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Universal Translator

Universe : Prime Timeline
Name : Universal Translator1

The universal translator is perhaps one of the single most useful devices ever created. Without this handy gadget, co-operation between different species would be a far more complex and time consuming task than it historically has been. Initial versions of the universal translator were somewhat erratic, often needing a significant sampling of the alien language being used and depending on a good deal of operator input. Even then the translations it provided were often of variable accuracy.2 Much work on improving the system was done by Ensign Hoshi Sato in her missions aboard the NX-01 between 2151 and 2161 - as just one example, she added several Klingon dialects to the database.3 The increase in capability Ensign Sato provided made inter-species conferences such as that held on Earth in 2155 far smoother, more manageable affairs.4 Sato eventually created the Linguacode translation matrix, a system which remained in use aboard Federation Starships until at least the 2260s.5

So successful was this system that by the 2260s it was an accepted theory that all intelligent life shared certain universal ideas and concepts. The universal translator could instantaneously compare the frequency of brain-wave patterns, select those ideas and concepts it recognizes, and then provide the necessary grammar before translating its findings into English using a voice an approximation of whatever the creature on the sending end is using - for instance a female voice would be provided for any feminine life form, no matter what its physical form may be. Although the system was not considered to be 100% efficient, translation difficulties were remarkably few and far between during this period.1 Indeed so sophisticated did the translator become by the 2370s that even communications based on movement could be translated.6 A basic UT unit was incorporated into the standard Starfleet combadge during this era7, replacing the hand held unit common to the 2150s8 and 2260s.1 The software could also be included in programs such as the interactive holograms developed for use aboard ships.9 Indeed, so advanced had these devices become that it was perfectly possible for a group of individuals to converse in different languages, each one thinking that everybody else was talking their own language - a truly remarkable achievement!10

As Starfleet explored more and more of the universe, however, the varieties of language encountered became more and more diverse. The universal translator occasionally had trouble analysing extremely different forms of syntax or grammar, although this could sometimes be overcome with sufficient exposure to the language.11 Some languages, however, were so different that translation was extremely difficult.12 For example, the Tamarian language was translated into English by the translator, but this did not greatly enhance understanding of the language because the translator did not convert the Tamarian's extensive use of metaphorical imagery into an English equivalent.13 Inputting neural patterns and cortical scans of the subject could assist the translator with an unfamiliar form of communication14, but even so it occasionally remained impossible to translate a language, at least in the short term.7

Many other species have discovered universal translator technology. For example, the Ferengi implant their version in their ears.15 An advanced form of UT was used by the Think Tank which pursued Voyager in 2375, enabling its diverse members to communicate with one another; when Janeway disabled the device the Think Tank was unable to function effectively, allowing Voyager to escape.16

Colour key

Canon source Backstage source Novel source DITL speculation


# Series Season Source Comment
1 TOS 2 Metamorphosis
2 ENT 1 Fight or Flight
3 ENT 4 The Augments
4 ENT 4 Demons
5 ENT 4 In A Mirror, Darkly Part II This was mentioned in her onscreen biography
6 TNG 4 The Loss
7 VOY 5 Nothing Human
8 ENT 1 Broken Bow
9 VOY 5 Gravity
10 VOY 2 The 37's
11 DS9 2 Sanctuary
12 VOY 3 The Swarm
13 TNG 5 Darmok
14 VOY 5 Equinox, Part 1
15 DS9 4 Little Green Men
16 VOY 5 Think Tank
Series : TOS Season 2 (Disc 2)
Episode : Metamorphosis
Series : ENT Season 1 (Disc 1)
Episode : Fight or Flight
Series : ENT Season 4 (Disc 2)
Episode : The Augments
Series : ENT Season 4 (Disc 5)
Episode : Demons
Series : ENT Season 4 (Disc 5)
Episode : In A Mirror, Darkly Part II
Comment : This was mentioned in her onscreen biography
Series : TNG Season 4 (Disc 2)
Episode : The Loss
Series : VOY Season 5 (Disc 2)
Episode : Nothing Human
Series : ENT Season 1 (Disc 1)
Episode : Broken Bow
Series : VOY Season 5 (Disc 4)
Episode : Gravity
Series : VOY Season 2 (Disc 1)
Episode : The 37's
Series : DS9 Season 2 (Disc 3)
Episode : Sanctuary
Series : VOY Season 3 (Disc 1)
Episode : The Swarm
Series : TNG Season 5 (Disc 1)
Episode : Darmok
Series : VOY Season 5 (Disc 7)
Episode : Equinox, Part 1
Series : DS9 Season 4 (Disc 2)
Episode : Little Green Men
Series : VOY Season 5 (Disc 5)
Episode : Think Tank

© Graham & Ian Kennedy Page views : 23,919 Last updated : 1 Jan 1970