I've not watched every episode of Star Trek or read every book, but I was wondering why there are still different languages amongst different species, groups, etc ?

For example, if a group of people live together on the same colony & they have Universal Translator technology than after a number of generations shouldn't there be just one language? Because I thought that with each generation the children will pick up the languages spoken by the adults until after so many generations there will be on a few or only one (new) language spoken on the colony.

The same with a species' homeworld: with the use of UT tech, after several generations wouldn't each nation start to learn every other nation's languages, since members of each nation can live & work anywhere on the planet without having a language barrier?

  • possible duplicate of If there are universal translators, how do people talk in other languages?
    – Valorum
    Commented Aug 10, 2014 at 12:58
  • 2
    Not a dupe. But hard to answer! How do children learn their mother-tongue? When is the UT transplanted to children? What do they hear before that? How do they communicate with their playmates... It's a borderline-unanswerable question but not a dupe.
    – Einer
    Commented Aug 10, 2014 at 13:05
  • @Einer - The dupe question has already answered this. The computer knows what language you typically speak and will assume that foreign language use is deliberate.
    – Valorum
    Commented Aug 10, 2014 at 13:44
  • 6
    Doesn't UT still need people to be saying something? As long as they're capable of saying something, the kids would be able to 'hear' what they're actually saying. In fact they'd need to know some language as their first, before the UT could work for them - it's translating to words in the listener's native language, not to direct thoughts, right? If everyone is always only talking and listening in their 'native' tongue, there'd be even less mixing of languages than there is now!
    – Shisa
    Commented Aug 10, 2014 at 15:27
  • 11
    I would say it is just the opposite: having universal translator means that people can use their native language, without having to worry about learning any other language. With an universal translator, you could go to France and live and work in France without knowing a word of French, and without any need to learn about it. Nowadays, you need to know French; you may try to live without it (for example with English) but it will mean that there will be a "barrier" between you and most of the local population.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Aug 10, 2014 at 16:34

2 Answers 2


Why would a UT reduce the number of languages spoken? If you spoke x and had children they would learn to speak x because you raised them. If anything UT tech reduces pressure for people to speak the same language or learn a new one. If you speak English why would you learn German? The UT would make it completely unnecessary. I think you would see more drift in existing languages which would probably split in to new languages faster, because there would be no need for a cohesive view of the language everything goes through the UT.

  • But if you live in a place with people from lots of different countries & every one sends their children to the same schools, wouldn't the children start picking up bits of language from each other. Also wouldn't they pick up the odd word/ phrase or two when they go to the store, if for example, the staff are from different countries (but with UT they can communicate easily with each other) ?
    – Bubba
    Commented Sep 4, 2014 at 12:02

It really depends on how prevalent the UT is and what is required to run it. From DS9 we know that the Ferengi use implants though the Next Gen era Federation uses comm badges according to the tech manuals. We don't ever see a pure civilian translator but we can assume that that the federation com badges translate both what the wearer is saying and what they are hearing. Before then (Ent and TOS era) UT tech is bulky and probable not in wide use without some sort of centralized service like Siri where a lightweight client relays to a powerful machine that sends back the translation. Implants tends to be very rare among Federation peoples often times called out as a differentiator since they tend to go for reconstruction or manipulation over replacement.

Outside of Starfleet it would be questionable how prevalent UT's would be. Most communities would probably settle on one or two common languages they share. Most people grow up outside of starfleet so unless their colony or community has a large starfleet presence they may or may not speak Federation Standard growing up. This could indicate why cultural accents still exists. We do see people in Starfleet learning other languages and in "Firstborn" TNG s7e21 we see colonists speaking in both Klingonese and Federation Standard for the audience. Within Starfleet everyone would either be speaking Federation Standard or their translators would be providing Federation Standard for listeners.

In the end most Federation citizens would be raised Bilingual unless they are living in a culture on the outskirts of Federation society or a community that holds it's pre-federation cultural identity. We see this with Keiko O'Brien, B'Elanna, and Chakotay where they have a working knowledge of their cultural language but would have learned Federation Standard

However, those born into Starfleet families like La Forge or Harry Kim would probably be raised with Federation Standard since it is what is coming out of everyone's translators or mouths. Unless they have a particular interest they would not learn other languages.

As for written script there is no real explanation as to how they can read languages of races they have had little to no contact with. However, characters will fairly consistently hold a tricorder up next to the screen or open it and set it next to the screen so we can assume tricorders come loaded with some sort of script translator. But as I said, this is not consistent.

Beyond Federation races we have even less to go on. As for Klingons, Romulans, or Cardassians there is no clear indication of how they handle their own translations. We know the Ferengi get translator implants, but since their homeworld is almost exclusively Ferengi one would assume that by the time they leave homeworld they have a working knowledge of Ferengi when they are implanted.

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