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Mav

Universal Translator - Optional?

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This has bugged me since TNG. Like most Trekkies, I've seen all of TNG, DS9, Voyager, Enterprise and even my share of TOS (which I never cared for really).

 

Point being, in almost all those series, why do Universal Translators only work when they are "needed"? Case in point, in TNG the UT is built into Starfleet Comm Badges. Yet there are numerous instances where an alien, say a Klingon, is clearly around a Starfleet officer who has a UT, and one moment they are translating it into English (which IIRC is the official language of Starfleet?) yet in another instance literally within the same scene, the Klingon will speak Klingonese.

 

Now, if it was just like, instances with Klingon I'd understand, as there are in both canon and non-canon ways, words in English that don't translate into Klingon. But then again there are. A good example is Qapla' which literally translates into "success" in English. Many characters say this, including Picard on one or two occasions.

 

Obviously this goes beyond Klingons. It's happened around Bajorans, Cardassians, etc So my question is, why?

 

Is it a simple writers device to help get across a point? Like back to the Klingon example, when Picard has said it, the overall tone of the scene and such is usually him showing respect for Worf's culture, as best a human could try to at least. Is that just a writers way of showing that? Or does the UT have some way of figuring out when a spoken word is meant to be translated or not?

 

I ask the latter question cause that does bring up inconsistencies. By the time such events in TNG, and later DS9 take place, the average Trek fan who's kept up with either probably knows the meaning behind a few Klingonese words. Qapla', petaQ', etc So if Picard, for example's sake, spoke the word itself, Qapla' and not "success" would the UT recognize the user's voice and realize he himself is speaking that word, meaning it to be said that way and not to be translated? Or does it differ? Cause many times Klingons, when rather angry, stop translating into English and utter a sentence or word in Klingonese rather than the UT appearing to translate. Like it's selectively being done either by the technology, or a simple plot device.

 

It made sense back in TOS or even Enterprise where the UT's weren't as complex as the 24th century counter parts, obviously some words would be untranslatable or just not learned by the system yet. But by say, Voyagers era, which didn't end not too long after Nemesis (which was the last canon appearance of the 24th century era as we know), they still had this issue, whether plot device or technobabble reasoning.

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hmm, ye, i've been re-watching tng and I've found a lot of 'errors' in the series 1st season too. I can understand these though, since they were at the beginning of a new erra of Star Trek productions, not sure about later seasons yet.

 

As for translations specifically... How do you know they are build into the combadges? Couldn't the combadges simply be relaying the info to the ships main computer who is actually the one doing the translations?

 

A lot of language stuff in Star Trek (especially ENT) is way wrong, too many species know English. Another explanation for this could be that the other species also all have universal translators and each translates the foreign language into their own, but is not doing any actual translation when speaking (for direct contact situations, not via the viewscreen).

 

 

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As for translations specifically... How do you know they are build into the combadges? Couldn't the combadges simply be relaying the info to the ships main computer who is actually the one doing the translations?

 

 

 

 

Cause many times they've been around alien species when they are away from Enterprise or out of contact with it.

 

A good example is Enterprise 3x7 "The Enemy". Geordi gets stuck on a planet plagued with all kinds of electromagnetic and radiation storms, with a Romulan. They certainly can't beam him out without first locating him and setting up the complex Beam Enhancers. They can't even contact him through all the interference in the storm.

 

He was completely cut off from the ship. Yet once he met up with the Romulan, he could understand him. His UT in the Comm Badge still worked.

 

Now back in the day, say TOS, I'd agree most of it probably was tied into the ships main computer or relayed through a communications officer. However by TNG, I'm sure technology was to a point they could micro-size a UT and place it in a Comm Badge. Don't forget these are the same people that went from panels & switches in TOS to touch screen based LCARS in TNG.

