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Is there any lore in 40K about how Humans can talk to other humans from distant planets and more confusingly xenos like orcs?

My understanding is that most/all humans learn Low Gothic to be able to speak to each other, but it would seem odd that Tau, Orcs and Eldar would also learn that. Also strange that they didn't have much problem communicating during the great crusade with human worlds that had little or no contact with Terra.

The only other time I can think of a 'translator' coming up was in 'Horus Rising' with the Interex playing some kind of musical instrument so that the Kinebrach would understand them.

Is there any lore on this or have they never really gone into it?

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    In the Soul Hunter series of Night Lord books they speak Nostraman. Which is said to have its roots in High Gothic but changed "through generations of unique phrasing by faithless, truthless, peaceless people." It said to also be a flowery language and hard to translate, indeed something just don't translate at all. – complexmanifold Jun 22 '17 at 14:12
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    Congradulations! You've just observed a case of Common Tongue! Please be warned that following the link may incur a risk of 'time suck'. – Jeff Zeitlin Jun 22 '17 at 14:17
  • while much smaller in time and space, look at how long Latin has been preserved through religious doctrine - also, Arabic is a lingua franca amongst Muslims - it's not hard to see that the Imperial Cult would force Gothic as a lingua franca: the other races are probably using it around Hoo-mies because they pick it up. – HorusKol Jun 23 '17 at 0:48
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TLDR:

  • Nope, there is no widespread use of a universal translator in the 40k universe
  • A specific faction or organization may use one
  • The knowledge machines could be thought of as a universal translator, to a fashion...

There is no general universal translator in the 40k universe. While it is possible that one faction or organization may have and use one, there is no widespread (as I assume you are referring to something that exists for all the races similar to Star Trek) use of a translator. If that exists I do not know of it.

The most obvious counter-example of this that I know of is the Space Wolves. The Space Wolves chapter, in addition to knowing High Gothic and Low Gothic (thanks to the knowledge machines), speak their own language that is native to their home planet Fenris. There are two dialects. The first is Wurgen or battle-cant that is spoken during combat and Juvjk or hearth-cant which is spoken outside of battle. These languages that the Space Wolves speak are really known only to themselves allowing them to speak in their native tongue around foreigners when they wish to speak privately. If there was a translator this would defeat the purpose.

And as I mentioned above there are knowledge machines that impart the extensive databases of knowledge into the new Space Marines so that they know what an Ork is, how to speak those other Imperium languages, weapon and armor maintenance, all of the indoctrination chants, etc. These can (such as the Space Wolves) teach the individual High and Low Gothic. We do not know everything that these impart, but it is possible they teach more languages.

As an example of other races, when humanity has interactions with the Eldar the work mon-keigh is thrown around almost all the time. I believe this is a kind of slang word for "inferior species" that the Eldar use given that they have been around since before humanity existed. In every instance the sentence has "english" and then mon-keigh thrown in for good measure. (i.e. "If you do not get out of our territory we will destroy you, mon-keigh")

And as far as I know no one knows anything about the language of the Necrons

(I was also going to mention astropaths as a kind of universal translator, but thinking about that it is not true at all. If anything I think they are the opposite. They probably have more in common with the Navajo code talkers than any universal translator.)


Edit: Just in case you wish to change the correct answer...

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    Its not hard to guess that "mon-keigh" is "monkey". For Eldars humans are just animals that came down from trees yesterday. – Yasskier Jun 22 '17 at 20:40
  • @Yasskier true, but lore wise it has a specific definition. – Odin1806 Jun 22 '17 at 20:44
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    Right, of all the races, I'm most forgiving of eldar because they live so long and are intelligent enough to learn low Gothic if they wanted. Orks just seem too dumb to care or want to. Another example of a Space Marine legion using another language is the Luna Wolves with Chthonic. – Servitor Jun 22 '17 at 21:04
  • @BenWaters Though in the books and etc. the Orks have always got the "bad british" dialect going on Lexicanum says they have something called "Old high Orkish" or something like that. I don't know as much about them and their lingo, though there are definitely interactions between the Space Marines and Orks when they fight. While the "common tongue" definitely applies (it would be way to difficult to not have it), lore wise it is not really there. Everybody has their own language. – Odin1806 Jun 22 '17 at 21:25
  • I believe the Tau have translator implants, but they're more like "really good Google Translate" - the Water Caste has to write them for each language and update them by hand, nothing automatic about them. Also when people use them they sound very stilted and foreign. – Cadence Aug 7 '18 at 22:55
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I've actually found an example of a universal translator in the warhammer 40k universe!

I recently read through the Horus Heresy novel "Legion". In the novel one of the main characters, John Grammaticus was able to not only understand languages but speak them and could pick up on accents very easily. In the novel he clearly states that the only limitation to his power was that some Xeno dialects required making sounds that a human physically can't make due to missing organs.

In the book it is said this is a very rare psychic ability for humans. Potentially Eldar might have this ability more often given their stronger psychic powers, but that is speculation.

  • Awesome! So it is a psyker ability that one just innately has, without training? – Odin1806 Aug 7 '18 at 20:42
  • For John Grammaticus it was innate, and in the novel it was said to be a very rare ability, so I'm not sure if another psyker could learn it even with training. – Servitor Aug 7 '18 at 20:52
  • It worth to say that Grammaticus was a Perpetual - a truly immortal being - so it is one of the rarest breeds in the universe (Vulkan and Emperor are other examples) – Yasskier Aug 7 '18 at 21:59
  • True, but unlike the others someone made him a perpetual, he wasn't a natural.... Unless I find out more about the others as I read ;) – Servitor Aug 7 '18 at 23:59
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To my knowledge, no. The tech-level is decidedly more complex than is normal for the warhammer universe though ancient examples of the technology might exist somewhere from before the Dark Age of Humanity.
The standard option is to enlist the services of the Orders Dialogous,
The specialised wing of the Adepta Sororitas specifically created to handle talking to people who don't know High or Low Gothic.

  • Very interesting, but I believe the OP is more looking for a translator more similar to the badge in Star Trek. – Odin1806 Aug 8 '18 at 14:55
  • I got that :) Miniaturisation is definitely not a common thing in 40k, Typically such small items of High Technology are either priceless unique/rare relics, or masterwork pieces of artifice. I don't think we ever see a translation device at all in use by the Imperium. They invariably resort to linguistic savants and highly trained language specialists to solve this problem. I think my answer is about the closest the OP is going to get! – Ruadhan2300 Aug 8 '18 at 15:24

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