How would space travel change directionals?

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eldin raigmore
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How would space travel change directionals?

Post by eldin raigmore »

Directionals do occur in natlangs; see for example Nivkh or Gilyak. And, they can be obligatory; that is, in some languages, for instance, every verb has to be marked with a direction. And the directionals can refer to a landmark. Nivkh refers to "the" river, while AIUI and IIRC some Himalayan(?) language(s?) have directionals referring to "the" mountain.

I'm not certain how speakers of such languages change their speech when they move away from the landmark their language is geared to.
Suppose directionals were obligatory in, some such language? Suppose every demonstrative, every verb, and every -essive and -lative case, had to specify up or down or north or south or east or west? Then suppose they crew a space-station or a space-ship that leaves Earth orbit and travels at least as far away as Venus or Mars? How would their speech have to change?
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Re: How would space travel change directionals?

Post by elemtilas »

eldin raigmore wrote: 10 Oct 2020 01:58 Directionals do occur in natlangs; see for example Nivkh or Gilyak. And, they can be obligatory; that is, in some languages, for instance, every verb has to be marked with a direction. And the directionals can refer to a landmark. Nivkh refers to "the" river, while AIUI and IIRC some Himalayan(?) language(s?) have directionals referring to "the" mountain.

I'm not certain how speakers of such languages change their speech when they move away from the landmark their language is geared to.
Suppose directionals were obligatory in, some such language? Suppose every demonstrative, every verb, and every -essive and -lative case, had to specify up or down or north or south or east or west? Then suppose they crew a space-station or a space-ship that leaves Earth orbit and travels at least as far away as Venus or Mars? How would their speech have to change?
Of course "up" and "down" and even "right" and "left" are meaningless in 0G.

Gravity on Venus is 90% that of Earth and Mars is about 38%, so such natural directions will have universal, and more importantly, Earth-same meaning again.

I'd suspect that space travellers at 0G would probably not alter their language any more than we do. They might add some humorous modifiers the way we would in a similar circumstance. If their language has directionals that refer to some external object, like The Mountain; they might just tape a picture of The Mountain in a central location of the spacecraft, carry on as per usual and call it a linguistic day.
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Re: How would space travel change directionals?

Post by Xonen »

eldin raigmore wrote: 10 Oct 2020 01:58I'm not certain how speakers of such languages change their speech when they move away from the landmark their language is geared to.
This actually came up in a discussion with a bunch of my friends recently; there appear to be at least some anecdotes about speakers of such languages just using the same directionals - and apparently being understood just fine - even though it's harder for a non-native observer to figure out how they know which ones to use. I don't know if this has been systematically studied, though.

On the other hand, even English sometimes uses specialized words for direction in specific contexts, such as port and starboard instead of left and right. I'd assume something similar might have to occur on spaceships, regardless of language.
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Re: How would space travel change directionals?

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Xonen wrote: 11 Oct 2020 00:27
eldin raigmore wrote: 10 Oct 2020 01:58I'm not certain how speakers of such languages change their speech when they move away from the landmark their language is geared to.
This actually came up in a discussion with a bunch of my friends recently; there appear to be at least some anecdotes about speakers of such languages just using the same directionals - and apparently being understood just fine - even though it's harder for a non-native observer to figure out how they know which ones to use. I don't know if this has been systematically studied, though.
Interesting, though not surprising. There is clearly a lot of plain and simple native speaker intuition that happens within any language. I'm sure that's at play here as well: they just know!
On the other hand, even English sometimes uses specialized words for direction in specific contexts, such as port and starboard instead of left and right. I'd assume something similar might have to occur on spaceships, regardless of language.
True. Depending on the design parameters of future space faring vessels! A space ship like the Atlantis clearly has a self-referential fore / aft ; starboard / port; and even up / down.
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Re: How would space travel change directionals?

Post by eldin raigmore »

elemtilas wrote: 11 Oct 2020 00:13
Of course "up" and "down" and even "right" and "left" are meaningless in 0G.

Gravity on Venus is 90% that of Earth and Mars is about 38%, so such natural directions will have universal, and more importantly, Earth-same meaning again.

I'd suspect that space travellers at 0G would probably not alter their language any more than we do. They might add some humorous modifiers the way we would in a similar circumstance. If their language has directionals that refer to some external object, like The Mountain; they might just tape a picture of The Mountain in a central location of the spacecraft, carry on as per usual and call it a linguistic day.
I’m actually expecting my Reptigan interstellar spacefarers to use three different systems of “East, West, North, South, Up, Down”, depending on whether they’re referring to the rotation of the nearest planet, or the ecliptic and orbits of the nearest stellar planetary system, or the overall rotation of the galaxy and revolutions of its component stars.
So they’ll have three different words sort of meaning “East”;
one will mean the direction towards which the planet rotates,
one will mean the direction toward which all the stars’ planets revolve, (or most of them, or the heaviest ones, if something screwy is going on),
and the direction towards which the galactic disk mostly rotates, and towards which most of its stars revolve about the galactic center.

