In Star Trek (2009), why would it matter that Uhura knew Romulan? In all scenes together, Starfleet crew and the Romulans were able to understand each other. Either they were all speaking the same language, or the universal translator was able to translate everything.

Either way, why would she have personally translated a Klingon distress call, or need to relieve the existing communications officer because he didn't know Romulan? Is there not a universal translator in this universe?

  • its highly likely that the scenes with nero and the federation, it was either because nero had an accurate translater on his ship, or that they were speaking english(federation language)
    – Himarm
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 16:59
  • Because if the UT breaks, they want to still be able to communicate with the Romulans/listen to their signals traffic.
    – Valorum
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 17:22
  • 1
    Note that Microsoft Word does not make one a writer and Photoshop does not make one an artist. Commented May 3, 2016 at 17:43
  • Her language skills were secondary. Spock convinced Kirk she was critical to the mission Spock had in mind. Commented May 3, 2016 at 20:27
  • 1
    At a more fundamental level one could ask why bother learning another language if you had (an actual working version of) Google translate. As you study a foreign language, you would be surprised for much of the culture, thought processes, perspective you can learn and posit out from it. Even little things like how many words a language has to describe a thing (cash, dosh, bucks, money, etc. as an example) gives you an idea of the weight of that idea in that culture. Not a linguistics guy here, I just liked learning foreign languages when I was younger.
    – Broklynite
    Commented Aug 1, 2016 at 13:40

2 Answers 2


Uhura received a battlefield promotion because she was able to distinguish Romulan from Vulcan (despite their linguistic similarities) and can translate signals directly, without waiting for the UT to kick in. This would, theoretically allow her to identify the Romulan ship by its signal traffic alone.

Pike considered Spock’s counsel. Turning, he ordered the communications officer, “Scan Vulcan space. Check for any transmissions in Romulan.”
“Sir, I’m not sure I can distinguish the Romulan language from Vulcan.”
“What about you?” Pike asked. “Can you speak Romulan, Cadet…”
“Uhura. All three dialects, sir.”
“…Uhura, relieve the lieutenant.” - ST: Official Novelisation

The fact that the UT can translate Romulan isn't a key factor if the goal is to listen out for Romulan-sounding transmissions.

  • Uhura received a battlefield promotion? I must have missed that in the movie.
    – Xantec
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 20:43
  • @Xantec - She went from cadet to Communications Officer in a single bound.
    – Valorum
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 20:55
  • Unless there is a regulation requiring that bridge staff must be of rank Ensign or higher, thus implicitly indicating that Pike or Spock promoted her at some point, I don't see why being communications officer for the duration of the mission indicates she received any promotion during it.
    – Xantec
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 20:59
  • @Xantec - Although the term "promotion" implies an increase in rank, there must be a military term that describes being placed into a position of greater authority than your normal rank would imply, in the same way that Harry was made Operations Officer and given control of the Ops Dept despite only being an Ensign.
    – Valorum
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 21:03
  • That always bothered me about Harry. He is a 'senior' officer and a bridge officer, starts the show as an ensign and ends the show as an ensign, despite at least two other promotions (Tom and Tuvok). He even takes command during the night shift at times.
    – Xantec
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 22:10

The simple answer is that the plot needed her to. The actual answer is that Pike was asking his communications officer if he specifically spoke Romulan, which he, Hawkins I think his name was, didn't and Pike was attempting to verify what Jim was saying. Uhura is also the person who translated the Klingon messages that Kirk used to put the whole thing together. When he runs up to her, he asked if the ship was Romulan. If she didn't understand the languages that she was listening to, she might not have had an answer for him and Bones.

And FYI on the rank thing, Uhura and Kirk were already lieutenants before they even got on the ship. It was established in the novelization and movie tie-ins that they were post-graduate students and served on other ships while at the academy. Uhura on the Ahriman, Kirk on the Farragut.

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