics

Samuels and Punske predict that some aspects of language syntax might be shared by extraterrestrial languages due to the invariant laws of physics.

This theorizing pushes us to reconsider the uniqueness of human language, whether or not we make contact with aliens.

In conclusion, the study of xenolinguistics challenges our assumptions about human language and opens up new possibilities for communicating with extraterrestrial intelligence.

Whether we ever make contact or not, this research expands our understanding of language and communication in the universe.