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Off topic: How could we translate an alien language into one we know?
Thread poster: Triston Goodwin

Triston Goodwin  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:09
Spanish to English
+ ...
Apr 4, 2013

So here's a question that I've been wondering about lately, how exactly could be translate an alien language into English?

Aside from directly learning the language, are there any other methods or techniques? What would we do to translate an extinct language here if it had no living speakers or reference material?


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Ali Bayraktar  Identity Verified
Turkey
Member (2007)
English to Turkish
+ ...
What we have? Apr 4, 2013

What we have (texts, symbols, cuneiform etc)?
Where we have (parchment, tablet, wood, cloth etc)?
How we got it (excavation, people, other sources?
.....

Each question means another coordinate in the path to locate the content of the text.

When you reach 70%-80%, then you may guess the rest of the content by comparing with other resources.
History, palaeoanthropology, archaeology, anthropology will provide great help.

And the end you will know for sure what is it.

But it may take too much time (decades even semi-decade)

Current sciences related to the past works in that way.
Except the science History.

History can manipulate the data acquired from researches according to the politics, national interests, beliefs.

So history should be the last reference guide on this subject.

Shortly speaking, there are a lot of methods and techniques for identifying the content of an alien language.




[Edited at 2013-04-04 14:56 GMT]


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Alex Lago  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 14:09
Member (2009)
English to Spanish
+ ...
??? Apr 4, 2013

Triston Goodwin wrote:
What would we do to translate an extinct language here if it had no living speakers or reference material?


If there are no speakers and no reference material then where are you getting the "language" from?


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 21:09
Chinese to English
Gavagai! Apr 4, 2013

Triston Goodwin wrote:

So here's a question that I've been wondering about lately, how exactly could be translate an alien language into English?

Aside from directly learning the language, are there any other methods or techniques? What would we do to translate an extinct language here if it had no living speakers or reference material?


Not sure what you mean by "Aside from directly learning the language". In order to translate a language, you have to learn it somehow. Do you mean, what if we had to learn a language and the aliens weren't around to teach us? They just send us a broadcast, so we have only text to work with?

Linear B and hieroglyphics are the obvious examples of ancient languages that had to be decoded. With hieroglyphics, we started with the Rosetta Stone - and one would assume that the aliens would send us one. Not parallel texts, but texts about something so obvious (basic maths and astronomy) that we know what it says, and we can get started that way.

Otherwise, we might have to hand it over to the cryptographers, who would look for regularities and patterns.


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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 14:09
Spanish to English
+ ...
Close encounters Apr 4, 2013

In the movie, they communicated with the aliens by coloured lights and music, sort of mimicking the alien transmissions...

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Alex Hughes  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:09
Spanish to English
+ ...
You would need a universal translator Apr 4, 2013

Like in Star Trek.

I get what you mean though. I don't think there would be a way of deciphering alien languages as quickly as they do in the movies. But, I'm sure a team of linguists could decipher an unknown language given lots and lots of time (think Egyptian hieroglyphs and the discovery of the Rosetta Stone).


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ExScientiaVera  Identity Verified
Faroe Islands
Local time: 13:09
Danish to English
+ ...
Statistics analysis of likely sentences Apr 4, 2013

Statistical analysis of communications we have received can reveal the most probabilistic sentence structures. I would not even know where to start with describing articles, if a language even uses articles, or how to identify rules of grammar. But I can say there is a certain likelihood blag will be followed by blarg when preceded by blorg in sentences that contain blug.

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LEXpert  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:09
Member (2008)
Croatian to English
+ ...
Perhaps... Apr 4, 2013

all those mysterious scripts that pop up here from time to time in posts titled "What is this language?" were actually left by aliens so that we could get a head start on decoding their language for when they return?

Sorry, finally I couldn't resist! I've always been tempted to (semi-?)jokingly pipe in with "Probably alien!" whenever those posts come up, but have conscientiously refrained.

edited for typo

[Edited at 2013-04-04 17:30 GMT]


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Dave Bindon  Identity Verified
Greece
Local time: 15:09
Member (2010)
Greek to English
Linear B etc. Apr 4, 2013

As Phil said, hieroglyphics were deciphered because of the parallel text on the Rosetta Stone.

Linear B (found mainly in Minoan Crete, particularly the main palace at Knossos) was deciphered in part because of some educated guesses: what if it were a syllabary; what if certain characters which were frequently found together were the symbols for the name Knossos; and what if this syllabary was being used to write an early form of Greek? Even given that these assumptions were correct, deciphering Linear B was still a great achievement.

Linear A [also from Minoan Crete] is still a mystery. The number of different symbols allows us to guess that it's probably a syllabary. Guesses have, I presume, also been made as to which characters form the syllables of Knossos. But no one has managed to find a way to make the Linear A script fit with any known language, living or dead.

