Friday, May 15, 2009

Lost in Translation — Star Trek XI

I finally saw the new Star Trek movie tonight. While I take time to collect my thoughts on the new film as a whole let me comment on one little aspect of it - matters of translation.

Interestingly the credits mention a Romulan and Vulcan Language Supervisor (or Consultant or some such title). However after my first viewing of the film I have to say I didn't notice any Vulcan being spoken, and I only noticed what was presumably a little Romulan shouting when Kirk and Spock beam over to Nero's ship. Perhaps there were more such moments than I realized.

That being said, the basic issues of translation among alien races is acknowledged from the very beginning. From the moment Uhura is introduced to Kirk, it is clear that she is more than just a subspace-ham-radio operator. She is a linguistic expert - move over Hoshi Sato!

Unlike her counterpart in the original timeline, who couldn't seem to speak Klingon if her life depended on it, this Uhura is eavesdropping on and translating Klingon communications. This is really much more credible and a refreshing update for Uhura's character.

When asked if she knows Romulan she answers, 'All three dialects.' While we may wonder how an interstellar empire only has three dialects (variations of one language!), she may simply be referring to the three dialects known to the Federation or the three dialects of the language used in official Romulan channels.

At any rate, it is a nice detail that adds some texture to the Romulans linguistically. This, along with the shaved, tattooed subculture Nero and his fellow miners seem to be a part of, makes the Romulans seem like much less of a monoculture than normal. And it at least begins to acknowledge the reality that languages are not static, but morph and diverge over time.

One other linguistic tidbit is the computer's struggle to interpret Chekov's thick Russian accent. It makes me wonder if the Universal Translator speech recognition software has similar trouble understanding accents.