I read this short story from an anthology years ago, so I don't remember much of the details. It may have been written in the 50s to 60s.

It involves a man who has to visit a space station or an outpost in space, is exposed to alien writing and gradually ends up being unable to read his own written language. However, he is then able to read the alien writing.

Edit: There are probably more important details I'm missing here. This seems to have taken place in a small outpost/station in space, in a smaller enclosed space.

  • Very much reminds me of the Stargate SG-1 episode "The Fifth Race." I would like to know the answer to this, as well!
    – user31178
    Feb 22, 2016 at 18:08
  • Also, how many years ago did you read in and how old do you think it was then? Was in an anthology or online?
    – user31178
    Feb 22, 2016 at 18:12
  • @CreationEdge around 10 years ago, it must have been from the 50s or 60s but I'm not sure. It was part of an anthology.
    – talonx
    Feb 23, 2016 at 3:01
  • Not Megha's answer? Mid 40s there.
    – user31178
    Feb 23, 2016 at 3:02
  • Added one more detail I just remembered. I don't think it's Megha's answer (that's a nice story though that I had not read before).
    – talonx
    Feb 23, 2016 at 3:25

2 Answers 2


I found the story. It's "Stranger Station" by Damon Knight. It has already been asked before and answered.

As I suspected, I was missing some important details when I asked the question. I could recall just the part about forgetting to read his own language (meaningless squiggles on paper).

Now that I have reread it, there does not seem to be any reference to understanding alien writing or spoken language (but it's indicated that he would be able to since he loses the ability to read and understand his own).


I think this might be "Environment" by Chester S Geier. I found it in the collection The World Turned Upside Down. This collection can be read on Baen Books, and this particular story is here.

There are two men, explorers, who come to an alien city - one which seems abandoned. They are exploring and studying the city, learning how to read the language and work the gadgets. The more they learn, the more like the city builders they become... and the less like the earth men they were when they arrived. In the end they have forgotten their own language and the reason they had come to the city

the transformation is the same the city's previous inhabitants went through, turning them into crystal birds the men had assumed to be animals (free and not needing the trappings of civilization any longer).

There might be other stories that fit... but this one seems like it might be what you're looking for.

  • Wow, this must be a recurrent theme in SF, because that summary is pretty similar to Ray Bradbury's "Dark They Were, And Golden-eyed" :)
    – Andres F.
    Feb 23, 2016 at 11:49
  • 1
    @AndresF. - I came within a hair of putting that one down... either instead, or as a second answer. I figured that one is about more people, and has more to do with spoken than written language... and spent the last ten hours debating as to whether I should add it anyway
    – Megha
    Feb 23, 2016 at 12:02

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