# Time Measurement in Trek

Discussion in 'Trek Tech' started by molby61, Mar 21, 2012.

Joined:
Mar 21, 2012
Stardates are the agreed measure of time in Star Trek but even they have been open to intrepretation in the past.

However, my question is the definition of a year in terms of age.

It is highly unlikely that another planet would have the same Orbital Path transition time around its sun of 365.25 times it axial orbital rotation.

So when a Vulcan says "I am 74 years old" and a human replies "so am I", are they really the same age?

Wouldn't each species relate to their own definition of a year?
OR has anyone ever seen a standard definition for it in Trek?

Joined:
Aug 26, 2003
I'd argue that the terms "second", "minute" and "hour" are specific to Earth, and any alien using them must be in fact using his native units that get converted to their Earth equivalents by the same process that translates the words to English. After all, those units are completely "unnatural", derived from myth and custom rather than from natural phenomena. Plus, you can't vary the length of "second" without collapsing the entire discipline of physics. So even if we hear an alien say "You have ten seconds", he must be saying "you have fifteen buklotts" in his native tongue, and 15 bklt suitably approximates 10 s.

However, as you imply, "year" and "month" are different. Yet the same Universal Translator that we know is converting the other units of time is necessarily also dealing with the years and the months, thus creating uncertainty. Is the UT consistent (turning the Vulcan phrase "6.82 (Vulcan) years, to be precise" into the English phrase "8.37 (Earth) years, to be precise")? Or is it practical (allowing a Vulcan to use Vulcan years and letting the audience draw the conclusions)?

The worst case scenario is that the UT can go either way, depending on the case. We have heard references to Vulcan months, even though we know Vulcan has no moon, so we have good reason to believe the UT is being consistent in that particular case, translating Vulcan units into Earth ones. But so far we have no reason to think Vulcan doesn't have a year (although that is certainly a possibility - after all, we have seen orbital companions to Vulcan, leaving us with the option that it's Vulcan itself that is the moon, and moons don't have years, not as such). And thus the original question remains unanswered.

We can point to some specific cases, though. Sarek gives his age in "Journey to Babel" and "Sarek", and the difference between the two figures (at least roughly) matches the time interval between the two episodes as established by external sources. So Sarek speaks in Earth years. Or his speech is translated to Earth years in addition to being translated to English. Or Vulcan has a year that almost precisely matches the Earth year...

Timo Saloniemi

Joined:
Jun 28, 2001
Location:
SB-31, Daran V
I've always taken it this way: unless the dialogue specifically uses an alien term for the unit of time, I take to have been translated into the standard measurements we are used to.

HUMAN: I'm 74 years old, how about you?

VULCAN: I just passed 135.427 qums, last dweeze.

HUMAN: ???

VULCAN: I am also 74 earth-years of age.

HUMAN: Okay, then.

4. ### Boris SkrbicCommanderRed Shirt

Joined:
Dec 14, 2010
Yes, there is no evidence that the writers secretly used special alien units, except when they said so on the show (8877 Vulcan Years, 43rd day of Maktag, Year of Kahless 999, 26 hours per Bajoran day...). In addition, the UT presumably employs various levels of precision; when an alien says "10 years ago" or "15 years ago" in translation, I expect a rounded-off number in the original units and the original number system, otherwise it's a poor translation. On the other hand, if the alien emphasizes the original unit in some manner, for instance by saying "Vulcan Years", the UT might not convert the number at all.

Joined:
Aug 26, 2003
And this is a tricky one. An "hour" is a unit of some practical significance, in that a deadline of 2.5 hours markedly differs from a deadline of just 2 hours. If Bajor has a customary unit that divides the day in 26, can our Earth heroes call it an "hour" despite it being, say, 68 Earth minutes long? They might get themselves killed that way!

Yet we do get the impression that the Bajoran day indeed is divided in 26, rather than being something like 26.542 Earth hours long. And in dialogue, three days is 78 hours ("All right... But you have 78 hours to leave the station!" is quite suggestive), which suggests the hour is pretty much 1/26 of a day sharp, or else the decimals would mount up at this stage already and we'd get more like 77 or 79 hours.

We might simply argue that the Bajoran hour is almost exactly as long as the Earth hour, while the day is two hours longer - or that the Bajorans use a 22-division day but the translators change that to 26 Earth hours just because the math so conveniently works out. But what do we do with minutes, then? Even a "nearly" 60-minute Bajoran hour would leave the Bajoran minute slightly different from the Earth minute - and thus a phrase "You go in three minutes from now, phaser drawn" or "the core will blow in 2.5 minutes" would be a recipe for disaster.

