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Star Trek - Original Series The one that started it all...

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Old May 5 2010, 10:57 PM   #1
F. King Daniel
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Was Uhura a linguist?

I always thought Uhura (prime) was a linguist, she knew many languages and it was part of her job to decode new ones. Thus I was annoyed in STVI when she was portrayed as inept and couldn't even speak Klingon, and really pleased that in STXI Uhura spoke Romulan and was much more than a switchboard operator. We also briefly got to see Cadet Uhura working in the mythical below-decks "communications department", which Nichelle Nichols always liked to tell people about.

But I was told in another thread that there was nothing in TOS or the old movies at all to say Uhura ever did more than open the hailing frequencies and that STXI Uhura's job was redefined to include that of Hoshi in Enterprise.

But I've held my Uhura-is-more-than-a-space-telephone-button-pusher belief for far longer than Enterprise was around. I think I got the idea from old 80's novels, at least one of which had her speak Klingon and others had her decode alien writings and languages.

TOS Uhura: A glorified button-pusher or more?
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Old May 6 2010, 01:54 AM   #2
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Re: Was Uhura a linguist?

I always thought of her more as a communications engineer. We saw that she could operate and fix the radio, never saw her translating or speaking another language (aside from Swahili).
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Old May 6 2010, 02:07 AM   #3
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Re: Was Uhura a linguist?

In the original Trek series she was the ship's radio operator, which mapped to a pretty specific set of skills in the real military of the time. In the resurrected version she is a trained and highly skilled linguist.
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Old May 6 2010, 02:51 AM   #4
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Re: Was Uhura a linguist?

In a first contact situation, being communications officer means working out what frequencies the aliens are transmitting on, whether they're using FM or AM, NTSC or PAL or H-D, aanalogue or digital (as it were) etc etc, and ultimately getting the universal translator to latch onto their language patterns (which is probably a lot easier with a substantial knowledge of the basic development of languages in general).
All in all, Uhura must be halfway between a linguist and a code-breaker, with a side order of philologist and engineer, to be able to do her job of enabling Kirk to say 'This is James T Kirk of the Starship Enterprise, we come in peace'.
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Old May 6 2010, 06:03 AM   #5
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Re: Was Uhura a linguist?

There's plenty of precedent in TOS for Uhura to be proficient in communications technology and recognizing various codes, it's stated onscreen that she has an aptitude for mathmatics, and while it makes sense for her to know something about languages, a part of her job involves the universal translator, so she really doesn't have a need to be fluent in anything other than Swahili and English. That being said, the scene in TUC is unconscionable and would be the first casualty if I were to edit that film.

In the case of JJ Uhura, just as they spliced Wesley Crusher onto poor, unsuspecting Chekov, they overlaid Hoshi onto Uhura. Apparently, being a competent officer isn't good enough to serve on the JJprise, you also have to be a mutant.
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Old May 6 2010, 06:40 AM   #6
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Re: Was Uhura a linguist?

All of these explanations make sense to me, though I think Dennis stated it especially well.
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Old May 6 2010, 07:39 AM   #7
Captain Rob
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Re: Was Uhura a linguist?

I've got to agree with you guys about Uhura. For her to be where she was, she had to be all of those things. I believe that alot of the new stuff came from Nichelle Nichols herself. How do we get that scene from TUC striken from canon.
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Old May 6 2010, 03:26 PM   #8
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Re: Was Uhura a linguist?

In the original Trek series she was the ship's radio operator, which mapped to a pretty specific set of skills in the real military of the time. In the resurrected version she is a trained and highly skilled linguist.
...Also, she's young enough that she could be a completely different person in the two universes (that is, she was conceived and born after Nero started screwing up the family histories of certain Starfleet personnel). At least Chekov is a different person in the two movies - while by the same token, Kirk, McCoy, Spock, Scotty and Pike are their TOS selves, biologically.

I vastly prefer the idea that the TOS Uhura was a skilled communications technician with little or no knowledge of languages, while the STXI Uhura was a skilled linguist, possibly (but probably not) with little knowledge of communications technology. After all, that is a good match to TOS and the TOS movies where Uhura didn't speak Klingon, or any other foreign language besides English.