They’ll also have three different words for “down”;
one for towards the center of the locally most* gravitationally-dominant planet,
one for towards the center of the locally most* gravitationally-dominant star, *(tweaks may be needed in binary systems),
and one for towards the rotational axis of the galaxy.

Nobody will use “left” or “right” in microgravity or vacuum.

In each given situation they’ll usually need only one of these systems at a time; but during their careers they’ll probably frequently run into situations where they’ll need to use two of them at once.

......

OTOH I like your solution.
Maybe the photo of the Mountain will go on the door to Captain’s quarters.
Or maybe the door to the cabin of the largest crewman.

What about the Nivkh, for whom every verb is either upstream or downstream or toward the river or away from the river or across the river? Which river would they use? And which direction would be downstream?
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Re: How would space travel change directionals?

Post by lsd »

in kopinebharsarhcakarrmyayyar, apriori philosophical language, top bottom right left always refers to the speaker unless you specify what the reference is...
in space, or elsewhere, as long as we go with our body, there won't be confusion...
otherwise it will be enough to specify the reference...
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Re: How would space travel change directionals?

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lsd wrote: 11 Oct 2020 11:58 in kopinebharsarhcakarrmyayyar, apriori philosophical language, top bottom right left always refers to the speaker unless you specify what the reference is...
in space, or elsewhere, as long as we go with our body, there won't be confusion...
otherwise it will be enough to specify the reference...
You can’t always see the other interlocutor or be sure how they’re oriented.
There’s already been an accident in space from two vehicles trying to dock with each other.
Each pilot could see the other’s vehicle well, but neither could see the other pilot.
So left and right didn’t mean the same; not even “your left or my left?” would have disambiguated.
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Re: How would space travel change directionals?

Post by lsd »

when I say I go to the right, whatever my eccentric driving position is, you would base it on the right side of my car which is usually orientated like an animal...
well on the right and the left would be meaningless in case of a flying saucer...
we would be limited to up and down...
the real problem is the orientation in the absence of speakers...
and there, one could only orient oneself from one celestial object to another or with distances, but no longer from top right to bottom left...
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Re: How would space travel change directionals?

Post by eldin raigmore »

lsd wrote: 11 Oct 2020 20:06 when I say I go to the right, whatever my eccentric driving position is, you would base it on the right side of my car which is usually orientated like an animal...
well on the right and the left would be meaningless in case of a flying saucer...
we would be limited to up and down...
the real problem is the orientation in the absence of speakers...
and there, one could only orient oneself from one celestial object to another or with distances, but no longer from top right to bottom left...
Space vehicles’ external appearances are often rotationally symmetrical. A viewer can tell front from back from the outside, but not left from right.
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Re: How would space travel change directionals?

Post by Salmoneus »

What would the Nivkh say? Oh, who knows - who knows what passes for logic in the minds of a people who voluntarily distinguish fifteen words for 'here' based on precise distance and orientation, and THEN have half a dozen different sets of those fifteen to indicate any random property of the item concerned imaginable?


More seriously: topographic directional systems are generally not about "upriver" or "inland" or whatever, as they're often labelled simplistically, but a generally ordered view of the universe, in which everything is upriver or downriver - they see location as, as it were, a gradient, rather than a flat space. Specific terms to describe these distinctions - like "toward land" or "toward the river" or whatever - are usually just our flat-land observations of how their directionals are applied in a particular place. That is, they're the symptom, not the cause. While they may of course have difficulty orienting themselves in a new location - as everybody does - and will probably have to negotiate a reference system among themselves (as everybody has to in a zero-g environment!) - there's no conceptual problem with being, for instance, far from the river. Because they don't have words for "to the river" and so on - they have a word for "down", and going to the river is how you go down in a certain place.

To be concrete, once people are in space, it'll be fairly obvious that whatever direction takes them away from home will be more of whatever direction got them to that point, and vice versa. My instinct would be that away from earth would therefore be "downhill" (/downriver, to the river, seaward, away from shore, with the current, etc) - because they've travelled away from home to get to the space station, and these systems are usually used by coastal people who see the sea as the direction away from home (because more people regularly go fishing in boats than trek into the mountains). However, it's possible that because mountains are uphill, maybe spacerockets might go uphill too, and that further from earth is therefore uphill. Come to think of it, perhaps a more plausible third option is they might see the earth-space transit as a temporary uphill hump, after which they go downhill.

