Why aliens MUST NOT have the same language as us

I have read many, many science fiction romances. They are a great way to escape from real life because they are nothing like reality. However, I am frequently disturbed in my escape by the utter ludicrousness of the aliens in those romances speaking actual English (and I don’t mean, they learned English as a second language).

I understand the problem. Human woman meets (or more often: is abducted by) aliens and now they have to interact in order for the story to move forward. Communication is a key element of any story line. The writer has to come up with a way for the hero and heroine to actually talk to each other. One such plot twist is the idea, that the alien already speaks a language equal to, or at least very similar to, modern day English.

In her Imperial series, M.K. Eidem explains this by two of the heroine’s ancestors landing in old Sumeria and introducing their own language and writing (Old Sumerian) to Earth. It is implied that the language and writing on Earth and the alien planet Carina developed in a parallel, resulting in modern day English on Earth (the heroine is American) and the very similar (some words are different, they have a gaelic feel to them) Carinian on Carina. Carina just has the one language, it seems. This idea is simply ridiculous! Fair enough, Old Sumerian could have been introduced by aliens, but after that it would have mixed with already existing Earth languages, that mixture then evolving further. The idea that the evolution of a language on two different planets with no interaction (if there had been interaction, the story wouldn’t work) would result in something understood by both is so unlikely that I may just as well call it impossible. Old Sumerian is as different from modern English as modern Chinese! Modern English evolved in Northern Europe with an influence of Latin and Greek. Old Sumerian may have had a significant influence on Modern Arabic or Hebrew but not English.

Other books have come up with similar plot twists, though Mychal Daniels at least explains it with continued visits from an alien race to Earth to „holiday“. Every time I read this I cringe. Who are these editors, allowing their authors such a lazy way to circumvent the language problem? There are many, many ways to do it in a less stupid way. In M.K. Eidem’s challenge series, the heroine and her niece are highly intelligent and learn the apparently really difficult language of the enemies, Regulian, in just a few days. So why didn’t they just learn Carinian the old-fashioned way? In her Torinian series, M.K. Eidem lets the humans learn foreign languages and cultures by using a device that you pull over your eyes, in in just one hour all the knowledge is just in your head. Other authors let their protagonists use translation glasses, implants or, my favourite kind, use the inablitlty to communicate as a plot device to engineer misunderstandings that are the bread and butter of romance writing.

So listen up science fiction romance writers! Please do some research on your ideas – I understand that you are romance writers and not language specialists or astrophysicists, but world building without using reality as your groundwork is just lazy! You may never have learned a foreign language (or been in a country where they don’t speak English) but that is no excuse!

Disclaimer: I actually really like M.K. Eidem and her Imperial series. All her books have a political dimension that you don’t often find in romance and I really enjoy that extra layer in her storylines. Also, her books are not short, which, as a fast reader, I love. Find out more on goodreads!

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2 Gedanken zu „Why aliens MUST NOT have the same language as us

  1. You raise a great point. As an avid sci-fi reader there are many, many inconsistencies that drive me nuts. Language and compatible technology are the main ones. Regarding the former, there are two great exceptions that spring to mind instantly – The Babel Fish of Douglas Adams and the telepathic field of the TARDIS in Dr Who. As for the latter, we don’t even have a universal software or hardware platform across the world and yet the human heroes are instantly familiar with alien technology.

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