Could we learn E.T.'s language?

Author:  Sheri Wells-Jensen. 

Dr. Wells-Jensen is an Associate Professor and Co-Director of the ESOL Program at Bowling Green State University. She also coordinates BGSU's Minor in LinguisticsHer teaching and research interests include phonetics, applied phonology, psycholinguistics, speech production (especially slips of the tongue), language preservation, braille and xenolinguistics.

For the next time you are on a long trip, I recommend this linguist's "car game".  Go through the alphabet, giving the name of a language for each letter: Arabic, Bulgarian, Chinese, Dutch, English, French, German, Hawaiian, Icelandic, ... When you get to the end, start over. No repeats allowed.

Given that there are around 7,000 languages spoken on Earth today, you could theoretically go around several times before you run out.

I offer you this to give some perspective on this question, which I get asked every time I say that I have taught a course in Xenolinguistics:

“If there are intelligent beings on other planets, would we be able to learn their language?”