channelled languages and similar phenomena 6 (non-historical ‘fringe’ linguistics 15)

Hi again, everybody!

A particularly modern manifestation of channelling and related/similar phenomena involves languages (spoken, written, etc.) reported as used in the context of alleged contact with extraterrestrial entities. As a matter of policy, I don’t assume here, by way of background, either that any such entities have ever interacted with human beings or that this has never occurred.

Numerous reporters who identify as UFO-contactees or abductees – some as early as George Adamski and George Hunt Williamson – have reported hearing samples of the languages used by the aliens and/or seeing samples of written language (or of what appeared to be written language). Some contactees and abductees have even claimed that they have learned such extraterrestrial languages (often, it seems, by mystical means such as ‘telepathy’ rather than by any known means; see later). These reporters produce texts written in these languages (supposedly by alien associates, or by themselves) and/or volumes of speech. (Some reporters also provide non-linguistic semiotic material.)

Such cases are in fact very numerous and varied. Linguistically-informed comments on this material are few, but Christian Macé provides a comparative account of various claims of this kind. Macé examines possible links with other (allegedly) mysterious linguistic material; for instance, he relates characters reported by Adamski to those described in a very different context (alleged ancient South American inscriptions) by Marcel Homet. Assessment of such claims would be of more interest if at least one out of two or more allegedly related sets of texts could be established as undeniably alien in origin; but of course this has never been accomplished, and in any event the similarities adduced are typically superficial and unsystematic, and thus not especially persuasive.

Since 1999 Gary Anthony, latterly in partnership with me, has been developing the ‘Alien Semiotics Project’, an endeavour to question and cooperate with abductees, witnesses and researchers, to explore the UFO abduction narratives and literature, and to involve unbiased qualified experts in the relevant fields so as to give alleged alien languages and symbols a fair appraisal using scientific methodology.

Anthony was inspired by the work of Mario Pazzaglini, who was more at home with semiotics than with linguistics proper. The linguistic conceptualisation in Pazzaglini’s material is often weak. Most strikingly, he confuses matters of script and language, the distinction between types of script (alphabetic, syllabic, logographic; in addition, Chinese and Egyptian scripts are wrongly described as ideographic), the issue of the iconic transparency of logographic symbols (pictographic/non-pictographic), and distinctions between specified named types of script (hieroglyphs, cuneiform etc.). He also states that an unknown script cannot be assigned to any type; but in fact this can be done with a high degree of reliability – even if the language itself is unknown – by applying statistical tests. Pazzaglini is also too ready to accept sensationalistic explanations for doubtful data or reports rather than psychological or other less dramatic explanations.

For our part, Anthony and I seek to consult any interested parties (whatever their roles) on the relevant issues. We request samples of as great a length as possible. Frequently, samples of alleged alien speech or writing are not long enough to permit useful linguistic analyses; shorter samples are useful only if translations – preferably ‘literal’ – are available. (See later on the issues surrounding ‘holistic’ understanding of such material.) We have asked for assistance through the ufological literature, seeking:

a) samples of alien scripts and of texts written in these scripts, with statements regarding script-type and ductus (left to right or right to left, top to bottom or bottom to top, starting where on the page) and (for alphabetic or syllabic scripts) identification of word-boundaries;

b) samples of spoken alien language, ideally recorded on tape but, if this is not possible, in the form of transcriptions either into ‘imitated spelling’ (where the sounds are represented using the spelling of English or of the reporter’s own strongest language, with identifications of the reporter’s language and/or accent) or (better) into the International Phonetic Association Alphabet;

c) translations into English (or other human languages.

Responses have been disappointingly limited, but the project remains active.

One issue here is that of the physical and psychological nature of the alleged alien users of the languages: either humanoid to a considerable degree (and inhabiting planets similar to Earth), or markedly different (or of course of an intermediate nature). In the former case, the languages envisaged, like those represented in this context in science-fiction or fantasy, might be relatively ‘normal’ languages which happen not to exist in the real world as human languages which developed on Earth. However, even the languages of humanoid aliens, being as they would be totally unrelated to any actual human language, might still infringe some of the main ‘typological’ patterns which prevail across the range of human languages (such as prevailing word order patterns) or indeed some of the few really well-established ‘human-language universals’.

These issues are obviously highly relevant to the possible fraudulent invention of languages of this kind. It is more difficult than most non-linguists imagine to invent, convincingly, even a novel human language (as opposed to an unstructured set of vocabulary items); and this applies also to more exotic ‘languages’ such as those in question here (even though it is somewhat more difficult to be confident about matters of plausibility where alleged non-human languages are at issue). Expertise in linguistics is needed in such acts of invention if the languages are to appear possibly genuine to an examining linguist. Few fraudsters and few reporters of alien languages would actually have such expertise, which suggests that if any such ‘languages’ really appeared to linguists to be plausible they might very well prove to be genuine languages (whatever their actual origin; there might be possibilities other than extraterrestrial origin). In contrast, languages which had in fact been fraudulently invented might appear too similar to known human languages, structurally and phonetically, to be genuinely of alien origin, or might simply appear implausible. (This also applies to openly invented non-human languages in fiction.)

Full references for any specific item on request! More next time!

Mark

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