Galactic Sign Language

from Way Station (1963) by Clifford D. SimakRating: 3.6     (18 ratings)

Throughout the Earth as well, in the early days, there had been sign languages, and none so well developed as that one which obtained among the aborigines of North America, so that an Amerindian, no matter what his tongue, could express himself among many other tribes.
But even so the sign language of the Indian was, at best, a crutch that allowed a man to hobble when he couldn't run. Whereas that of the galaxy was in itself a language, adaptable to many different means and methods of expression. It had been developed through millenia, whith many different peoples making contributions, and through the centuries it had been refined and shaken down and polished until today it was a communications tool that stood on its own merits.
There was need for such a tool, for the galaxy was Babel. Even the galactic science of pasimology, polished as it might be, could not surmount all the obstacles, could not guarantee, incertain cases, the basic minimum of communication. For not only were there millions of tongues, but those other languages as well which could not operate on the principle of sound because the races were incapable of sound. And even sound itself failed of efficiency when the race talked in ultrasonics others could not hear. There was telepathy, of course, but for every telepath there were a thousand races that had telepathic blocks. There were many who got along on sign languages alone and others who could communicate only by a written or pictographic system, including some who carried chemical blackboards built into their bodies. And there was that sightless, deaf, and speechless race from the mystery stars of the far side of the galaxy who used what was perhaps the most complicated of all the galactic languages -- a code of signals routed along their nervous systems.
Enoch had been at the job almost a century, and even so, he thought, with the aid of the universal sign language and the semantic translator, which was little more than a pitiful (although complicated) mechanical contrivance, he still was hard put at times to know what many of them said.

- Enoch Wallace

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