It's highly unlikely that Linear A is a unique style of human writing (neither alphabet, nor syllabary, nor hieroglyph, nor logogram). It's also unlikely that the language of such an advance culture developed in isolation, that it didn't have sister languages, that it didn't spawn daughter languages, and that the language described by Linear A is totally unlike any other human language. Yet we still cannot understand it.

So, if we humans were simply presented with an alien text (or a recording of alien speech) which is probably unlike any human language or script, I don't think we'd ever be able to understand it. Our only chance would be if the aliens very carefully taught us 'Alpha Centaurean as a Foreign Language'. Even then, their lesson about 'This is one circle, these are two circles' could be misinterpreted as 'We're sending one or two spherical bombs your way'!


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Nicole Coesel  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 14:09
Member (2012)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Dear Triston, could you make your issue more specific please? Apr 4, 2013

As far as I know - and I am sorry if I am getting this all wrong, but there is no such thing as translating the unknown into, in this case, English. Highly unlikely you would land such a job through ProZ since language pairs you master are clearly stated in your profile. I would never get, let's say, a Polish to English job, no matter how proficient I am at English ... simply because I do not understand enough Polish to turn the assignment into a professional translation.

So please do enlighten us and tell us what the required source language is? Alien, extinct?? And if you have not learned the source, or have no or little knowledge about it, how would you produce a professional translation into EN?

I'm sorry for being critical here, but to me, that what one does not master, one cannot pass on!

Greetings,
Nicole.


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Triston Goodwin  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:09
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Just a bit of fun Apr 4, 2013

Nicole Coesel wrote:


As far as I know - and I am sorry if I am getting this all wrong, but there is no such thing as translating the unknown into, in this case, English. Highly unlikely you would land such a job through ProZ since language pairs you master are clearly stated in your profile. I would never get, let's say, a Polish to English job, no matter how proficient I am at English ... simply because I do not understand enough Polish to turn the assignment into a professional translation.

So please do enlighten us and tell us what the required source language is? Alien, extinct?? And if you have not learned the source, or have no or little knowledge about it, how would you produce a professional translation into EN?

I'm sorry for being critical here, but to me, that what one does not master, one cannot pass on!

Greetings,
Nicole.



It's not anything serious ^_^

I wanted to know if there were any methodologies or processes that could theoretically be used in this situation, with extinct languages being an example of a language where there are no living speakers or no references to understanding the language. The overall question is, could we decode/translate a language that we've never seen before, and if so, how?


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ExScientiaVera  Identity Verified
Faroe Islands
Local time: 13:09
Danish to English
+ ...
Maybe there is a Proz there? Apr 5, 2013

Maybe they have their own version of Proz and we can hire them for a bit of help?

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kmtext
United Kingdom
Local time: 13:09
English
+ ...
I doubt if it's possible yet. Apr 5, 2013

We still have a number of written languages that no-one has been able to decipher as yet, despite them being of terrestrial origin, for example the language of Easter Island. Unless there is a text for comparison or a guide/glossary I think it's highly unlikely that we'll ever be able to do it.

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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 21:09
Chinese to English
Ha! Apr 5, 2013

Maybe they have their own version of Proz and we can hire them for a bit of help?


http://www.alpha-centauri-proz.com/forum/business_issues/Do_you_work_with_Earth_agencies?.html

Do you work with Earth agencies?

I'm new to the translation business. I know that agencies from "certain planets" have a bad reputation, but I thought it can't hurt to have a go. Now I know better!

1. Payment issues.
The first thing they asked me was do I accept PayPal! Has anyone even heard of that? I told them that I take payment in heavy element credits, like everyone else, and they finally accepted it. I said payment within one month, and they agreed - but they neglected to mention that they were going to put their payment on a rocket that would take 8,952 years to get here! My fees are currently somewhere just beyond the orbit of Jupiter (only decent sized planet in their system). Anyone know any good salvagers?

2. Editor.
I like working with agencies that will check my work, so I didn't mind when they said they'd arrange an editor. But then they wanted me to check the editor's so-called corrections! Never mind that it took 14 years between me transmitting the text to them and receiving the edited copy back, apparently their editor didn't know even the first thing about Hilbert spaces - the way she'd edited my text, there was a space without an orthonormal basis! LOL.
Then, of course, by the time I'd sorted out the errors and sent it back, the editor had died (very short-lived, these humans), and the PM was now president of a small Asian country. That did help with getting the payment process started, I admit...

3. Languages!
What I hadn't realised is that Earth apparently has more than one language. What we call "Earth", they call "Chinese", and there are still some people on their planet who don't speak or read it. Woeful education. So they wanted the text in other languages as well! Fortunately, I have a pirate copy of their internet from circa 2014, and it has this great gizmo called "Google Translate". Soon solved that problem!

Anyway, if anyone has any positive experiences translating for Earth, let me know, otherwise I'm just going to steer clear of them in future.


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David Friemann, MA  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 14:09
English to German
this might be cynical Apr 5, 2013

But I am afraid that there won't be too much talking upon the first encounter - guns and lasers are a truly universal language, though, and do not require translators.

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