Me Human, You Alien: How to Talk to an Extraterrestrial by Jonathan Vos Post (c) 1996 by Emerald City Publishing an excerpt from a book entitled THE HANDBOOK OF UFO CONTACT, to appear Spring 1997, New York: William Morrow & Co.

Copyright 1996, by Emerald City Publishing.
All rights reserved. May not be reproduced without permission.
May be posted electronically provided that it is transmitted unaltered, in its entirety, and without charge.

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Speech Lessons, Informants, and Two or More Extraterrestrials

Your best chance to start learning the extraterrestrial language is if there are two or more of them, and that they are speaking to each other. If so, the following steps are recommended, based in part on How to Learn an Unwritten Language71: (1) Determine what your best approach is to language learning. Some people learn best by merely hearing and mimicry (imitation), the way children learn, leaving the pattern making to their unconscious minds. A few people are natural mimics, who apprehend, react to, and remember new language patterns almost at once. If you are such a person, it is good luck for planet Earth, as you will not have to consciously analyze the extraterrestrial language in order to speak to the ET or ETs in a way that they will at least recognize as language. You should correct your natural bias by being particularly careful to record every ET speech act, and not being distracted by your own involvement in mimicry. You should make a concerted effort to use whatever analytical approaches are recommended in this Handbook, in addition to your own talent. Other people learn best by memorizing rules and vocabulary, then practicing speech patterns as examples of those rules. If you are such a person, then you will be virtually unable to use language patterns until you have explicit conscious insight and awareness of the relationships of sounds and system. To compensate for your bias, you must force yourself to make a social contact with the ET or ETs, thus avoiding the danger of an overly elaborate written analysis which does not contribute to the possibility of some small degree of conversation with the ET. (2) Make and effort to listen carefully, while recording, normal conversation between the two or more ETs (or, at least, any soliloquizing by a single ET). The ability to catch even a hint of the "drift of a conversation" will be a great success. At first, look and listen for the ETs' culturally acceptable indications of continued attention, or the YES of agreement. These are prerequisites for you to contribute to any dialogue or group conversation. The most likely opportunity for observing conversation between the ETs is when they are sharing a work task, such as trying to repair their UFO, or collecting samples, or tending to the medical needs of an injured ET. In case of such apparent injury, it is recommended that you don't do anything. The Hippocratic Oath of doctors says that first of all, you must do no harm. In the case of the ET, anything you do -- changing the position of the body, or wiping away fluid, or pouring water into a mouth, may be a fatal mistake. (3) Make many attempts to engage in conversations with individual ETs, using the coins, string, flashlight, and so forth as something to talk about. You should seek out chances for conversation, and should make a point of talking to every ET with whom you have direct contact. Make a particular effort with any ET which intuitively or analytically seems to be a child, based on body size or playfulness, You might well be wrong -- for example, a "dimorphic" species is one in which two sexes (if they have two sexes) may differ greatly in size or appearance -- but as we will explain in the section "What is the Meaning of Meaning?" children, especially babies, have a superior ability to learn new languages quickly. (4) Spend several brief periods, within view of the ET or ETs, listening intensively to materials recorded on your audio cassettes, and mimicking them as best you can. These materials should include both connected texts and word lists. The texts that you will repeatedly try to mimic should be short enough to be repeated several times in a single listening and rehearsal period. The purpose of doing this is that the cassette recorded accurately records such things and rhythm and intonation pattern, and if you listen often enough, you may pick up enough "feel" to be ably to mimic, albeit crudely at first. This is not likely to be possible in "free conversation" where patterns may shift too quickly for you to follow. In addition, by using the cassette recorder, you can concentrate your attention on hearing and mimicry without being confused by trying to understand the meaningful content of the sounds or of planning to say something. Listen to recorded lists of words, to try to distinguish tone, stress, and length patterns. Listening for these things should alternate between lists in which one feature is identical, and lists with contrasts between items (as discussed in our section on "By Way of Contrast." For example, if the ET language has syllables, practice with one list of ET words that have stress on the first syllable, one with stress on the second syllable, and one with stress on the third syllable. (5) Gather new data whenever possible. There are three ways to do this. (a) Record and make written notes on any ET utterance you hear, and write down or photograph the context in which it occurred. (b) If one of the ETs volunteers a special role in trying to communicate with -- the "informant" -- then use the coins, string, flashlight, and so forth to provoke or elicit language data from the informant. (c) Record conversations between ETs on cassette. It is the unelicited data (a and c) that are most likely to be smooth and accurate; elicited data is likely to be "wooden" and "foreign," contaminated with the flavor of the English language that you are using in you speech. Conversely, some ET language details can be studied and understood more quickly if the crucial examples are elicited in a patterned way, such as by moving through the list of numbers, planet names, objects that you point to, or the Periodic Table of the Elements. (6) Processing of data. When the top scientific experts begin to arrive, they will take over this important task. It is vital that each day's collection of audio, video, photographic, and written noted data be processed almost at once. A backlog of material that has not been analyzed becomes a source of frustration and a roadblock in the way of further activity. This means that all audio-recorded data should be transcribed as soon as possible (and soon after, computerized). Each ET utterance elicited from the informant should be planned to illuminate some particular problem or an example of a particular pattern. (7) Organize the Contact episodes. At least the nucleus of what you learn every couple of hours should be a planned lesson, including drilling on the sound system (4 and 9), one or more grammatical patterns to be practiced until you develop some ET language habits, and some vocabulary items (the ET name, the name for "Earth", the words for "One, Two, Three") to be memorized within the grammatical context. You are both student, trying to learn a bit of the ET language, and teacher, trying to get the ET to get a little English. (8) Drill and memorize what you learn from each session. Review old sessions. Each session, you should hope to learn something new, have the ET learn something new, and have a shared experience of mutual satisfaction with progress. What you learn should be reviewed often, and not counted as learned until you and/or the ET can use that material in "free conversation" at normal speech speed. (9) Drill on the sound system with the informant. Each session, have several intensive minutes of contrastive listening and mimicry, especially by you of ET sounds that are different from English sounds, and by the ET of English sounds that are different from ET sounds. Your cassette recorded may not be up to the task, as only high-fidelity sound equipment can accurately record fine differences between phonetic sounds (such as "sss" versus "fff", or "t" versus a glottal stop). Contrastive listening means listening for particular sounds and, especially, listening to pairs of words in which similar but contrastively different sounds occur. In such drill, you and the ET are doing intentionally and consciously what a child does unconsciously in its hours of repetitive babble. There is a possibility that would help you very much, if you are lucky. That is, the ETs may have intentionally simplified their language, and made it more logical. They might communicate through, not an ancient "natural" language, but through a more modern, deliberately designed "artificial" language. After all, humans have proposed or created over 500 such languages since the 17th century, such as Basic English, OPA, Loglan, Interglossa, and Esperanto. If the ETs have created such a language, presumably to eliminate the threat of war, to aid in complex enterprises between beings of different birthplace, and to aid in international, interplanetary, and/or interstellar communications, then they have made your job vastly more simple. But don't count on it.

