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Old October 4 2013, 08:33 PM   #1
grendelsbayne
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State of Languages in the Federation

Reading through the thread about nations surviving into the 24th century got me wondering about languages. Of course the shows make almost constant use of universal translators to avoid having to explain this sort of thing, but we know there must be quite a few languages across the Federation.

So I'm wondering: how much do the characters on the show actually really understand each other?

Did Spock learn English because of his mother? Do Odo and Kira really spend all their time speaking Bajoran? Does Picard actually speak French all the time? Have any earth languages other than english actually survived?

Do the Betazoids and the Risians even have their own language?

If you disabled every universal translator, would a Federation starship be rendered almost completely unable to function, or is English just the standard language of the organization, with extensive english lessons at the academy?

And what about the Federation Council? In STIV, the clearly non-human Federation President seems to speak entirely in English. Is that translation or do the other member states really not care that even the council itself is entirely earth-centric?
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Old October 4 2013, 09:14 PM   #2
Mr. B
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Re: State of Languages in the Federation

Starfleet would surely need a lingua franca for its members to function dependably, and English is most likely that. It's probably required coursework at the Academy.

Among Federation citizens, I doubt the existence of the universal translator significantly affects their cultural identity. In societies largely free of scarcity, learning is one of the only things left to do.
grendelsbayne wrote: View Post
Does Picard actually speak French all the time?
In the episode "Code of Honor," Data makes a comment that could lead the viewer to believe the French language is as dead as Latin. Picard's flawless English, English accent and affinity for English literature point to that as well. French is a dying language today.
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Old October 4 2013, 09:30 PM   #3
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Re: State of Languages in the Federation

My take is that all people in Starfleet speak a common language (be it a future version of English, Vulcan, Galaxyan, or whatever), which is conveyed as English in the show. Universal translators can fail, and no sensible organization would make itself susceptible to such a critical failure if possible. All Federation officials would probably speak this language too, to ease communications in government, and the same applies to most Federation citizens. Being multilingual is probably quite common. Local languages (what we would call national languages) can be still used at home with family and friends, but not in planetary or interplanetary communications. It won't be much different from current countries with more than one official languages.
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Old October 4 2013, 10:21 PM   #4
Nine of Four
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Re: State of Languages in the Federation

iguana_tonante wrote: View Post
My take is that all people in Starfleet speak a common language (be it a future version of English, Vulcan, Galaxyan, or whatever), which is conveyed as English in the show.
That's what I always thought about the language, too. It would make sense that, in an effort to avoid accusations of favoritism, Starfleet would chose a language other the English, Vulcan, or Andorian, as those planets formed the Federation. I always pictured pre-ENT Federation leaders picking a language at random, which over the course of the next several decades would become the universal standard.
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Old October 4 2013, 10:24 PM   #5
Nerys Myk
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Re: State of Languages in the Federation

They all speak Federation Standard.
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Old October 4 2013, 10:43 PM   #6
C.E. Evans
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Re: State of Languages in the Federation

I always kind of imagined that the dominant language in the Federation was a "universal English," and that it contained quite a lot of words and phrases from other worlds too (the stuff the Universal Translator sometimes doesn't translate).
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Old October 4 2013, 11:57 PM   #7
iguana_tonante
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Re: State of Languages in the Federation

Nine of Four wrote: View Post
It would make sense that, in an effort to avoid accusations of favoritism, Starfleet would chose a language other the English, Vulcan, or Andorian, as those planets formed the Federation.
Well, short of inventing a new artificial language, someone has to be favored in this case, especially since 95% of the human population do not speak English as their first language, yet Star Trek has always been very cavalier with English as the default human language. If you can impose English on 7 billion humans, a few billions of Vulcans and Andorians should not be a problem.
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Old October 5 2013, 12:24 AM   #8
David.Blue
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Re: State of Languages in the Federation

I agree there must be a lingua franca or maybe more than one. What it/they might derive from is anyone's guess. Didn't the Orions used to have a widespread empire long, long ago? Maybe lots of folks speak Orion. There was a reference in "The Trouble With Tribbles" about folks learning to speak the Klingon tongue, while members of the Klingon crew in STiii clearly spoke in something other than Klingon to each other...sometimes.

