Star Trek continuity hole?

I never go into the Star Trek threads because I don’t qualify as an Official Star Trek Nerd [sup]TM[/sup] (meant in the nicest way). I have seen most of the OS, maybe all of it, same for TNG, and many, but not all, episodes of Voyager and DS9. My wife is the OSTN in the family. (Hey, let’s play Acronyms!) I know the stories and everything, but I haven’t seen them so many times or analyzed them to the point where I could answer arcane trivia questions. I do that with music, instead.

My wife was in the living room, watching DS9, when it occurred to me to ask her: If all the different species of aliens speak in their own language, and everyone has a Universal Translator to be able to hear the speaker in their own language, and be heard in the listener’s language when they respond, then why can we hear Klingons speaking in Klingon?

My wife said, “I don’t know, it’s not my continuity hole!”

So what do you experts think?

A wizard did it.

A continuity hole in Star Trek?

I am definitely not an OSTN but an obvious (to me at least) answer occurs to me. Why would the Klingons (or any other species) use the translator when speaking among themselves?

Of the approximately one billion inconsistancies in the various incarnations of Star Trek, I find this to be the most benign.

Data’s on-again/off-again use of contractions is far more irritating.

I could be wrong, but I was under the impression that the Universal Translator was always on. So in order not to break the fourth wall, everybody is heard in one language - in the viewer’s case, English. Therefore, when Klingons, say Worf and Gowron are conversing in English, but they lapse into Klingon, why is it not translated?

My wife says there’s a scene in the Klingon restaurant on the Promenade where a human is talking to a Cardassian in English, and other species similarly, while a Klingon musician wanders around the place, singing a song in Klingon, which is not translated.

That sounds pretty fishy to me!

DS9, as a series, wanted to play up the alien feel, so they have fewer humans and more scenes in alien language.

Although I am no expert in Treknichal matters, it seems obvious to me that if the Universal Translator can be safely relied upon to accurately translate one language to another, then it must incorporate a sophisticated mechanism for judging the context, emotive quality, and relative significance of terms. In fact, it must be at least as expert in such matters as a highly educated native speaker of each language would be, otherwise it would not be safe to use for such extremely nuanced communications as diplomatic negotiations. Therefore, it may be safely assumed that the Universal Translator will have a good sense of what the important features of a given communication are for each individual concerned. In the above-cited instance of the wandering Klingon minstrel, the Universal Translator may well have judged that the actual content of the song was not as significant as the general mood conveyed by the tone and rhythm of the singer (“Assessment: Itinerant Klingon Troubador = Terpsichorean Level .05 [Background Music]”), and elected not to leave the lyrics untranslated for the human and the Cardassian. However, if the UT concluded that other audience members would be more interested in the lyrics, then it would have provided a translation for them.


It’s magic. There is no other explanation. “Just tell yourself it’s just a show,” etc.

Apropos of nothing, Diane Duane used to write–hell, may still be writing for all I know–Trek novels in which the universal translator was treated more seriously and with more thought. It was clear in her version of the trekverse the translator was neither magic nor truly universal, as it had to be programmed with each new language it encountered. In Spock’s World, Uhura is mentioned as working on improvements for the UT for her doctorate in linguistics and solicits over the enterprise version of the SMDB for tourist dictionaries her shipmates may have picked up on leave. In Doctor’s Orders, one of Uhura’s subordinates is working on adding the languages of a trio of new species (all native to one planet)
and plaintively begs Kirk to talk to one of the aliens for her, because she needs more verbs.

I’ll fanwank that one too, and not just to say, “oh, DATA never used contractions; sometimes Brent Spiner merely misspoke the transcript of the logs used to create the scripts.”

Data’s inability to use contractions wasn’t a feature; it was a bug. When Dr. Soong and his wife made his elder brother, Lore, you’ll recall, he could use contractions,but was a sociopath. In improving Data, they accidentally introduced a glitch in his language circuits which for the part prevented him from using contractions, except for occasional instances he could neither predict nor control; and because neither Data nor Starfleet completely understood his innards, they were afraid to try to fix it for fear of wrecking him.

Gimme something else to fanwank.

No it is not.

Kirk never programed no damn translator.
That’s a good idea of hers, and there is a DS9 episode where the translator takes a while to “learn” the language. There’s the NG episode with “Darmok and Whatshisface the Monkey Spanking”.

Interesting points of view from everyone. I know it’s trivial, but I figured some of you, who are really into it, would have some ideas on it. Thanks for your input.

Worf on the UT with Klingons:
Terrifel’s idea is very good.

Now watch it, or I’ll start telling Klingon Fairy tales.

Some Klingon profanities are truly untranslatable into any human language. So maybe when we see Klingons speaking Klingon, they’re just cussing up a storm. Klingons do that a lot.

UHURA: “…Okay, let’s see… fourteen synonyms for ‘stroke;’ eight for ‘fondle;’ twenty-two for ‘thrust;’ …still not sure what this one means, except it seems to involve multiple appendages… Maybe asking the Captain to help wasn’t the greatest idea.”

We hear more Klingon than other alien languages in Star Trek because an entire Klingon language was devloped. If you really want to complain about scifi shows’ language policies try the Stargates. Every culture they encounter speaks English, yet writes in an alien script.

Except for nouns, they always seem to have different nouns. Why would they have the same words as us for all other parts of speech but not for nouns? This seems to be a convention for a lot of science fiction and it always irritates me. You’re supposed to suspend your disbelief and ignore the language issue but then they highlight it with the friggin nouns.

Same reason French Resistance fighters in WWII movies speak English in a French accent and sprinkled with phrases like sacre bleu!

Tell me about it! That is such feldercarb! If they’d just think about it for a micron or two they’d realize it makes no sense.