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If I was confronted with someone who could only communicate through symbols, my first instinct would be to also communicate through symbols. In fact the entire basis of many languages is pictorial (hieroglyphics, Chinese symbols). One thing I don't understand is why at no point was there any attempt to also communicate this way, aside from Louise scribbling her name on a sheet of paper in English using the latin alphabet. The instinct is so basic in humans, we've been doing it for centuries.

The movie also made the point that the Chinese tried to communicate through games even though the Chinese alphabet doesn't really exist since the language is deeply pictorial. It seems they would be better suited to communicate with these aliens than a native English speaker. Was this just a crass American stereotype about the Chinese (the Chinese are just paranoid and aggressive)?

Why was there no attempt to project symbols using a computer instead of relying on a linguist communicating through speech?

An add-on to this: was there any explanation of how the alien language allowed its speakers to manipulate time? Were the Egyptians/Chinese just using the wrong symbols?

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    The heptapods were not manipulating time, they were perceiving it differently. The point of the story is to give humans that gift. – matt_black Jan 30 '17 at 9:02
  • We don't actually know if they did or didn't. They go in to communicate with them hundreds of times over the course of the movie's timeframe. They might have used pictures at some point. But that's not really relevant to the story. We know how they made the first break through and then we see the results of months of work as they've figured out the language and have built a translator program. A lot of other work happened in between. – sanpaco Jan 30 '17 at 18:57
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One thing I don't understand is why at no point was there any attempt to also communicate this way, [using pictograms] aside from Louise scribbling her name on a sheet of paper in English using the latin alphabet.

What makes you so sure there wasn't any effort to communicate through pictograms? Firstly, the ship that Louise and her team were talking to was one of twelve ships that came to Earth. Secondly, Louise's team wasn't the first in the Montana ship - there was another before her which apparently didn't fare so well. That also implies the other eleven teams were trying things before she got involved, which may not have been discussed on screen.

It's entirely possible that pictograms were tried, and failed to procure a response. In fact, given how the aliens perceive time, it's entirely possible that they were waiting for Louise and it didn't matter what anyone tried until she... Arrived. (sorry, terrible pun.)

Consider this:

Abbot was killed as a result of the bomb that went off inside the ship. ("Abbot is in death process.") But the aliens must have known the explosion would happen. So Abbot knew this was how he would die. Yet, he showed up at the appointed time and allowed the bomb to detonate in his face-equivalent. Clearly, the aliens have stopped trying to change the future they see coming - whether they've proven time is immutable or whether they just gave in is never addressed, but the point is they don't try anymore. They saw Louise as the one who would eventually succeed in communicating with them and so they waited for her.

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Was this just a crass American stereotype about the Chinese (the Chinese are just paranoid and aggressive)?

How does the idea of the Chinese trying to communicate through games instead of pictograms make them "paranoid and aggressive?" The Chinese didn't become aggressive until the aliens started throwing around the word "weapon" - misleading translation though it may have been. In a real-world alien contact scenario, I'm not so sure America would respond any differently.

Also, at least two classical Chinese games that I can think of include pictograms taken from their alphabet on the pieces (Mah Jongg and Chinese Chess.) So using these games and using their pictographic alphabet are not mutually exclusive.

An add-on to this: was there any explanation of how the alien language allowed its speakers to manipulate time?

No, there wasn't any explanation of how the language "works." Although, I'm not sure "manipulate" is right word. As mentioned above, the aliens don't seem too interested in trying to change what they know is coming, even when it's bad, so being able to see the future might not necessarily mean being able to manipulate it.

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    "But the aliens must have known the explosion would happen." The way I see it, we don't actually know that. They have the ability to see forward in time, but it's not clear to me whether they can see whatever they want or they only get to see certain specific things. – user1118321 Jan 30 '17 at 3:11
  • @Steve-O Didn't Forest Whittaker say the previous guy did not last as long as her in the first visit? If so, we saw the entirety of the US attempts to communicate. True others may have tried but the star linguist never attempted this despite knowing the aliens did not communicate through speech. – Martin Jo Jan 30 '17 at 18:02
  • @MartinJo: You're right. My point was that efforts at all twelve sites were ongoing before Lousie got involved in Montana, so there was time for others two have tried things that aren't mentioned on screen. I think it was two days or so in between when news of the ships arriving was first broadcast and when the General came for her? – Steve-O Jan 30 '17 at 20:40
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    @user1118321: Also a valid point. We don't have any evidence that someone (human or alien) can glean perfect information from their memories of the future. In fact I'd be inclined to argue in general they can't - after all, our memories of the past aren't perfect. But the aliens are also better versed in "reading" the future, because they know something important will happen in 3000 years time and they know only humanity can save them. The fact that they've already ruled out any other possible solution tell us a lot about how much they can foresee. – Steve-O Jan 30 '17 at 20:43
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    In fact there was somewhat of an explanation of how the language's time-exploring features work. At some point they (Jeremy Renner to be precise) mention the theory that mastering and using a language "rewires" your brain processes to adapt your thinking to that language. Coupled with the fact that their language and grammar knows no processes but only states and is time-invariant, that's pretty good explanation. Of course it's only a rough explanation, but the audience aren't neuro-scientists. – Napoleon Wilson Feb 3 '17 at 23:38

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