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We've seen that Robot can understand what appear to be reasonably complex sentences in English, such as

being asked to go outside and repair any damage to the ship that it sustains while rotating, or recognizing when Will correctly guesses his plan to help Scarecrow.

He certainly is also physically capable of producing audible human speech, such as "danger, Will Robinson," but also other words, like

"no" and "friend"

Finally, he seems to be very intelligent, given the complexity of the technology he interfaces with and his ability to reason, as well as the complicated behavior we've seen from the other robots.

With the hostile robot's plan to capture Robot, use it to lure Will to it, and then disguise itself as Robot to get closer to his friends being a definite example of complicated strategic reasoning.

Not to mention his apparent link to Will, which should also help with learning languages. So, why does Robot speak so little of any human language?

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It isn't uncommon for new learners of a language to understand far more than they can speak. I understand German rather well - enough to follow what e.g. Angela Merkel says on the news - but I can only formulate sentences about simple concepts, and that stumblingly and with bad grammar. That could be the case with Robot.

If Robot is created to be a servant or soldier, it is also possible (even likely) that more attention has been given to making it understand and execute orders than to respond in words to complex subjects. It simply isn't a high priority.

It may also be more difficult to program formulation over understanding. Take IBM's AI Watson, which won Jeopardy! with ease back in 2011. It was capable of analysing quite complex questions and finding the correct answer, but could only respond in very simple sentences and would not be able to carry a conversation. It may be that Robot, like Watson, is incapable of true, conscious understanding of subjects in spite of the ability to react to quite complex situations, and hence cannot formulate complex sentences on its own.

Finally, you are anthropomorphizing Robot. It is alien, and there is little reason to believe that its brain works in any way like a human brain. Something that is easy for us might be difficult for it, and vice versa, and that might well pertain to how it uses language, even if it is a sentient, conscious being.

Caveat: I have not watched Season 2 yet, so I don't know if anything in it counters my arguments.

Of course, the real out-of-universe reason is that the series' creators have decided that this is how it should be, and they may not have given much thought to exactly why this is the case and merely hand-waved it.

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  • I would completely agree with the above. It is similar for me with my level of understanding but it's much lower than yours. If someone speaks German slowly and does not interject it with shall we say less common words or terms I can just about comprehend it. But if they speak at a normal or faster pace I cannot keep up! Written similar terrible grammar and typos too but it is a start.
    – AndyF
    Commented Jan 9, 2020 at 16:30
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Probably because he has to overcome intentional limitations in his programming.

In Season 3, we see a subtitled conversation between SAR and Robot where they converse quite fluently in their alien language about Robot's first meeting with Will, confirming the notion of significant expressive linguistic ability.

We also see that SAR is capable of expressing much more complex concepts in English than Robot, despite having had far less exposure to human languages. They are able to speak in full sentences, with verb, subject and object, and use more "advanced" words like "programming." While is possible that SAR is the alien robotic equivalent of a linguistics prodigy, or that Robot has the alien robot equivalent of a major learning disability, the previous details suggest a more plausible explanation: the robots' linguistic abilities are related to how much they have been able to develop beyond their programmed limitations.

This is supported by the fact that SAR has arguably grown beyond their programming to an even greater degree. While Robot has substantially modified his physical form to match a different lifeform, the final episode strongly suggests that this is a capability that was programmed, since other robots vaguely assume the forms of those who helped repair them. Even though Robot's true growth has been mental—he learned to care for others rather than being hostile to them—we see that the other robots have the seeds of this capability by default, since they defend the humans after being repaired.

Thus, by this standard, SAR went much further, and has been growing as a person for much longer: while functions like protection and attacking seem to be programmed by default, SAR developed emotions like hatred towards their creators, and more than that: they developed the will to kill them, presumably in complete defiance of the robots' baseline programmed personality. Of all the robots that we have seen, SAR demonstrates by far the most individuality.

As such, it seems as if the robots' linguistic abilities in languages other than the one (ones?) that they were hard-coded with are proportional to the degree to which they have diverged from their baseline programming. In other words, despite their evident intelligence and linguistic ability, the robots need to work very hard at overcoming the limitations they were created with. As such, Robot learns English much more slowly than his intellect and language skills would otherwise permit.

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Robot is essentially an ESL (English As a Second Language) student

The robots seem to communicate through a mix of wireless digital communication which gives them basic location data on each other and light displays for basic communication. As an example, when the three silver robots have to converse they all turn to look at each other. This suggests that Robot’s primary communication is machine or “robot” language through non-verbal, digital and visual interaction.

Further, they seem to use sound for emergency signals only. So forming coherent sounds will be very difficult because they are going from near zero experience to the complex information patterns that humans use for speaking.

Robot does appear to be learning, and growing in his English language skills, but as a second language, he is less familiar with and may be more hesitant to primarily rely on English as his primary communication at this time.

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    Did you watch the whole show? I only ask because if you get to the end, you will notice several details that contradict much of this answer. I could tell you what they are (and indeed, my answer mentions some of them), but I would not want to spoil the third season.
    – Adamant
    Commented Dec 3, 2021 at 19:36
  • I have not. I just started watching. But now you have me very intrigued to binge. Commented Dec 3, 2021 at 19:44
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    OK. Well, if you watch the whole series, you will find a number of events that suggest an alternative explanation to that given in this answer. You will also see further demonstrations of the linguistic skills of robots in at least one spoken language, as well as a 1+ year time lapse during which Robot learns only perhaps three additional words in English despite daily interaction with English speakers. The rest would be spoilers.
    – Adamant
    Commented Dec 3, 2021 at 19:46

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