Universal translator

From Academic Kids

The universal translator is a fictional device common to many science fiction works. Its purpose is to offer an instant translation of any language. Like hyperdrive, a universal translator is a somewhat improbable technology that is an accepted convention in science fiction stories. As a convention, it is used to remove the problem of translating between alien languages, unless that problem is essential to the plot. To do this in every episode a new species or culture is encountered would consume time (especially when most of these shows have a half to one hour format) normally for plot development and potentially (across many episodes) become repetitive to the point of annoyance.

In Star Trek, the universal translator was used by Ensign Hoshi Sato, the communications officer on the Enterprise in Star Trek: Enterprise, to invent the linguacode matrix in her late 30's.

As a rule, a universal translator is instantaneous, but if that language has never been recorded, there is sometimes a time delay until the translator can properly work out a translation, as in the case of Star Trek. Some writers seek greater plausibility by instead having computer translation that requires collecting a database of the new language, often by listening to radio transmissions. Usually it ignores any grammar rules between languages, giving it as perfect English.

Most of the time, it's depicted as a machine that works with a communications monitor. An exception is the Babel fish from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a small organism that fits in the user's ear. (The Babel fish itself is a parody on the universal translator convention.) Another exception is the "translator microbes" from the Farscape series, which were probably inspired by the Babel fish.

The existence of a universal translator is sometimes problematic in film and television productions from a logistical perspective (for example, aliens who still speak English when no universal translator is in evidence), and requires some suspension of disbelief when characters' mouths move in synch with the translated words and not the original language; nonetheless, it removes the need for cumbersome and potentially extensive subtitles.

In the telvision shows Stargate SG1 and Stargate Atlantis, there are no personal translation devices used, and most aliens or Human cultures on other planets speak English. The makers of the show have themselves admitted this on the main SG1 site, stating that this is to save spending ten minutes an episode on characters learning a new language. The Star Wars films feature a similar situation, with the setting featuring an "official" language, Galactic Basic, which sounds remarkably like English, though the written form (Aurabesh) is distinctly different.

See machine translation and speech recognition for a discussion of real-world natural language processing technologies.

External links

  • Template:Memoryalpha
  • Stargate SG1 Official FAQ (http://www.stargate-sg1.com/home/faq/index.html#13) Explaining why aliens and non-Earth based Human cultures primarily speak English.
  • Universal Translator (http://steeev.f2o.org/flickr/search.php) A Universal Translator / Visual Dictionary. It works by displaying images of the word/s that you input which in theory someone from any country should be able to understand.
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