In the 2009 Star Trek movie Spock is learning in the Vulcan academy what it seems chemistry (alcohols and aldehyde, plus benzine) and mathematics/physics (perhaps a Laplacian) from the Earth, but its in English idiom, so isn’t supposed to be Vulcan the language in Vulcan academy? or Spock was learning Earth languages?

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    Where's the English again?... Those are mathematical formulas and chemical bond representations.
    – T.J.L.
    Feb 2, 2018 at 15:42
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    But they're mathematical formulas and chemical bond representations written in Latin script, which is from Earth.
    – Kitkat
    Feb 2, 2018 at 15:49
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    His mother is human, it isn't unlikely that Amanda wanted him to learn human languages as well. Additionally, being a Federation member, it isn't unreasonable to learn skills that would allow one to do more than isolate solely on Vulcan due to lack of language skill
    – NKCampbell
    Feb 2, 2018 at 16:10
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    @Kitkat “But they're mathematical formulas and chemical bond representations written in Latin script” — maybe the exam was in Latin. Maybe the Vulcans invented Latin. Maybe Romulans are actually Romeulans, and founded a city on earth? We’ve just blown this conspiracy wide open. Feb 2, 2018 at 16:12
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    Could also be that the computer did it because of his mother. don't forget he asked spock how he feels.....because he is only half vulcan
    – Thomas
    Feb 2, 2018 at 16:21

1 Answer 1


There is no human language visible in the scene, but there are of course human symbols on the screen.

Apart from simple ignorance of the producers (let's face it: we all know this is the case), the only in-universe explanations I can think of are:

  • Humans play a very predominant role within the Federation and they were the driving force of its inception. One can assume based on this one of two things:
    • Instead of relying on the universal translator, there is a common language for the whole of the Federation, spoken by people from all member worlds. This language is either English or another earth language that uses latin letters or alternatively, a new language has been crafted that uses latin letters. Given the relatively human-like physiology of the species in the early Federation their vocal folds might all be able to produce the same sounds easily, allowing them all to speak the same language without much trouble.
    • There may not be a common language in the Federation. However for scientific purposes the already used latin letters in formulas and symbols on earth were adopted by all other member worlds for a common framework for scientific purposes. So the latin letter "d" to mark a derivative may have been adopted as a symbol independently from the spoken language (you can draw a d without knowing that it is connected to a specific vocal sound in a language). Similarly the capital letters used to describe elements may have been adopted as a symbol too, void of their meaning as a letter in a language.
  • Spock is in fact learning a language at the moment and the best way to do so is to use it naturally while doing and/or learning other things. So he may be learning chemistry and mathematics, but at the same time also the latin alphabet or the earth symbols by looking at the formulas and diagrams in earth language. The fact that his mother is human and his father is the Vulcan ambassador to Earth makes it very plausible that he is learning an Earth language.

I prefer the second of the three explanations. The universal translator makes a common language somewhat unnecessary (one may still argue that one does not want to rely on a technical device for basic communication) and a common language would be difficult to be easily spoken by all member world species. At the same time a common framework for denoting scientific meanings like an element or a mathematical expression is necessary and can easily be adopted by others: Chinese people use the same numbers and mathematical expressions that people in western cultures use, even though the actual letters are from a western culture alphabet.

That said, I wonder why you picked this example. Why not the all-English LCARS screens in basically all else of Trek? The only possible explanation for this would be that there is in fact a common language across the Federation and it is the same English we speak today. Or alternatively, that Federation citizen speak and read their mother tongue only and because humans are so predominant they just discriminate against all non-humans by displaying information on a screen in English.

  • RimaNari : I think that the LCARS are almost the same that our computers today, the language can be selected to the user selection, perhaps all of the users or operators were native english speakers or were able to speak it. And I remember watching screens in other languages, albeit I cant tell exactly were.
    – riccs_0x
    Feb 2, 2018 at 22:42
  • I simply was wondering why the Vulcans were using a non native idiom in a important role as the Academy.
    – riccs_0x
    Feb 2, 2018 at 22:43
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    First picture, bottom left corner: "LIMIT" - I don't think it's "ignorance of the producers". It's that even in 2018 we still don't like reading subtitles, and if those symbols weren't using the Latin alphabet, only chemists would understand what was on the screen.
    – Mazura
    Feb 2, 2018 at 22:55
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    Oh, you're right, there is an actual English word. All the more reason for "ignorance of the producers" *towards continuity". They want the viewer to understand, not for it to make sense in-universe. Which is fine... I mean those LCARS screens are always nice to look at and read what's on there; would be a shame if it were just some random language no one knows.
    – RimaNari
    Feb 2, 2018 at 23:01
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    Spock's father was the Vulcan ambassador to a Earth, so Spock learning Earth languages wouldn't be strange.
    – Xantec
    Feb 4, 2018 at 22:33

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