Science

Life and Language Beyond Earth review: How aliens might communicate

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Life and Language Beyond Earth
Raymond Hickey (Cambridge University Press)

WHAT language might an alien use? As a speculative answer, Denis Villeneuve’s epic sci-fi movie Arrival couldn’t be more intriguing. Louise the linguist is asked to board a spaceship to interpret circles of ink spattered onto glass by ghostly, seven-limbed heptapods. Their circularity expresses the aliens’ non-sequential view of time.

One of the many robust joys of Raymond Hickey’s magisterial Life and Language Beyond Earth is the blunt confidence with which he dismisses Arrival‘s circle-language. “No animal would use such a short-supply resource as their ink for primary communication,” he writes. …

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