In Star Trek (2009), we see Pavel Chekov humorously struggling with the computer at his console--as he tries to enter a code by voice in his heavily-Russian-accented English, the computer fails to identify the code and forces him to repeat.

Since universal translators have been able to translate all of the language we've heard in Star Trek (or at least from the episodes I've seen), let alone human languages, why didn't Chekov just speak in Russian?

  • 9
    Because "nuclear wessels" is hilarious and we needed a call-back
    – Valorum
    Aug 23, 2020 at 19:47
  • 1
    could it be for security reasons? not only do you need to know the code, but have the capability to pronounce it. a code that has hundreds of acceptable answers is a lot less secure than one that only has one.
    – shufly
    Aug 23, 2020 at 19:55
  • Is there any indication that he speaks Russian? I've been binge watching TOS recently and don't recall him ever using anything other than English. Aug 24, 2020 at 1:47
  • 1
    Maybe he wanted to practice English since that is apparently the default language in Starfleet. Aug 24, 2020 at 7:43
  • 1
    But honestly, a machine that can automatically translate any language should also understand accents. Aug 24, 2020 at 17:49

1 Answer 1


It is a left-over from Star Trek TOS. In it Chekov spoke Russian-accented English, so 2009 version wanted to reinforce that this is in fact same Star Trek, but better (IMO).

So in order to know how that happened one needs to go to ST: TOS and Jerry Sohl:

"We were originally going to have [each crew member] carry a language translator, which would fit on the wrist like a beeper, and no matter what area of the universe they were in, the thoughts that the people were thinking would automatically be translated into English as they spoke. We got rid of that idea, and assumed that everybody did speak English." (The Star Trek Interview Book, pp. 127-128)

*After MemoryAlpha's entry under UT.

So by inference, the in-universe explanation was that ethnic (loosely understood here) background was cultivated and most people on Earth were multi-lingual still. Yes, UT was part of the comms protocols, also internal on-board comms, but apparently UT was more of a concept than an actual device. In other words: plot hole.

  • It's not necessarily a plot hole if it's device-specific. The universal translator might be built into communication devices by default, but not built into operations devices by default.
    – tbrookside
    Sep 1, 2020 at 13:28
  • It might, but elsewhere says UT is part of all comms protocols, and that would include internal - shipboard - operations. In that case UT would be by default used in the crew interactions with the computer. But the scene suggests Chekov speaks English with heavy Russian accent and UT is not used.
    – AcePL
    Sep 1, 2020 at 14:11

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