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The Universal Translator [and it’s erratic translating]

November 13, 2012


I don’t really understand how the universal translator works.

I’ve watched almost all the Trek series, but that doesn’t really matter as the concept of ‘universal translation’ is pretty much the same throughout them all.

The idea is: all languages [except a few, Children of Tama, incorporeal floating Space shit, Worf when he’s angry] have similar properties. Or roots? I don’t know the right word, but they can all be deconstructed and translated into English.

But there are some things which don’t make much sense:

1] No delay?

Apart from in Enterprise, every language is instantly translatable. There’s no delay for the device to catch up.
Maybe this isn’t so hard to get our heads round. It is the future, and even human translators in our present can translate with almost no delay.

Okay, I’ll give this one a pass.

2] Why can Klingons still speak Klingon sometimes?

It’s been established in that episode where Quark, Rom and Nog crash-landed on Earth in 1947 that there only needs to be one universal translator working to make both languages understandable. The early episodes of ‘Enterprise’ showed the same thing as Archer came across a different species every week and not all of them had universal translators.

Actually, that doesn’t make sense either.
In the second or third episode, where they come across an alien ship with a murdered crew and Hoshi has panic attacks, the alien ship that appears at the end cannot understand them, despite his ship being quite powerful. Does he not have a universal translator?

Maybe most of the aliens in other Trek series don’t have them either. And it’s only the humans who can make communication possible by having theirs. It’s possible, but it would be nice if someone could clarify who’s got what exactly, maybe in one of the more tedious episodes when Mayweather or Kim is doing something dull as shit, other characters could talk about it in the subplot.

Fuck it, they could just make it the plot…put Mayweather in the background, who cares?

But why can the Klingons still speak their own language sometimes?

Do they turn their translators off for a while? But then the humans would still get the English translation.
Does it make sense?

3] How the hell does Hoshi decipher these languages so fast?

It’s mentioned in one episode, where she actually gets screen-time for once, that she’s a linguistics prodigy…but still…
How the hell does Hoshi decipher these languages so fast?

I can understand that her hearing is better than other characters’, but how exactly can she know what a word means if it’s not a noun that’s visible e.g. fire or an adjective/verb that’s actable e.g. cold/fuck. And the aliens seem to speak at natural speed, so even if she can pick out what is and isn’t a word, how can she work out the sentence structure?

It’s believable if she writes some of it down, goes to her room for a few months and comes up with something, but not in the space of a few minutes or hours.

4] The Amazing Hoshi!

As far as I can tell, Hoshi is able to learn and speak Risan, without an accent, on the first day of her arrival.
This is ridiculous.
Unless she’s a mutant?

No, she’s not a mutant, there’s no other evidence for it, which means…she’s just got a really dumb script in her hand.

I don’t really understand it, there’s no shame in having her character make mistakes if it’s her first day speaking the language. We would still understand that she’s pretty incredible at linguistics. But to not even have an accent after one day…

Maybe I’m being too harsh? It was mentioned in the previous episodes that the Enterprise crew was heading to Risa [before being side-tracked each time], so Hoshi did have time to prepare…but only if there were audio/video files in the Vulcan database that were available to her.

Maybe there were, maybe there weren’t. But it would’ve been a lot easier if Hoshi had just said once, ‘hey, I’ve been listening to the Vulcan audio files on Risa these last few weeks.’ That would’ve been enough.

No, it’s still impossible. If you study a language through movies or TV shows then it’s possible to mimic the accent of a language. In fact, you probably would sound like a ‘Risan Clint Eastwood’ if you watched enough ‘Risan Clint Eastwood’ movies. But would the Vulcans really collect Risan movies or TV shows?
Did they collect human movies or TV shows?
Does Risa even have a movie industry?
Maybe porn or Baywatch…
This could explain why Hoshi ends up fucking the alien model…okay, the subtitles may say ‘nice to meet you’, but really she’s saying, ‘my room now, fuck me like a targ.’

Forget Baywatch.
The point is: Hoshi is far too amazing at languages and seems almost inhuman. Why couldn’t they make her gifted but fallible? It would’ve been a lot more interesting to see her getting more things wrong and mixing up grammar/word order when talking to new species etc.

Actually no. 2, there were a few times in the first season where this kind of thing happened. She mistranslated some Klingon and the language of the ‘easily-offended’ aliens…and she used the wrong word in Denobulan in one episode.

These were good moments.

Her fluency in Denobulan was more believable as she’d been on board for a few months by the time of that episode, and as Phlox was the only one on board who spoke a language she didn’t know, it was plausible for her to be interested in him and, subsequently, fluent in his language.

But that damn Risan…

NOTE: The first season of Enterprise was quite good, I think. The characters, except Mayweather, got a lot of things to do, and they made quite a few mistakes. The Universal Translator was explored in more detail than in other series, but…it still doesn’t make much sense.

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 29, 2018 9:41 am

    Hoshi be like “I’ve heard 3 sentences of your language and now know the names of most nouns, like ‘spoon’, when you haven’t even mentioned the concept of food or cooking or eating!”

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