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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?

No.

Wait, re­ally?

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.