Lincos (artificial language)

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Lincos (an abbreviation of the Latin phrase lingua cosmica) is a constructed language first described in 1960 by Dr. Hans Freudenthal in his book Lincos: Design of a Language for Cosmic Intercourse, Part 1. It is a language designed to be understandable by any possible intelligent extraterrestrial life form, for use in interstellar radio transmissions. Freudenthal considered that such a language should be easily understood by beings not acquainted with any Earthling syntax or language. Lincos was designed to be capable of encapsulating "the whole bulk of our knowledge."

Concepts and range[edit]

The Lincos "dictionary", intended to be transmitted first before any additional messages, begins with a simple pattern of pulses intended to establish the terminology for natural numbers and basic arithmetic (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division) in base two. The concepts of equality, comparison, variables and constants are also illustrated by a series of examples, and then finally propositional logic, set theory and first-order logic. The next section of the Lincos dictionary establishes vocabulary for describing time, introducing means for measuring durations, referring to moments in time, and talking about past and future events. The third section is perhaps the most complex, and attempts to convey the concepts and language necessary to describe behavior and conversation between individuals. It uses examples to introduce actors speaking to each other, asking questions, disapproving, quoting other people, knowing and wanting things, promising, and playing. Finally, the fourth section describes the concepts and language relating to mass, space, and motion. This last section goes so far as to describe physical features of human beings and of the Solar System.

A second book was planned but never written that would have added four more sections to the dictionary: "Matter", "Earth", "Life" and "Behavior 2". Other researchers have since extended the language somewhat on their own. One example is CosmicOS. Another is a second-generation Lingua Cosmica[1] developed by the Dutch-Swedish astronomer and mathematician Alexander Ollongren[2] of Leiden University, using constructive logic.

For decades, no actual transmissions were made using Lincos; it remained largely a theoretical exercise, until Canadian astrophysicists Yvan Dutil and Stéphane Dumas, working at the Canadian Defense Research Establishment, created a noise-resistant coding system for messages aimed at communicating with extraterrestrial civilizations. In 1999, the astrophysicists encoded a message in Lincos and used the Yevpatoria RT-70 radio telescope in Ukraine to beam it towards close stars. The experiment was repeated (using other close stars as target) in 2003. The message was a series of pages describing some basic mathematics, physics and astronomy.[3] The Dutil–Dumas experiment was promoted by an organization called Encounter 2001.[4]


An example of Lincos from section 3 of Freudenthal's book, showing one individual asking another individual questions:

Lincos text Meaning
Ha Inq Hb ?x 2x=5 Ha says to Hb: What is the x such that 2x=5?
Hb Inq Ha 5/2 Hb says to Ha: 5/2.
Ha Inq Hb Ben Ha says to Hb: Good.
Ha Inq Hb ?x 4x=10 Ha says to Hb: What is the x such that 4x=10?
Hb Inq Ha 10/4 Hb says to Ha: 10/4.
Ha Inq Hb Mal Ha says to Hb: Bad.
Hb Inq Ha 1/4 Hb says to Ha: 1/4.
Ha Inq Hb Mal Ha says to Hb: Bad.
Hb Inq Ha 5/2 Hb says to Ha: 5/2.
Ha Inq Hb Ben Ha says to Hb: Good.

Note the difference between "good" and "bad" as compared to "true" and "false"; 10/4 is a true answer to the question, so Ver ("true") would be a valid response, but since it wasn't reduced to lowest terms, it wasn't what Ha wanted and so he responded Mal ("bad") instead.

Another example, showing meta-conversation:

Lincos text Meaning
Ha Inq Hb ?x 4x=10 Ha says to Hb: What is the x such that 4x=10?
Hb Inq Hc ?y y Inq Hb ?x 4x=10 Hb says to Hc: Who asked me for the x such that 4x=10?
Hc Inq Hb Ha Hc says to Hb: Ha.

Popular culture[edit]

In the motion picture Contact, SETI astronomers receive a radio transmission from space that has a Lincos-like dictionary embedded in the message.

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Invitation to ETI
  3. ^ Webb, Stephen Where Is Everybody?, Praxis Publishing Ltd, 2002, p. 260
  4. ^ Encounter 2001, promoters of the experiment by Dutil and Dumas which encoded a message in Lincos and beamed it towards close stars.

External links[edit]