 

If you closely look at TNG and beyond, there are many instances where the characters (usually wearing Federation Comm Badges) interact with other aliens (non-Feds) while away from ships and other things. Hell the one episode in DS9 springs to mind, where Julian, Garak and Martok are stuck in the Dominion Prison. The Jem'Hadar there just happen to speak English? Or Enabran Tain spoke English? (Garak might, having lived among humans for so long).

 

I just wonder if it's a plot device or continuity error.

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hum... maybe they only work on simple language, and not on regional dialect... / slag... thats why some  things can't get translated, because these sayings have a real different meaning that the non sense they actually literally translate too. 

 

so the uni translator can't figure it out.. thinking is an error, or a new language with not enough data to make sense of it....i.e....

 

slag-off!!!!

 

 

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hmm, well languages are a problem for tv shows, especially the ones like Star Trek, imagine all the subtitles needed and so on. I figure they just have them say it in English/alien for the dramatic effect, of course, it gets more complicated when they speak it to hide things. I'd be tempted to go with an average of plot/dramatics and error, depending on the specific occasion, after considering your 2nd post Mav.

 

Of course, if we make it complicated enough, we'll probably be able to come up with some sort of 'acceptable' explanation, but from the straight foreward pov, it's now clear imo that they're simply trying to make life easier. With a bit of imagination needed for the viewer. :)

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Perhaps common phrases such as'  kaplah' have no entry in the universal translator database because they are common phrases which the majority understand, so they requiring no translation.

 

Romulans had been monitoring human communications for hundreds of years why would they not be able to speak English? It would be the duty of a Romulan soldier to know the language.

 

As for the Jemedar...........perhaps their genes were encoded with the knowledge pertaining to their foes?

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lol type qaplah into babel fish, surely the ut works the same way, if you speak a word that isn't recognised as being in the tongue of the ut holder then it uses the same word.

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According to star-trek-voyager.net (http://star-trek-voyager.net/ship4/ut.htm) "The Universal Translator is a highly sophisticated computer program, although the term "Universal Translator" is almost always also taken to mean the device which contains it".

 

"Apart from shipboard Universal Translators, by 2364 Starfleet personal communicator badges incorporated miniature Universal Translators (the badges are often known by the abbreviation "combadge") (The date is known from [TNG: Encounter at Farpoint], stardate 41153 and [TNG]'s first story, and the calendar year of [TNG]'s first season is established in [TNG: The Neutral Zone].)"

 

While this does not answer the poster's original question (one I have also ponderd from time to time - without finding an answer) I thought others may be interested in this bit of trivia.

 

 

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Perhaps common phrases such as'  kaplah' have no entry in the universal translator database because they are common phrases which the majority understand, so they requiring no translation.

 

I like this part of your explanation.  I think it does make some sense, since some words have become so recognizable that humans use them.  This happens all the time with many languages.  Many English words are derived from other languages.  An example would be the word entrepreneur, which is fairly obviously a French word (meaning contractor, in French), but is commonly used in the English language.  Another example is the word possible, which is spelled the same way in French as it is in English, but pronounced differently.  Then there's the word gestalt, which is German, but is used in English as well, and there are many more examples.

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The meta-explanation is basically, they want to make things sound unique or cool... you can notice (especially with Klingons) that native words are always preceeded and followed by a dramatic pause, also... it's unlikely anyone ever sat down and thought the workings of the UT out. It just works, is no doubt the founding principle.

 

In universe? Uh, there are some words that don't literally translate. How it manages to translate from and into several languages for different people at the same time and they can all hear it (as seen in the 37's)... no idea.

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Maybe it was working that way because some words in alien languages can not be translated into "Federation Language".

And/or maybe the UT itself is programmed in a way, that it translates only words and expressions needed in communication on "common language", and do not translates religional words (for example p'tah, or Pagh Daemons, or things like that). Hope I write those words right...

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Note that in Doctor Who, the TARDIS's translator seems to have the same reasoning. The Doctor says "allons-y" for effect. I think whoever's talking in Star Trek is trying to do the same sort of thing. [/post from a non-trekkie]

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