But there could well be local complications. Apparently, it's a universal among Siberian and American (but not austronesian, SFAIA?) people that fire is maximally downhill. That is, the word for "out to sea" is the same as the word for "closer to the fireplace", which I guess makes sense conceptually (going to the fire and going to the sea are both common journeys away from one's resting place toward danger, from which one hopes to return). It may be then that a Nivkh would see going 'inward' in the solar system as downriver, and 'outward' as upriver. Actually, I suspect that the orbit of earth would be the reference frame, and going inward or outward of that would both be going downriver - and that when you're in the orbit, going further from earth would also be downriver, but going toward earth along the orbit would be upriver. Is this potentially confusing? Yes, but no more so than on Earth. Topography is often ambiguous. The pay-off is that it's also more intuitive and of more practical use in most circumstances.


--------------

Of course 'left' and 'right' continue to exist in zero-g. They're not gravitationally defined!

It's true that terms like "your left" are useless if you can't see what way up someone is standing or what way they are pointing. But of course that is equally true on earth! It's no goog my saying "go left" over the radio to someone when I don't know if they're doing a handstand, let alone what way they're pointing.

This could be a justification for asymmetrical spacecraft, or symmetrical spacecraft with asymmetric external markings. More likely, it's just a reason for using a more useful frame of reference in the first place. Since most space contact will be in orbits, this is easy enough:

- following an orbit in the same direction as the rotation of the planet is "east"; the reverse is "west"
- toward the planet is "port"; away is "starboard"
- constructing a line passing port to starboard, and then extending that line into a plane perpendicular to east and west, "north" is 90 degrees clockwise from "port"; "south" is the opposite
- adding velocity (i.e. moving to a faster orbit) is "up", the opposite is "down". When you change what you're orbiting, you specify this, and likewise when you land. So you could go up to earth orbit, down into luna orbit, back up to earth orbit, and then down to earth-landing
- when you arrive in a system, the local traffic control station makes sure you know the local co-ordinate system by acting as a point of reference. [since, even if you haven't noticed which way the planet is spinning, you'll notice whether you're travelling toward or away from the station broadcasting to you, and they'll confirm "you are inbound westward, at X speed" (you are headed toward us opposite to the rotation of the planet) - and if you're not in an equatorial orbit they'll tell you this). Or, if you trust ship's navigation more, you can just have two stations, with one beaming out "one!" and the other beaming out "two!", and since Two always follows west of One, you'll immediately know the local co-ordinates.


The one time orbital coordinates don't work is if you're travelling between star systems, in which case we're into deep SF and either it will be very sophisticated (based on the currents of space or whatever) or it'll be very simple (the ship is a scalene triangle in cross-section, easily defining six directions away from the axis of travel).
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Re: How would space travel change directionals?

Post by Backstroke_Italics »

Don't forget rotating space habitats would have their own centripetal up and centrifugal down. If the habitat is small enough to experience a noticeable Coriolis effect, then people would experience a rotating force on objects. Throwing a baseball would require leading, based on whether it was thrown in one direction or the other. So you would have four obvious directions:

Aim High: in the direction of movement of the rotation. Objects thrown in this direction fall faster than usual, hence the name.
Aim Low: in the opposite direction from rotation. Objects thrown in this direction travel farther than usual.
Aim Right: this is to the left, if facing the direction of rotation. Lead to the right when throwing objects.
Aim Left: this is to the right when facing the direction of rotation. Lead to the left when throwing.

And of course it's not just throwing objects that matters here. When taking a step, how a person balances will differ based on the direction they start walking. Taking a step toward Aim High when you think you're walking Aim Low will result in falling on your face. People would need to be constantly aware of which direction they were facing at all times, and would be able to communicate using these directions, even when talking over a voice connection to someone in a random part of the habitat.
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Re: How would space travel change directionals?

Post by Salmoneus »

That probably wouldn't be a major concern. If the coriolis is enough to make you fall over if you walk in the wrong direction*, then it's also going to be enough to have you lying on the floor vomiting because your inner ear has gone totally bananas. Fortunately, the habitat would have to be really, REALLY small for this to be an issue.




*bear in mind, people are brilliant at walking - it's one of the things humans are best at. Once they've acclimatised, a human can walk without conscious thought on the deck of a ship that's heaving unpredictably in every direction.
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Re: How would space travel change directionals?

Post by elemtilas »

eldin raigmore wrote: 11 Oct 2020 05:25
Spoiler:
elemtilas wrote: 11 Oct 2020 00:13
Of course "up" and "down" and even "right" and "left" are meaningless in 0G.

Gravity on Venus is 90% that of Earth and Mars is about 38%, so such natural directions will have universal, and more importantly, Earth-same meaning again.