Protocol and Protagoras: The Empirical Approach

In this handbook, we assume that the evidence of the ET is so overwhelming that nobody on the scene can dispute the fact that humans and aliens must now communicate. We assume that the survival and comfort of the ET is not in immediate jeopardy, so that you may concentrate on careful communications while a team is brought to bear on solving longer-term problems. We also assume that your being in the right place at the right time makes you the focus of all activity for some time to come, and gives you access to an essentially unlimited line of credit from the local government and banking institutions. If these conditions are not met, you must simply do your best to apply the lessons of this Handbook as best as you can with the more limited resources at your immediate disposal. Let's say, though, that all is well at the outset. The first step is to be sure that you can concentrate on communicating, and not be tied up in local politics. Appoint someone you trust to be Political Liaison, and issue them this order: "Your job is to keep the politicians off my back while I talk to the ET. Issue a communiquŽ at once, citing this Handbook's "Appendix: Declaration of Principles Following the Detection of Extraterrestrial Intelligence," the First Soviet-American Conference on Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence (CETI)2; U.S. President Jimmy Carter's and Secretary General of the United Nations Kurt Waldheim's statements recorded on the Voyager spacecraft record3, the International SETI Petition by Carl Sagan and friends4, and the SETI Post-Detection Protocol [see Appendix]. Invite the delegations of all nations, as well as local, county, state, and federal authorities, to convene a council to agree on a political modality. That will keep them too busy to bother me." The 1982 film by Steven Spielburg, E.T.5, one of the most successful box office draws of all time, showed us a loveable extraterrestrial, but also gave the worst possible advice for you in your own Close Encounter. In E.T., the plot hinges on well-intentioned children hiding the abandoned extraterrestrial from government authorities, on the grounds that scientists would just want to kill and dissect it. Nonsense! Your job is to make sure that the proper authorities are notified, but that you have assembled such a winning team of experts that the government can't take the lead away from you. The second step, therefore, is to get the proper technical assistance. Appoint a second trusted friend as Technical Liaison, and issue him or her this order: "I need the following people and their staffs here immediately (then get him a copy of the Appendix: People to Contact for First Contact, listed at the end of this article). Never mind, for now, who they are. Trust me, they are all influential enthuiasts for and/or experts on Communications with Extraterrestrial Intelligence (CETI). Tell them that they all work for me, and if they don't follow my orders, I won't give them access to data or list them as co-authors of anything. Go get them!" The third step is to secure local infrastructure. Appoint a third trusted friend as Logistics Commander. Tell him or her the following: "(1) reserve every hotel room, motel room, bed and breakfast, student dormitory room, and rental car or truck in a 20 mile radius; (2) phone the Regional Sales Director of AT&T, MCI, and Sprint and demand a dedicated T-3 phone line from each of them, being sure to tell each who else you asked; (3) call the PR Director of Apple, IBM, Sun, and Hewlett-Packard, tell them each that you need 100 top-of-the-line workstations and their fastest Internet server, fifty thousand gigbytes of hard disks, emergency power generators, and tell each which competitors you talked to; (4) call every restaurant and fast-food outlet within 20 miles and tell them that you'll list their names and numbers on press releases if they provide free food for the duration; (5) call the nearest major hospital and tell them you have over 100 top scientists arriving from all over the world who are already over-excited, and need stand-by medical observation and support. And get me a couple of aspirin." Theory is of little consequence right now. You need to tap the brains of masters of the field of communications and analyze how they actually work. The first man to do this was the fifth century B.C. Greek sophist Protagoras. He is credited with being the first to distinguish sentence types: narration, question, answer, command, report, prayer, and invitation. Today we classify more forms of what Firth calls "speech functions," such as: commands, requests, invitations, suggestions, advice, offers of assistance, gratitude, agreement and disagreement, greeting, leave-taking, encouragement, permission, promising, apology, threats, warning, insulting, pleadings, and so forth. "There are very many such terms in the everyday language (one might compare, on a different plane, G. W. Allport's collection of 18,000 terms in English referring to personality characteristics" 73 (p.47). Aristotle also said that Protagoras was the first to call attention to the distinctions of gender and tense. Your job is like his, except a million times harder.