The Design Features of Extraterrestrial Language: A Domain-General Approach

Darcy Sperlich*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book or Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


We can understand what language entails only if we first define language, something which has no clear consensus. It is not difficult to consider known language-design features, posit what we consider to be language universals, and relate that to the topic of our hypothesized extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI) language. However, as one’s perspective on language is often determined by one’s preferred theory of language, this forces a review of the assumptions regarding the abilities of an ETI. The approach we adopt here is that language is part of our cognitive apparatus, and hence viewed from a domain-general perspective. Therefore, this chapter aims to accomplish three things: discuss the key features that make up a language, apply this to the language of an ETI, and discuss cognitive factors as they relate to ETI language design. The last factor is perhaps the most significant, as how ETI have developed cognitively greatly influences the language architecture. Specifically, the two ETI language scenarios we consider here are: 1) the base assumption that we are dealing with a natural ETI language, and 2) the ETI language has been engineered. The approach to language as an adaptation of the brain (and culture) provides a more nuanced understanding of the shape a non-human language might take.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationXenolinguistics
Subtitle of host publicationTowards a Science of Extraterrestrial Language
PublisherTaylor and Francis - Balkema
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9781000920642
ISBN (Print)9781032399591
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2023


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