Gretchen: On the International Space Station, you have astronauts from the US and from other English speaking countries and you have cosmonauts from Russia. And obviously it’s very important to get your communication right if you’re on a tiny metal box circling the Earth or going somewhere. You don’t want to have a miscommunication there because you could end up floating in space in the wrong way. And so one of the things that they do on the ISS – so first of all every astronaut and cosmonaut needs to be bilingual in English and Russian because those are the languages of space.
Lauren: Yep. Wait, the language of space are English and Russian? I’m sorry, I just said ‘yep’ and I didn’t really think about it, so that’s a fact is it?
Gretchen: I mean, pretty much, yeah, if you go on astronaut training recruitment forums, which I have gone on to research this episode…
Lauren: You’re got to have a backup job, Gretchen.
Gretchen: I don’t think I’m going to become an astronaut, but I would like to do astronaut linguistics. And one of the things these forums say, is, you need to know stuff about math and engineering and, like, how to fly planes and so on. But they also say, you either have to arrive knowing English and Russian or they put you through an intensive language training course.
But then when they’re up in space, one of the things that they do is have the English native speakers speak Russian and the Russian speakers speak English. Because the idea is, if you speak your native language, maybe you’re speaking too fast or maybe you’re not sure if the other person’s really understanding you. Whereas if you both speak the language you’re not as fluent in, then you arrive at a level where where people can be sure that the other person’s understanding. And by now, there’s kind of this hybrid English-Russian language that’s developed. Not a full-fledged language but kind of a-
Lauren: Space Creole!
Gretchen: Yeah, a Space Pidgin that the astronauts use to speak with each other! I don’t know if anyone’s written a grammar of it, but I really want to see a grammar of Space Pidgin.
Excerpt from Episode 1 of Lingthusiasm: Speaking a single language won’t bring about world peace. Listen to the full episode, read the transcript, or check out the show notes. (via lingthusiasm)