The American linguist Noam Chomsky posited the existence of a set of grammar properties shared by all natural languages that can be attributed to some genetic components of the human race.
However, this theory was challenged by Daniel Everett, scholar of ethnolinguistics and professor at the Bentley University, in Massachusetts. Everett discovered and studied for more than 30 years a remote Amazonian tribe, the Pirahã, an indigenous hunting and gathering group who cannot count. The Pirahã do not have a mythology nor a collective memory; their language involves whistling, singing and whispering, in addition to speaking. Furthermore, in their expressions there are no words for left or right and the terminology and structures linked to numbers are almost completely non-existent.
Since the American scholar was able to communicate with them regardless of the undeniable language barrier, we can assume that in the eventuality of an alien landing we would successfully overcome any obstacle preventing us to interact. Indeed, relying on gestures and physical objects, Everett showed us that it is actually possible to understand the words and expressions of an unknown communication system, used only by a monolingual population living in a remote area.
All the more, according to Everett, this experience demonstrates that our language could be defined by the cultural context we live in, and not by genetics as argued by Chomsky. This new theory opens up the possibility of an effective intergalactic communication, since the biological differences between humans and aliens would be meaningless.
Launched during the 70s, the first space probes Voyager 1 and 2 carried an additional mission with regards to this topic: trying to reach out to other intelligent lifeforms using the Voyager Golden Record, a phonograph record which contains the sounds of nature, music and human voices, but also a selection of photographs and images of our Planet. More recently, the NASA released a free e-book that can help us to establish a meaningful contact with an extra-terrestrial civilisation.
But what if all these theories were actually useless? What if among us lived men and women specifically chosen at birth by aliens based on their superior intelligence?
10 suggested books
Archaeology, Anthropology, and Interstellar Communication
edited by Douglas A. Vakoch, e-book and pdf available on site www.nasa.gov, 2014
Why Only Us: Language and Evolution
Robert C. Berwik and Noam Chomsky, MIT Press 2016
Stanisław Lem, Mariner 2002
C’è qualcuno là fuori?
Margherita Hack and Viviano Domenici, Sperling & Kupfer 2015
Micromegas and Other Short Fictions
Voltaire, Penguin Classics 2002
Out of the Silent Planet
C.S. Lewis, HarperCollins 2005
Philip K. Dick, Gollancz 2013
Iain Banks, Orbit Books 1996
The Boundaries of Babel. The Brain and the Enigma of Impossible Languages
Andrea Moro, MIT Press 2010
A spasso con gli alieni
Emanuele Cirani e Ilaria Guarducci, Camelozampa 2012