Why should we contradict what we saw and heard on the matter? We aren't insisting that Scotty be a skilled linguist, or that Chekov be, or that Spock be. In theory, all of them might "have" to be, as they deal with alien technologies a lot. In practice, we see them do quite well without such skills. And we see Uhura do well without those skills.

Is Uhura somehow unworthy of the heroine position if she doesn't have secret superpowers?

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Old May 6 2010, 04:04 PM   #9
F. King Daniel
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Re: Was Uhura a linguist?

I hardly call speaking Klingon a "superpower".

Remember that novels from the 80's gave Uhura linguistic skills. It's not a recent idea.

IMO the idea of a communications officer who depends entirely on the translator is useless. We've met several aliens for whom the UT doesn't function. What would the TOS crew have done had they met one (in a canon episode or movie)?

And isn't calling nuUhura a totally different person to Uhura Prime completely missing the point of STXI?
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Old May 6 2010, 04:09 PM   #10
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Re: Was Uhura a linguist?

IMO the idea of a communications officer who depends entirely on the translator is useless. We've met several aliens for whom the UT doesn't function. What would the TOS crew have done had they met one (in a canon episode or movie)?
You mean like the Gorn, or Vaal? Apparently, in the 2260s, there's a standard alternative to communicating with words. And usually, it's in Sulu's fingertips, not Uhura's...

And isn't calling nuUhura a totally different person to Uhura Prime completely missing the point of STXI?
Hmh? The movie did its damnedest to give us the same McCoy we loved and hated from TOS, and more or less the same Spock. They gave us a different Uhura, and a slightly different Kirk, and played the middle ground with Chekov and Scotty. Hardly a trend in either direction, certainly not one amounting to a "point".

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Old May 6 2010, 04:35 PM   #11
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Re: Was Uhura a linguist?

It depends how you define "different" and where you draw the line between "new actor playing the role their way" and "that person must be totally different because they're not exactly copying the original actor's mannerisms"

IIRC the new actors were allowed to choose just how much of the originals' they incorporated into their versions if the characters. I remember reading in an interview years ago that nuChekov was told he didn't have to do the silly accent if he didn't want to.

James Cromwell's Zephram Cochrane bore zero resemblence to the TOS "Metamorphosis" version, yet we accept it's meant to be the same guy.
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Old May 6 2010, 04:48 PM   #12
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Re: Was Uhura a linguist?

Yet in this case, nuChekov is explicitly a different person altogether - born four years later than his TOS self. I was just commenting on the fact that Uhura is another character who in theory could be a completely different person biologically (she's the physically least matching casting in the troupe, at any rate), whereas Kirk, McCoy and Spock could not be biologically different by story logic.

Typically, when a character is recast, we're not dealing with splits in timeline. In this case, we explicitly are...

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Old May 6 2010, 04:53 PM   #13
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Re: Was Uhura a linguist?

I have no problem with Uhura not know Klingon. Who knows, maybe she was an expert on several alien languages, but not that one. I mean, not every US communications expert knows Russian. Actually, the only problem I have with that scene is that they were using *books*!
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Old May 6 2010, 04:57 PM   #14
Timo
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Re: Was Uhura a linguist?

Well, Kirk seems to collect books (as per his TOS cabin) and Klingon memorablia (as per his ST:GEN cabin - the log one!). It wouldn't be all that big a coincidence if he did possess a few Klingon books!

I do like the novelization rationalization that the Klingon linguistic data on the computer had been sabotaged, though. Too bad that the movie's "they'd recognize our UT" line explicitly voids that rationalization...

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Old May 6 2010, 05:30 PM   #15
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Re: Was Uhura a linguist?

Not exactly, at least not the way I read the scene. The "recognize the UT" was that the Klingons would recognize that a computer is talking to them, i.e. translating English to Klingon. Whether Uhura was reading from books or a computer screen, she's still talking directly to the Klingons in their language, and not through the UT.
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