Heartily agreed. Although the UT might have real trouble analyzing the speech patterns to decide whether precision is warranted or not - and often this would mean analyzing the tail end of a long phrase to decide how a figure at the beginning should be translated, so the UT becomes a time machine.

The time machine argument naturally also affects the "Vulcan years" case. But perhaps the people of the future are conditioned to listening to "UTspeak", which lacks the structure of English and requires the brain to do a further step to accept it as ordinary language? The brain is flexible like that. (Hey, you can read my somewhat broken English, too!)

Timo Saloniemi

Joined:
Mar 15, 2001
Location:
I said out, dammit!
Not to mention a light-year and a parsec would be different for every planet.

Joined:
Aug 26, 2003
But that is somewhat different in that we're highly unlikely to ever run into an integer number of lightyears or parsecs. Thus, it's a safe assumption that every figure we get is an Earth lightyear converted from the alien original unit (regardless of whether that original unit was a local lightyear or something else altogether).

Dialogue may quite often feature integer numbers of hours, minutes or years, though, as the units of time do not merely measure the passage of time for us, they allow us to dictate time intervals as well. If an alien gives a deadline of ten minutes and isn't as courteous as Balok was in "The Corbomite Maneuver" in specifying them as "your Earth minutes", then there's a serious problem there. Nobody would give a deadline of 17.332 of their local units - but if by psychological necessity the "ten minutes" represent a conveniently round local number (say, ten, or twenty, or perhaps eight or twelve if the locals like a different base for their numbering system), how can our heroes tell what that means in Earth minutes?

In that sense, the UT would do well to stick absolutely to using Earth time unit words (both unnatural and natural, that is, both "minute" and "year") only to describe Earth time units!

Timo Saloniemi

Joined:
Feb 21, 2005
Location:
On the USS Sovereign
What aren't all of units in Federation Standard, since we assume that all languages are being translated into it?

Joined:
Mar 9, 2010
It would be a good guess that when the Federation was established by treaty that it also included provision for standardized measurements. Just like how measurements are standardized by treaty here on Earth. Such as the Metric System.

10. ### Ian KeldonFleet Captain

Joined:
Dec 22, 2011
The Federation and its Starfleet are the immediate descendents of the United Earth and its Starfleet, and has always been depicted as being heavily influenced by Earth in terms of "corporate culture", ship nomenclature and naming, etc.

It was the long-standing assumption that what we hear as English in Trek is Federation Standard, which is heavily Earth influenced.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that my understanding is that for all intents and purposes, any time you see a measurement in Earth terms, then it is meant to be "heard" as an Earth term.

11. ### Knight TemplarCommodore

Joined:
Mar 13, 2012
Location:
Oklahoma
Well, we measure our time ultimately on Earth by "Greenwich Mean Time" no matter if you've ever visited England in your life.

So why not use Earth times as the "base" given Earth being the capital world of the Federation?

Joined:
Mar 8, 2001
Location:
Great Britain
^If Earth time is used, do they use GMT (aka Zulu, UTC) for ships? After all even today many navies use GMT.

Joined:
Aug 26, 2003
And indeed "year" and "month" could well be local units, whereas all the discussion above seems to support the view that "hour", "minute" and "second" absolutely must be Earth units every time.

I don't think we can really tell. Except in Sarek's case, where he twice gives his age, twice fails to say "in your emotional Earth years", and twice must be meaning Earth years nevertheless.

Timo Saloniemi

14. ### Boris SkrbicCommanderRed Shirt

Joined:
Dec 14, 2010
Of course, the burden of proof is on anyone proposing that a particular statement is not in Earth years, since Mike Okuda used that assumption in the Chronology, and Mike Okuda advised the writers of recent shows, and the writers have never said they're secretly using other units... Let's not construct theories that can be proven wrong easily.

Sarek did say that 102.437 is "measured in your years", presumably Earth years as he was speaking to McCoy. If you don't like the UT explanation, consider that the English we hear onscreen cannot be precisely the version they're speaking in-universe, as standard English itself would've changed somewhat, so we must be getting a translation one way or another. There is no reason why references to dates and times couldn't have been adapted as well, perhaps in some cases, perhaps in all of them. However, we can only work with what we see and hear.

Joined:
Aug 26, 2003
Perhaps somewhat related to this is the use of other units of measurement by our heroes. Kirk and Spock seem comfortable with both meters and feet, with kilometers and miles. The supposed UT in our TV receivers or ears, or whatever mechanism it is that changes 23rd century English into 20th century English, doesn't force us to hear, say, purely metric units there.

Timo Saloniemi