miércoles, 25 de noviembre de 2015

Martian Language Lesson 1

It seemed a fair assumption that the language of the Martians would be
scientific in its structure. We had so much evidence of the practical
bent of their minds, and of the immense progress which they had made in
the direction of the scientific conquest of nature, that it was not to
be supposed their medium of communication with one another would be
lacking in clearness, or would possess any of the puzzling and
unnecessary ambiguities that characterized the languages spoken on the

"We shall not find them making he's and she's of stones, sticks and
other inanimate objects," said one of the American linguists. "They must
certainly have gotten rid of all that nonsense long ago."

"Ah," said a French Professor from the Sorbonne, one of the makers of
the never-to-be-finished dictionary. "It will be like the language of my
country. Transparent, similar to the diamond, and sparkling as is the

"I think," said a German enthusiast, "that it will be a universal
language, the Volapuk of Mars, spoken by all the inhabitants of that

"But all these speculations," broke in Mr. Edison, "do not help you
much. Why not begin in a practical manner by finding out what the
Martian calls himself, for instance."

This seemed a good suggestion, and accordingly several of the bystanders
began an expressive pantomime, intended to indicate to the giant, who
was following all their motions with his eyes, that they wished to know
by what name he called himself. Pointing their fingers to their own
breast they repeated, one after the other, the word "man."

If our prisoner had been a stupid savage, of course any such attempt as
this to make him understand would have been idle. But it must be
remembered that we were dealing with a personage who had presumably
inherited from hundreds of generations the results of a civilization,
and an intellectual advance, measured by the constant progress of
millions of years.

Accordingly we were not very much astonished, when, after a few
repetitions of the experiment, the Martian--one of whose arms had been
partially released from its bonds in order to give him a little freedom
of motion--imitated the action of his interrogators by pressing his
finger over his heart.

Then, opening his mouth, he gave utterance to a sound which shook the
air of the car like the hoarse roar of a lion. He seemed himself
surprised by the noise he made, for he had not been used to speak in so
dense an atmosphere.

Our ears were deafened and confused, and we recoiled in astonishment,
not to say, half in terror.

With an ugly grin distorting his face as if he enjoyed our discomfiture,
the Martian repeated the motion and the sound.


It was not articulate to our ears and not to be represented by any
combination of letters.

"Faith," exclaimed a Dublin University professor, "if that's what they
call themselves, how shall we ever translate their names when we come to
write the history of the conquest?"

"Whist, mon," replied a professor from the University of Aberdeen, "let
us whip the gillravaging villains first, and then we can describe them
by any intitulation that may suit our deesposition."

The beginning of our linguistic conquest was certainly not promising, at
least if measured by our acquirement of words, but from another point of
view it was very gratifying, inasmuch as it was plain that the Martian
understood what we were trying to do, and was, for the present, at
least, disposed to aid us.

These efforts to learn the language of Mars were renewed and repeated
every few hours, all the experience, learning and genius of the squadron
being concentrated upon the work, and the result was that in the course
of a few days we had actually succeeded in learning a dozen or more of
the Martian's words and were able to make him understand us when we
pronounced them, as well as to understand him when our ears had become
accustomed to the growling of his voice.

Finally, one day the prisoner, who seemed to be in an unusually cheerful
frame of mind, indicated that he carried in his breast some object which
he wished us to see.

With our assistance he pulled out a book!

Actually, it was a book, not very unlike the books which we have upon
the earth, but printed, of course, in characters that were entirely
strange and unknown to us. Yet these characters evidently gave
expression to a highly intellectual language. All those who were
standing by at the moment uttered a shout of wonder and of delight, and
the cry of "a book! a book!" ran around the circle, and the good news
was even promptly communicated to some of the neighboring electric ships
of the squadron. Several other learned men were summoned in haste from
them to examine our new treasure.
The Martian, whose good nature had manifestly been growing day after
day, watched our inspection of his book with evidences of great
interest, not unmingled with amusement. Finally he beckoned the holder
of the book to his side, and placing his broad finger upon one of the
huge letters--if letters they were, for they more nearly resembled the
characters employed by the Chinese printer--he uttered a sound which we,
of course, took to be a word, but which was different from any we had
yet heard. Then he pointed to one after another of us standing around.

"Ah," explained everybody, the truth being apparent, "that is the word
by which the Martians designate us. They have a name, then, for the
inhabitants of the earth."

"Or, perhaps, it is rather the name for the earth itself," said one.

But this could not, of course, be at once determined. Anyhow, the word,
whatever its precise meaning might be, had now been added to our
vocabulary, although as yet our organs of speech proved unable to
reproduce it in a recognizable form.

This promising and unexpected discovery of the Martian's book lent added
enthusiasm to those who were engaged in the work of trying to master the
language of our prisoner, and the progress that they made in the course
of the next few days was truly astonishing. If the prisoner had been
unwilling to aid them, of course, it would have been impossible to
proceed, but, fortunately for us, he seemed more and more to enter into
the spirit of the undertaking, and actually to enjoy it himself. So
bright and quick was his understanding that he was even able to indicate
to us methods of mastering his language that would otherwise, probably,
never have occurred to our minds.

In fact, in a very short time he had turned teacher and all these
learned men, pressing around him with eager attention, had become his
Garrett P Serviss, Edison´s Conquest of Mars, 1898

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