Evidently, English immigrants have taken over France. At a convention Marina Sirtis expressed great pleasure at this realization.
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Old October 5 2013, 12:24 AM   #9
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Re: State of Languages in the Federation

I like to think that Esperanto achieved some sort of resurgence in popularity and was used as the basis for Federation Standard. Of course, since Star Trek originated in America, the language and signage is primarily American English, and current nations frequently translate the dialogue into their own languages.

I'm choosing Esperanto only because William Shatner did make a film (Incubus) done in it.
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Old October 5 2013, 12:59 AM   #10
T'Girl
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Re: State of Languages in the Federation

grendelsbayne wrote: View Post
Did Spock learn English because of his mother?
It would seem likely. Spock's mother was said to have been a school teacher, while never made clear in-universe, I always imagined that she taught English to Vulcan students.

Do the Betazoids and the Risians even have their own language?
Betazed children (the majority) can't communicate telepathically until puberty, so the Betazed would need to have a spoken language

If you disabled every universal translator, would a Federation starship be rendered almost completely unable to function ...
There was a episode of Farscape where everyone's translator microbes stopped working, none of them spoke any of the other's languages.


iguana_tonante wrote: View Post
All Federation officials would probably speak this language too, to ease communications in government, and the same applies to most Federation citizens
Problem there is how many of the multiple species with membership in the federation would be able to form the spoken words in each other languages? Would a person from Cait be able to annunciate English, even with instruction?


Look at it this way, apes can be taught sign language in order to communicate (to a limited degree) with Humans, but they can't be taught to speak to us because their vocal apparatus is incapable of producing Human speech.

iguana_tonante wrote: View Post
yet Star Trek has always been very cavalier with English as the default human language.
I frequently watch Star Trek in Spanish.

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Old October 5 2013, 01:10 AM   #11
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Re: State of Languages in the Federation

Well if all the UT's went out they might do this:
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Old October 5 2013, 02:15 AM   #12
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Re: State of Languages in the Federation

Vanyel wrote: View Post
Well if all the UT's went out they might do this:
I've been in this situation before: two Moldavians spoke to a Russian scholar in Russian, who translated to me in German, and I translated to a French railroad official in French and English. It went more smoothly on I Love Lucy.
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Old October 5 2013, 02:40 AM   #13
iguana_tonante
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Re: State of Languages in the Federation

T'Girl wrote: View Post
iguana_tonante wrote: View Post
All Federation officials would probably speak this language too, to ease communications in government, and the same applies to most Federation citizens
Problem there is how many of the multiple species with membership in the federation would be able to form the spoken words in each other languages?
I'd say pretty much the same number of species that can have sex with humans, i.e.: any number the writers want to.

T'Girl wrote: View Post
iguana_tonante wrote: View Post
yet Star Trek has always been very cavalier with English as the default human language.
I frequently watch Star Trek in Spanish.

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Last edited by iguana_tonante; October 5 2013 at 02:58 AM.
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Old October 5 2013, 02:59 AM   #14
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Re: State of Languages in the Federation

DS9's Little Green Men certainly seems to imply that at the very least Quark, Rom, and Nog are speaking the Ferengi language and rely on their UTs to understand everyone else and to be understood. The Japanese guy in Voyager's The 37s was speaking English though he claimed to hear everyone else speaking Japanese. Presumably everyone is speaking their native languages.

I'm sure there are exceptions. Given Spock is half human and chose to work among humans he probably has learned English. Worf should actually be speaking Russian given he was raised by Russian parents. Though since they are always speaking English it stands to reason he learned the language. T'Pol likely was actually speaking English given UTs weren't as common back in the day.

Mr. B wrote: View Post
In the episode "Code of Honor," Data makes a comment that could lead the viewer to believe the French language is as dead as Latin. Picard's flawless English, English accent and affinity for English literature point to that as well. French is a dying language today.
Actually, all Data said was that French was "archaic." Which implies it isn't a dead tongue, just not a common one.
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Old October 5 2013, 04:12 AM   #15
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Re: State of Languages in the Federation

It's English and English only. The west rules the galaxy.
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