Probably the best known is the babelfish, from Douglas Adams' HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY. The small fish, when placed in one's ear, "excretes energy" that translates any alien language into one that the wearer/hearer can understand. Altavista named its web translator program after the creature.
As for STAR TREK, in all of the variant shows, the starships' computers and the crews' combadges are supposedly outfitted with a "universal translator" that can handle just about any form of intelligent communication. Trektech specs can be found at
Although a few alien languages (notably Klingon) are presented on the shows, the potential problems of translation were rarely addressed. (One notable exception is the episode of NEXT GENERATION, "Darmok," when Picard and an alien played by Paul Winfield have to try to understand each other. The words come through, but Winfield's society communicates through historical references whose semantic properties are untranslatable.)
"Only connect!" --E.M. Forster
Donald F. Larsson
Department of English
Minnesota State University
Mankato, MN 56001
[log in to unmask]
From: Film and TV Studies Discussion List on behalf of Mark Nornes
Sent: Mon 6/28/2004 9:08 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Star Trek & Mystical Translation Machines
How exactly did Kirk and Co. speak to all those aliens???
My son has a favorite translation machine from the Japanese anime
"Doraemon". The title character, a robot cat, pulls a "Honyaku Konyaku"
out of his 4 dimensional pocket. Honyaku = translation / konyaku = a
delicious hard jelly made out of a root. Once someone eats this, they
can converse with anyone from anywhere in the universe...or history, if
they happen to be time travelling.
What other mystical translations machines are out there?
University of Michigan
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