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How would language change if some of us moved into the interstellar?

Imagine Noah’s ark, but floating in a sea of stars. If worse comes to worst and we really do have to abandon Earth, we’ll have to take our generation with us in order to save the next—the new generation would then become the ‘generation ship’. In order for us to save the human race,  a variation of ages would be sent to space. How could a potential move to space alter the way we speak?

First things first, we would need to take our environment with us. Everything will be on board—everything alive, that is. Maybe we’d be allowed to bring the odd memorabilia, but all packing has a priority order as we know, meaning that the heavy bits and pieces at the bottom of your shopping bag would usually go first. In this case, other than ourselves, the minuscule would take a predominant lead with bacteria, seeds and gases.

The long journey we would be embarking on also means that we would inevitably evolve over time. People will continue to be born, raised and, eventually, die. Interstellar travellers would probably have a lot less space to live their lives. Biologically, this could lead to all kinds of issues or mutations that cannot be foreseen. One other thing in particular will have to evolve too: language.

A team of linguistics professors, Andrew McKenzie and Jeffrey Punske, published an ongoing study based on Language Development during Interstellar Travel, in the April issue of Acta Futura, the journal of the European Space Agency’s Advanced Concepts Team.

In the study, they discuss how languages evolve over time as communities grow isolated from each other. In this case, our entire population couldn’t possibly fit on the ship—which sparks another discussion altogether—we would have to leave humans behind. If the ship were to come back to Earth, would the two groups still be able to understand each other, having evolved separately?

One would hope that Earth and the vessel would keep in contact with each other, but time warps in space, so communication of any kind will eventually lag. “If you’re on this vessel for 10 generations, new concepts will emerge, new social issues will come up, and people will create ways of talking about them and these will become the vocabulary particular to the ship. People on Earth might never know about these words unless there’s a reason to tell them. And the further away you get, the less you’re going to talk to people back home. Generations pass, and there’s no one really back home to talk to,” explains McKenzie.

The paper is concluded by the statement that on the generation ship “Eventually, the language or languages of the crew will diverge from those on Earth. If they start out with multiple languages, those will perhaps converge towards each other,” whereas on Earth, the opposite may happen. Language is formed by finding mutual understandings for the purpose of communication or translation. So, with a significant sum of our population subtracted and shipped away, the geography of our population would be dispersed further. The world as we know it would be, for a time, underpopulated—which may lead to more distinct language barriers and divergence.

We could argue that because of the internet, distance doesn’t control our differences in language as much as it would have in the past. Would the generation ship evolve technologically faster than Earth? It’s hard to decide without knowing exactly what resources they would discover out there  compared to our current rate of advancement.

Time on our beloved planet has proven thus far that most of the imaginable is possible. What’s stopping us from imagining a little more? Furthering our understanding is arguably humankind’s greatest trait, but it’s also the misunderstandings that push our drive to understand further. We’re aiming high to test this out, quite literally. Turns out science and fiction really are yin and yang, but their language is different.

StarRockets wants to launch advertising billboards into orbit

Two lunar eclipses took place in the last six months and we have all been raising our gazes to the sky to witness the space-spectacle that these were. Now imagine if, instead of a lunar eclipse, a giant advertisement would appear among the stars; Coca-Cola, Adidas, or Nike for instance. Well, regardless of whether the idea of using space as a platform for advertisement sparks excitement or scepticism in you, it could potentially become the sky’s next big thing as a Russian startup is currently working to project ads onto the deep blue sky, it seems as though the saying the sky is the limit might need a 2021 revamp.  

StartRocket’s ambitious project, which goes under the title of Orbital Display, aims to launch billboard advertisements to low-earth orbit using a grid of box-sized satellites, also known as CubeSats, designed in collaboration with SkolTech, a private university based in Moscow that is developing the prototype. The idea is that the small satellites would orbit around 280 miles from the ground and function by reflecting the sunlight to create a network of nanosats that work as a framework for panels to be ‘written’ on. To make sure Orbital Display would not exclusively serve commercial purposes, the startup intends to use this technology to also enable governments to project urgent information and other statements onto the grids.

Forget about Don Draper, StartRocket’s CEO and founder Vladilen Sitnikov seems more reckless than our favourite mad man. Sitnikov defines himself as an “advertising guy with a crazy idea”, as explained in the science magazine Discover. His idea does sound crazy, not because of its potential technological limits, but mainly because of the short term commercial ethos that it relies on. Technically, if properly funded, the project could easily take off by 2021, and it wouldn’t be the first nor the last commercial project floating in space. Around two thousand minisatellites are currently circulating in the sky, powered by tech companies such as Rocket Lab, Boeing, SpaceX as well as by universities and armies. The “microlaunch space race” is happening and is set to grow, but regardless of the popularity of microsatellites, being sceptical towards Sitnikov’s project is more than reasonable. 

Astronomer John Barentine, member of the American Astronomical Society’s Committee on Light Pollution, Radio Interference and Space Debris is convinced that the space billboards could increase light pollution while producing space debris. As we are still struggling to find sustainable solutions to both pollution and waste on the ground, shouldn’t we think twice before starting to pollute space in the name of advertisements?

Moreover—even though the vision of a floating luminous logo does sound tempting—in a moment when advertising is increasingly becoming hyper-personalised and everywhere in our lives, I have my doubts that a universal logo projected in the sky represents the future of advertisement. “It’s human nature to advertise everything … Brands [are] a beautiful part of humankind,” Sitnikov said in a video call with Discover. Let’s assume that his statement is accurate, just because it is human nature to advertise everything, are we sure it is human nature to advertise everywhere?