Sign Language in Space Opera a Practicality

Sign Language in Space Opera a Practicality

In most science fiction movies and books there’s very little to no explanation as to how the people of varying planets come to have a unified spoken language. It is often used at times to show the unity or division of the people who do or do not speak that “common” language.

On Earth, we have a language we use when we cannot speak or hear one another. Although signed language isn’t universal there are some similarities that make it easier to understand between cultures than the spoken language.

For example look at the progress being made in the core sciences. This revolutionary unifying of symbols and terms into a signed language is a huge leap forward. Imagine being able to use these scientific signs in order to communicate things that are visible through a microscope no matter where you are from. This brings the idea of a universal signed language into the realm of possibility.

There are some signs that are already on the “universal” list making it a great starting point for the deaf, divers, and others to communicate across cultures. Imagine meeting an alien race that has no spoken language but is willing to learn a signed language. It could happen and it would be a lot less difficult than learning a spoken tongue when you don’t have the same tooth to tongue ratio. However, this logic is only as good as the number of digits on a signer’s hands.

Here are some examples taken from modern media that use this approach in some way:

The Shape of Water -It is 1962, and Elisa Esposito—mute her whole life, orphaned as a child—is struggling with her humdrum existence as a janitor working the graveyard shift at Baltimore’s Occam Aerospace Research Center. Were it not for Zelda, a protective coworker, and Giles, her loving neighbor, she doesn’t know how she’d make it through the day.

Then, one fateful night, she sees something she was never meant to see, the Center’s most sensitive asset ever: an amphibious man, captured in the Amazon, to be studied for Cold War advancements. The creature is terrifying but also magnificent, capable of language and of understanding emotions…and Elisa can’t keep away. Using sign language, the two learn to communicate. Soon, affection turns into love, and the creature becomes Elisa’s sole reason to live.

The Guardian’s Code – Zehra just happens to be the first of her kind to be born deaf. But, something inside of her has changed. She’s able to do something no one else has ever done before. When a mysterious group of aliens arrives in the name of peace Zehra has more than just a bad feeling about them. She’ll be forced to put everything on the line to save the royal family before it’s too late. 

Loud As A Whisper (Star Trek The Next Generation) – Howie Seago, who is deaf, approached the show’s producers with the idea of a deaf mediator. The initial idea came from his wife, who is a fan of Star Trek. The writers originally wanted Seago’s character to learn to speak after his chorus is killed, but Seago was opposed to the idea, as it could perpetuate the practice of forcing deaf children to speak. The producers were understanding of his concerns and wrote a new draft.