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经济学人:约翰逊语言专栏--如何与外星人交谈(2)

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Assuming that human messages actually reach their target, what would earthlings and aliens talk about? The obvious subject to focus on is mathematics; its basic concepts are often assumed to be universal. Any intelligent species might have an interest in natural numbers (1, 2, 3 and so on) as well as things such as pi. But moving beyond that to wider conversation would be far harder. Scientists have worked on “self-interpreting” languages— written in a way that aims to teach the reader the language as they go—which might make the next steps possible.

假设人类的信息真的到达了外星人那里,地球人和外星人会聊什么呢?最明显的主题是数学;通常认为数学的基本概念是普遍的。任何聪明的物种都可能对自然数(1、2、3等等)和圆周率之类的东西感兴趣。但要想超越这一范畴,开展更广泛的对话,难度要大得多。科学家一直致力于“自我解释”语言的研究,“自我解释”的写作目的是在读者阅读的过程中教会他们语言,这使得让下一步交流成为可能。

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Is there any reason to think alien communication systems would share the two key design features of human language, words and grammar? A word like “book” is a symbol for all objects that exhibit bookish qualities; would aliens also employ symbols, rather than having separate names for every object in their world? Mr Oberhaus adduces arguments that they might. Whatever type of society they inhabit, alien life-forms would have limited time and energy, as people do. It is efficient to use symbols. Similarly, human grammar allows a vast number of sentences to be made from a finite number of rules. Any resource-constrained Moon-man might develop such grammar, too.

有什么理由认为外星通讯系统会共享人类语言中词汇和语法这两个关键的设计特征?像“书”这样的词是所有表现出书卷气的物体的象征;外星人是否也会使用符号,而不是对他们世界里的每个物体都有单独的名字?奥伯豪斯先生引证了他们可能会这样做的论点。不管他们生活在什么样的社会里,外星人的时间和精力都是有限的,就像人类一样。使用符号是有效的。同样,人类语法允许大量的句子由有限数量的规则组成。任何资源受限的月球人也可能发展出这样的语法。
Even if all such hurdles were overcome, however, distance would still be a problem. Human children learn their first language by listening, trying it out and getting instant feedback. This give-and- take allows them to use fluent sentences by the age of four. In 2015 the first known exoplanet at a “goldilocks” distance from its star (not too near and not too far), and with water, was discovered 110 light-years away. A message sent today would arrive in 2129; its reply, in 2239. The kinds of exchanges depicted in sci-fi films would take lifetimes.
然而,即使所有这些障碍都被克服了,距离仍然是个问题。人类儿童通过倾听、尝试和获得即时反馈来学习母语。这种“输入并输出”的方法让人类儿童在四岁时就能使用流利的句子。2015年,第一颗已知的系外行星在距其恒星“适居带”距离(既不太近也不太远)的地方被发现,在这个行星110光年外发现了水。今天发送的消息将在2129年到达;它的答复是在2239年。科幻电影中描述的那种交流可能要花上好几代的时间。
The awesome challenges of communicating across the galaxy mean that some think it not worth the effort—to say nothing of a political question raised by Mr Oberhaus: “Who speaks for Earth?” But pondering these obstacles raises another thought, not about aliens but what humanity has in common. Linguists argue about whether languages share universal features or are unique products of local cultures; whatever the answer, the world’s 7,000-odd tongues are vastly closer to one another than anything to be found out there.
跨越星系交流的巨大挑战意味着有些人认为不值得付出努力——更不用说奥伯豪斯提出的一个政治问题了:“谁代表地球讲话?” 但思考这些障碍引发了另一个想法,不是关于外星人,而是关于人类的共同之处。语言学家们争论语言是否具有普遍的特征或者是当地文化的独特产物;不管答案是什么,世界上7000多种不同的语言彼此之间的距离比其他外星语言都要近得多。

译文由可可原创,仅供学习交流使用,未经许可请勿转载。

重点单词   查看全部解释    
obvious ['ɔbviəs]

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adj. 明显的,显然的

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finite ['fainait]

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adj. 有限的

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species ['spi:ʃiz]

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n. (单复同)物种,种类

 
universal [.ju:ni'və:səl]

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adj. 普遍的,通用的,宇宙的,全体的,全世界的

 
separate ['sepəreit]

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n. 分开,抽印本
adj. 分开的,各自的,

 
employ [im'plɔi]

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雇用,使用

 
overcome [.əuvə'kʌm]

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vt. 战胜,克服,(感情等)压倒,使受不了

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unique [ju:'ni:k]

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adj. 独一无二的,独特的,稀罕的

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communication [kə.mju:ni'keiʃn]

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n. 沟通,交流,通讯,传达,通信

 
humanity [hju:'mæniti]

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n. 人类,人性,人道,慈爱,(复)人文学科

 
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