In the sci-fi film Arrival, alien spaceships suddenly appear above twelve locations on Earth. The aliens—seven-limbed creatures called heptapods—are willing to let a few humans come aboard for quick chats, but there’s no universal translator gizmo to help the two species parley. Instead, each country calls upon its top linguists, including Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams.
Banks is whisked away to the nearest spaceship in Montana, tasked with untangling the heptapods’ languages and figuring out why they have come to Earth. To find out how linguists might react when faced with an extraterrestrial language, the filmmakers consulted Jessica Coon, a professor of linguistics at McGill University in Montreal. Continue reading If aliens invaded, how would we talk to them?