In Star Trek Into Darkness,

Uhura was sent alone to communicate with hostile looking Klingons on Qo'noS.

Why couldn't the universal translator be used remotely or with security personnel?

Note: the Universal Translator was invented before the new timeline diverged from the original one.

  • 1
    Although the destruction of the USS Kelvin is the main divergence point, where we the viewers join the new universe, the new universe and the old one were already divergent before then. Examples: Change in nationality for Kahn, Kahn's crew being in hibernation pods instead of hibernation shelves/beds. It is possible the UT wasn't developed prior to Trek'09, since Captain Pike asked Uhura if she knew the difference between Vulcan and Romulan, rather than relying on the UT.
    – Xantec
    Commented Jun 17, 2013 at 18:06

2 Answers 2


Several answers come to mind, some based in the show's mythology, others in terms of production and character development.

  • Klingons are no fans of technology that isn't designed to kill, maim or destroy. Using a universal translator to speak to a Klingon might be seen, by the Klingon, as a sign of disrespect. "You come to my planet illegally, run around, claiming you are hunting terrorists and you can't even explain yourself in my language? Die, alien."

  • Consider in the Prime Universe when Kirk and crew were being tried before being sent to Rura Penthe (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country) they were forced to listen to their trial through a translator because the Klingons refused to speak Federation Basic. The period before the Klingons and Federation become allies is fraught with tension in either universe.

  • The Universal Translator is not a perfect device and subject to linguistic and nuance-based errors. Considering the nature of the relationship with the Klingons in the Abrams-verse Star Trek, someone who spoke the language would definitely be preferable to someone using the Universal Translator.

  • This gives Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, noted linguist (and the only person who COULD speak Klingon) an opportunity to get off the ship, get some screen time negotiating with a Klingon. When her negotiation fails, she gets some tough-girl credits for stabbing the Klingon and ending her negotiation in a style a Klingon can understand if not respect.

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    Re: #4 - great. So any random Klingon now can be used for Worf Effect, not just Worf? Commented Jun 17, 2013 at 13:10
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    #5, Uhura also has a solid knowledge of Klingon culture. She specifically tries to reason with them using Klingon reasoning.
    – user1027
    Commented Jun 17, 2013 at 15:07
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    +1 for the last point. He just needed a scene with Uhura in it.
    – BBlake
    Commented Jun 17, 2013 at 16:22
  • @Keen Exactly! For Klingons how you say the words is just as important, or more so, than what you're actually saying. The UT doesn't seem like it would be able to convey the situational complexities of a Klingon conversation.
    – Monty129
    Commented Jun 18, 2013 at 21:51
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    It is also, to me anyway, that it's a matter of honour and respect. By speaking to the Klingons face to face she is basically conveying to them how important her message is and that she is honouring them by making the extra effort. Commented Jul 31, 2014 at 9:55

To add to Thaddeus' points one other that comes to mind is the fact that Kirk and co. where trying to convince the Klingons they where not with the Federation. Using a device like the Universal Translator could have given away their true identities.

  • +1 | Good call, Monty. I forgot to consider not everyone might have a universal translator BECAUSE it's Federation technology. Commented Jun 21, 2013 at 1:48

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