Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Lost in Translation—They Sure Don't Sound Like Son'a To Me

Reflecting on the role of translation in the Star Trek movies brings us to Star Trek: Insurrection. Now in this film, translation plays no role whatsoever, and therein lies the problem.

One of the difficulties of this movie is explaining the revelation that the Son'a are really the Ba'ku. This raises a lot of questions about where they got their ships, how they have represented themselves as an entire race and a force to be reckoned with, how they were able to enslave two other races and so on.

I would guess they misrepresented themselves to the Federation like so many Gibeonites (see Joshuah 9:3-15), and the Federation didn't probe too deeply because of the questionable nature of the whole matter. But that simplistic explanation doesn't really account for everything. You can read a much more thorough exploration of the the Son'a problem here, along with some theories that try to explain it away.

No matter how we explain their deception, it seems incredible that none of the Federation teams involved in this mission noticed what Dr. Crusher discovered from a simple (for the 24th century) DNA scan.

But there's a problem that would have been even more obvious to any observers: language.

Didn't anyone notice that the Son'a and the Ba'ku were speaking the same language? Wouldn't the UT instantly pick up on that?

In other words, for the ruse to work, the Son'a had to create or learn an entirely foreign language and always speak it in the presence of anyone from the Federation. This would even require that the written language used on the ships' systems and other technology would have to be re-invented. Even with 100 years for the language of the two groups to diverge there should be striking similarities in phonetics, grammar, character sets, and so on. For example, we readily recognize Shakespearean English as English.

Well perhaps that's exactly what they did - perhaps they even drew on another Ba'ku language no longer used in the colony in the Briar Patch. Even so, when the Son'a prisoners were being held captive in the Ba'ku village, did they remain completely speechless so their friends and families wouldn't notice they were speaking a Ba'ku language? Did they speak some completely alien language so perfectly that they weren't given away by a Ba'ku accent?

It's a shame that the matter of language was not addressed or at least acknowledged, because maybe just maybe no one took a DNA scan, but everyone has ears, and everyone has a Universal Translator.

NEXT: Horta Hears a Who

1 comment:

Symbolt said...

Actually, it's quite possible for someone to learn a foreign language very well. If the language is an obscure one, most people would not realize that their accent was not perfect. It didn't have to be a Ba'ku language, it could have been ancient Bethazed. Also, the Ba'ku may have an inborn excellent language-learning ability.