Chapter Four - The Language Barrier

"After I explained what I thought were the reasons for the "no answer" answer to the intelligence agents, there was a great deal of upset and turmoil. A very heated discussion took place between some of the intelligence officers, military officials, psychologist and the language interpreters.


This lasted for several hours. It was finally decided that I should be allowed continue to interview the alien, provided I could get a satisfactory answer from her to the following question:"

Official Transcript of the U.S. Army Air Force Roswell Army Air Field, 509th Bomb Group

SUBJECT: ALIEN INTERVIEW, 11. 7. 1947, 3rd Session

"QUESTION - "What assurance or proof do you require from us that will make you feel safe enough to answer our questions."

"When I returned from the interview room to report the alien response to this question I received a grim and skeptical reception from the assembled intelligence agents and military personnel. They could not understand what the alien meant by this.

I admitted that I couldn't really understand what she meant either, but I was doing the best I could to articulate her telepathic intentions. I told the officials that perhaps the communication problem had to do with my inability to understand the telepathic language of the alien clearly enough to be satisfactory. I was so discouraged at that point I almost felt like giving up!

And now, there was even more arguments than before! I was sure I was going to be removed from my position, in spite of the fact that the alien refused to communicate with anyone else, or that no one else had been found who could communicate with her.

Fortunately, a very clever fellow named John Newble, who was a Japanese language specialist from the Navy, 37 (Footnote) had an explanation and a solution to the problem. He explained that, first, the problem had very little to do with the inability of the alien to communicate. It had more to do with her unwillingness to communicate with anyone other than myself. Second, in order for any clear, comprehensive communication to happen, both parties needed to understand and communicate through a common language.

Words and symbols in language convey very precise concepts and meanings. He said that the Japanese people have a lot of homonyms 38 (Footnote) in their language which cause a lot of confusion in day to day communication. They solve this problem by using standard Chinese characters 39 (Footnote) to write down the exact meanings of the word they are using. This clears up the matter for them.

Without a defined nomenclature communication was not possible beyond the rudimentary understanding between men and dogs, or between two small children. The lack of a common vocabulary of clearly defined words that all parties can use fluently, was the limiting factor in communication between all people, groups, or nations.

Therefore, he suggested that there were only two choices. I had to learn to speak the language of the alien, or the alien had to learn to speak English. Factually only one choice was possible: that I persuade Airl to learn English, and that I teach it to her with the guidance of the language specialist. No one had any objection to trying this approach, as there were no other suggestions.

The language specialists suggested that I take several children's books, and a basic reading primer, and grammar text with me into the interview room. The plan was that I would sit next to the alien and read aloud to her from the books, while pointing to the text I was reading with my finger so that she could follow along.

The theory was that the alien could eventually be taught to read, just as a child is taught to read by word and sound association with the written word, as well as instruction in fundamental grammar. They also assumed, I think, that if the alien was intelligent enough to communicate with me telepathically, and fly a space craft across the galaxy, that she could probably learn to speak a language as quickly as a 5 year old, or faster!

I returned to the interview room and proposed this idea to Airl. She did not object to learning the language, although she did not make any commitment to answer questions either.


No one else had a better idea, so we went ahead."



37 "... a Japanese language specialist from the Navy ... "
"John A. Kneubuhl, was of mixed Samoan/American ancestry, John was an acclaimed Pacific Island playwright who died in 1992. Born of Samoan, English and German ancestry, Kneubuhl grew up in his Samoan grandmother's thatched hut until he was 13 years old. He was educated at Punahou and Yale and wrote plays for the Honolulu Community Theater. He joined the US Navy in 1942, entering the US Navy Japanese Language School at the University of Colorado in July 1942 and graduated in August 1943. He served as a Navy Japanese Language Officer.


After the War, he spent 20 years as a TV writer in Hollywood, writing scripts for the Wild, Wild West, Waterfront, Markham, West Point Story, and other shows. John wrote the story for the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Bread and Circuses", although he did not receive screen credit in the finished episode. Overview: Captain Kirk and his companions are forced to fight in gladiatorial games on a planet modeled after the Roman Empire."
-- References: and ollections/jlsp/interpreter131 .doc+language+expert,+1947&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=3&gl=us.

38 "... the Japanese people have a great number of homonyms..."
"In linguistics, a homonym is one of a group of words that share the same spelling and the same pronunciation but have different meanings. Some sources only require that homonyms share the same spelling or pronunciation (in addition to having different meanings). Examples of homonyms are stalk (which can mean either part of a plant or to follow someone around), bear (animal) and bear (carry), left (opposite of right) and left (past tense of leave).


Some sources also consider the following trio of words to be homonyms, but others designate them as "only" homophones: to, too and two (actually, to, to, too, too and two, being "for the purpose or as in 'to make it easier", the opposite of "from", also, excessively, and "2", respectively). The word "homonym" comes from the conjunction of the Greek prefix homo- (meaning same) and suffix -onym (meaning name). Thus, it refers to two or more distinct words sharing the "same name"."
-- Reference:

39 "...standard Chinese characters..."
"A Chinese character or Han character (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: Hanzi) is a logogram used in writing Chinese, Japanese, sometimes Korean, and formerly Vietnamese. The number of Chinese characters contained in the Kangxi dictionary is approximately 47,035, although a large number of these are rarely used variants accumulated throughout history. Studies carried out in China have shown that full literacy requires a knowledge of between three and four thousand characters.

In the Chinese writing system, each character corresponds to a single spoken syllable. A majority of words in all modern varieties of Chinese are poly-syllabic and thus require two or more characters to write. Cognates in the various Chinese languages/dialects which have the same or similar meaning but different pronunciations can be written with the same character.


In addition, many Chinese characters were adopted according to their meaning by the Japanese and Korean languages to represent native words, disregarding pronunciation altogether."
-- Reference:

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