I'd suspect that space travellers at 0G would probably not alter their language any more than we do. They might add some humorous modifiers the way we would in a similar circumstance. If their language has directionals that refer to some external object, like The Mountain; they might just tape a picture of The Mountain in a central location of the spacecraft, carry on as per usual and call it a linguistic day.
I’m actually expecting my Reptigan interstellar spacefarers to use three different systems of “East, West, North, South, Up, Down”, depending on whether they’re referring to the rotation of the nearest planet, or the ecliptic and orbits of the nearest stellar planetary system, or the overall rotation of the galaxy and revolutions of its component stars.
So they’ll have three different words sort of meaning “East”;
one will mean the direction towards which the planet rotates,
one will mean the direction toward which all the stars’ planets revolve, (or most of them, or the heaviest ones, if something screwy is going on),
and the direction towards which the galactic disk mostly rotates, and towards which most of its stars revolve about the galactic center.
Do I guess right that they understand these within a sort of "deixis of magnitude"? Some planets rotate in a retrograde manner, like Venus: would they also somehow mark the "irregular" easts?
They’ll also have three different words for “down”;
one for towards the center of the locally most* gravitationally-dominant planet,
one for towards the center of the locally most* gravitationally-dominant star, *(tweaks may be needed in binary systems),
and one for towards the rotational axis of the galaxy.
Any plans for larger scale terms such as the motions of their galaxy with respect its neighbours; or an even greater down being the direction towards their local Great Attractor?
Nobody will use “left” or “right” in microgravity or vacuum.
Makes sense. They're meaningless terms in very low gravity, except as a self-referential system (e.g. "my left wing", etc)

Perhaps they would extend the use of some kind of spatial(-temporal) coordinate system.

Perhaps in some space faring cultures, there are peculiar elements of architectural & equipment design that are intended to overcome such disorientation. Like, one culture uses a curious stack of tactile & coloured discs that indicate their favourite cardinal direction.

Question: did you actually mean "vacuum" there? Or did you intend something else! Vacuum is just a (reasonable) lack of air within a pace. The Moon has such a thin atmosphere it is essentially a vacuum, but there's still gravity for example.
In each given situation they’ll usually need only one of these systems at a time; but during their careers they’ll probably frequently run into situations where they’ll need to use two of them at once.
I'm sure the astrogators and starship captains would be quite familiar with all those systems! Planetside or local tug pilots, perhaps not so much?
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Re: How would space travel change directionals?

Post by eldin raigmore »

elemtilas wrote: 14 Oct 2020 00:06 Do I guess right that they understand these within a sort of "deixis of magnitude"? Some planets rotate in a retrograde manner, like Venus: would they also somehow mark the "irregular" easts?

Yes; and yes!
But for the most part if they’re close enough to to a planet to use the planet-centered terms they’ll be too close to use the ecliptic terms;
and for the most part if they’re close enough to a star to use the system-centered terms they’ll be too close to use the galaxy-centered terms.
I’m sure most of the experienced ones will have encountered exceptions during their careers.


Any plans for larger scale terms such as the motions of their galaxy with respect its neighbours; or an even greater down being the direction towards their local Great Attractor?
No.
At its largest the Reptigan Union’s space will be about a thousand light-years in diameter, in a galaxy over a hundred thousand light-years in diameter. It will encompass only a 10,000th of the galactic main disc or a 1,000,000th of the galactic main sphere.
If there’s a galaxy-buster sequel to my stories I haven’t even started to think about them yet.
But I imagine they’ll have science-fiction stories in which a completely unified galactic empire has to deal with the Andromedans or something like that!


Makes sense. They're meaningless terms in very low gravity, except as a self-referential system (e.g. "my left wing", etc)
Perhaps they would extend the use of some kind of spatial(-temporal) coordinate system.
Perhaps in some space faring cultures, there are peculiar elements of architectural & equipment design that are intended to overcome such disorientation. Like, one culture uses a curious stack of tactile & coloured discs that indicate their favourite cardinal direction.
I’m sure that’s all true.
By which I mean, now that you’ve suggested it to me, I’ll be sure to make it true!


Question: did you actually mean "vacuum" there? Or did you intend something else! Vacuum is just a (reasonable) lack of air within a pace. The Moon has such a thin atmosphere it is essentially a vacuum, but there's still gravity for example.
I thought I meant it! Maybe I didn’t think carefully enough.


I'm sure the astrogators and starship captains would be quite familiar with all those systems! Planetside or local tug pilots, perhaps not so much?
Planet-bound folks might be familiar only with the planet-centered terminology.
Shuttle pilots etc. would probably be quite familiar with both the planet-centered and the system-centered terms.
People who stayed in-system but away from planets would get very good at the system-centered terms but might grow rusty at both the planet-centered and the galaxy-centered terms.
Starship crewman would stay au courant with both the system-centered and the galaxy-centered terms but might grow rusty with the planet-centered terms.

Or that’s what I think.

Of course, everyone would be aware that all the systems exist; just as you’re aware of port and starboard and fore and aft and bow and stern and aloft and whatever the keelward direction gets called on a ship. And of windward and alee or leeward! Though you probably don’t use them much.
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