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When we speak of aliens, we usually refer to life outside the Earth. But we do have words such as "alien countries", "alien landscape" and "alien customs" where the meaning is "different", "foreign" or "strange". However, as I understand it, when we say "alien language", we mean a language spoken by aliens (e.g. life outside the Earth).

Are the two terms "alien language" and "foreign language" very different?

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  • An 'undesirable alien' is someone from beyond one's borders and who is not just 'foreign' but is entirely incompatible with life as one knows it.
    – Nigel J
    Oct 23, 2018 at 20:11
  • If we’re talking about Arrival, there’s a good chance ‘alien language’ would refer to the language spo---, well, communicated by Abbott and Costello. If we’re talking about Avatar, it probably means Na’vi. In most real-world situations, though, it’s more likely to refer to a foreign, strange-sounding, but terrestrial language, since no actual alien languages are known to exist. (Of course, even Na’vi and its ilk are terrestrial languages: they were constructed by humans here on earth.) Oct 23, 2018 at 22:32

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They are, but only really due to common usage. The word comes from the Latin alius, meaning other. The concept of alien referring to extraterrestrials only began in the 1950s, so it's a relatively new usage of the word. Saying Russian or Spanish is an "alien language" would sound odd... but it can also readily be understood to mean foreign or even undecipherable.

Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs are alien in nature.

This would make sense as they are foreign and also undecipherable to most folk. Of course, the science fiction linkage of Ancient Egypt to extraterrestrials may confuse the meaning a bit.

So, the short answer is technically they are not different, but in common usage they are.

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