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Spock with a hand-held universal translator in the 2260s.

A universal translator, or UT, was a device used to translate alien languages into a language which the user can understand.

History and specifications

As early as the 22nd century, communicators had translators installed, while their wearers kept them out of view, while conversing. However, not all communicators were such. Self-contained systems such as PADDs, tricorders and starship computers did not have automatic translation capabilities. (ENT episodes: "Civilization", "Acquisition", "Precious Cargo")

A 22nd century experimental universal translator.

Translators in the Federation began use as hand-held units, but were eventually adapted as implanted modules that could be subcutaneously located near the ear or placed in the brachial plexus. Like a subcutaneous transponder, an implanted translator was mostly composed of rubindium crystal. (TOS episode & novelization: Metamorphosis; TOS - Rihannsu novel: The Romulan Way; DS9 episode: "Little Green Men")

By the 24th century, implanted translators or combadge translators were common practice. (VOY episode: "The 37's"; DS9 episode: "Little Green Men")

Brain waves were known to play a role in experimentation of a totally incompatible dialect, and a translator used scans of such to synthesize a suitable voice print to match the speaker's sample. (TOS episode: "Metamorphosis"; TOS novel: First Frontier)

In addition to linguacode theory, neuroinduction techniques and recursive computer processing are used in 2369 combadge operation. (TNG novel: Debtors' Planet)

Some Hortas had universal translators attached to them to allow them to easily communicate with other lifeforms. In case of emergencies, such as a universal translator malfunction, Horta were also taught how to burn messages in Federation Standard as an alternative form of communications. (DS9 novel: Devil in the Sky)

In 2282 the translators used by the Gorn Hegemony only had a five meter range. (ST - Alien Spotlight comic: "Alien Spotlight: The Gorn")

Universal translators interpreting the Kreel language interpreted not only speech, which consisted of guttural grunts, coughs and snarls, but also their expression using limbs slapping against their body for emphasis. (TNG novel: Strike Zone)

23rd century operation

Universal translators were sometimes unable to re-produce a dialect without any known syntax of reference, resulting in untranslated speech passing between users. (TOS movie, novelization & comic adaptation: The Voyage Home; TAS episode & novelization: The Counter-Clock Incident; DS9 episode: "Sanctuary")

Federation UTs found on starships such as USS Discovery had occasional difficulty with translating the lingal clicks and pops found in the Saurian language into Federation Standard. (DSC episode: "An Obol for Charon")

Jurisdictions outside the UFP often confiscated universal translators from those they captured - as ships could track down their signal and locate hostages. Also, when UTs were used aboard ships - especially in Klingon space - they are easily recognizable on two-way transmissions. (TOS movie: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country)

During the Romulan Civil War in 2276, Nyota Uhura complained of constantly having to adjust the translator to deal with English idioms. (TOS - Rihannsu novel: The Empty Chair)

24th century operation

Universal translators did not easily cope with period slang, often confusing visitors to the Vic Fontaine holosuite program. (DS9 novel: Avatar, Book Two)

UTs are still a progressing art and science, with many new introductions of speech. Damage and incomplete basis or analyses also have been known to cause them to be inoperative. (TNG episode: "Darmok"; DS9 episodes: "Sanctuary", "Babel", "Little Green Men"; VOY episodes: "Hope and Fear", "Nothing Human", "The Swarm", "Think Tank")

In 2374, by switching the universal translator off while playing a recording of Weyoun 5, Jack was able to observe a nuance of verb tense in the original Dominionese speech that the translator had missed. (DS9 episode: "Statistical Probabilities")

In 2376, the universal translator had difficulty translating the D'Naali language. A Pinker-Sato phonology module was used by the crew of the USS Defiant to attempt a translation. (DS9 - Mission Gamma novel: Cathedral)

25th century operation

When used to translate the speech of Gorn, the original language of the individual was still audible as a secondary track of hisses and growls. (STO missions: "Turning Point", "Second Wave", "Surface Tension")

This refers to Star Trek Online's voice-overs for Ambassador S'taass, whose Gorn speech is consistently audible when the character's lines are voiced. Other Gorn characters given voiceovers since S'taass have been similar.


External links