Universal Translator FAQ
Have you ever wondered about that ubiquitous device that allows you to converse seamlessly with residents of different countries or alien species around the galaxy with total ease? Whether you’re in Starﬂeet or a civilian spacefarer, the universal translator is something everyone relies on daily but might not know much about.
What is a universal translator?
A universal translator (sometimes also referred to as a “UT” or translator circuit) is a plot device that deciphers and interprets alien languages into the native language of the user. Invented in the early 2100s, the universal translator is now advanced enough to work with many humanoid lifeforms on the ﬂy with nearly no lag in communication, and is incredibly compact: they are installed in nearly all electronic devices capable of facilitating communication, and are often embedded in clothing or jewelry to assist in face-to-face conversations.
Why does it look like my conversation partner is actually speaking English?
Most universal translators can project a holographic imitation of English mouth movements onto any humanoid speaker in order to make the conversation feel more natural. This was designed specifically to assuage some English-language speakers and not at all required for the speakers of any other language, who are quite comfortable observing the effects of the universal translator as if they were watching a movie dubbed in another language.
How do I turn on the movie-dubbing effect?
Check with your speciﬁc manufacturer’s user manual.
Does Federation captain Jean-Luc Picard actually speak English?
No. He is speaking French the entire time. He is a French man with a fully British accent. You think that’s natural?
How can the universal translator work entirely in real-time?
Predictive learning. By monitoring up to eighty-one different physical indicators including mood, temperament, body temperature, pheromone production, minor gestures in the face and hands, posture, thought waves, brain pattern imaging, and heart rate, and cross-referencing it with context clues, biographic history, personal records and recordings of previous conversations, the translator can predict with 99.999% accuracy what you were about to say.
Will the universal translator ever mistranslate something?
The universal translator is not likely to ever translate something opposite of its intended meaning, but it is possible. However, much has been written about whether mistranslations have ever altered the course of a conversation or whether the other speaker has simply ignored it so they could say whatever they were going to anyway.
What if my universal translator runs out of batteries / is jammed / is interfered with in some way by inverse tachyon particles or something?
This almost never happens.
Is the universal translator capable of translating swear words?
The universal translator will attempt to understand from context whether a swear word is used and will allow it to be spoken in the original language for maximum effect.
Is the universal translator capable of translating metaphors?
Yes. But it does so very literally.
One notable example of this is the Tamarian language, which consists entirely of metaphors. The universal translator can translate Tamarian into English (or any other Federation language), but is unable to capture its full meaning. For instance, the Tamarian saying “Bekki, with the good hair” does not refer to any speciﬁc Bekki in particular but rather a metaphorical situation in which one woman believes her husband is cheating on her with another woman of a different race. A company called Genius has been employed full-time in the study and annotation of Tamarian language.
Is the universal translator capable of translating sarcasm?
Yes. It took several centuries of conﬂict before anyone realized that the Klingons are extremely sarcastic people. It turns out that “Today is a good day to die” is never meant as earnestly as it sounded.
My universal translator is broken. How can I get it repaired?
Seriously? Again, this almost never happens.
What can I do if the universal translator cannot translate a particular language?
Woah there! What are you, a space explorer? If you’re Federation, you probably have someone on board who is a linguistics expert or knows how to ﬁddle with translation matrices. Just sit back and watch them do their thing, it’ll probably be a good episode.
Can a universal translator ﬁx my stuttering?
Yes. It’s quite remarkable how so many people don’t realize this.
Can a universal translator make me sound more conﬁdent and charming?
Can a universal translator make a Frechman sound British?
What is the future of universal translator technology?
Universal translator technology is already pretty dependable, and will probably not see any significant improvements in the forseeable future. That being said, some startups have recently begun experimenting with translators that help socially challenged singles ﬁnd lovers. One promising application pairs universal translators with time travel technology, which spins off alternate universes that replace what you actually say, then rewinds all the awkward or creepy ones. A prototype is expected to launch in the early 25th century.
Last updated on 30 August, 2016.