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This is discussion archived from a time before the current discussion method was installed.

Drop Dead Gorgias: I kind of like the idea of retitling this article Babel Fish, as the concept is pretty well outlinied in H2G2 in a way that will pretty much cover all the other cases.

Gus: No objection from me [NMA]. Any of the mechanisms called-out (microbes, universal translator, babel fish) describe the notion. "Babel Fish" makes the funniest noise, though. :-)

Mister Six: Seconded. Babel Fish is by far the better known term (hell, it was used for an online translation engine) and the one that would be most intuitive.


Tanto: On second thought, I'm deleting the Metal Gear Solid example, since it's more Translation Convention than this (and in fact is already there).


Will It Work: I thought Mokona was female?


William Wide Web: I think the Oldest One In The Book thing is really more of an Aliens Speaking English than Translator Microbes—actually, I'd say the latter goes back all the way to Acts with "speaking in tongues" where everybody in the crowd, no matter what language they spoke, understood the disciples.


Iustinus: Would the fact that language problems never ever crop up in Greek mythology, no matter how far someone travels count? (Think, for instance, of how easily the Greeks and Trojans converse in The Iliad.)


Haven: "There are languages in Discworld. Because it is Discworld, this counts as a subversion of Translator Microbes". What? Seriously, look at the example below and tell me it has anything to do with translation assisting phlebotinum.

  • Subverted in Discworld novels. Terry Pratchett provides examples of many different languages which are all used fairly briefly, including lampooning the fact that the word "Aargh!" can mean wildly different things in different languages. Rincewind the wizard is presented as an expert in languages (In fact, it's probably one of the only thing he's legitimately good at, aside from running and survival), and is the only one who can understand the tourist Twoflower in The Colour of Magic - although not because he speaks his language, but because they both speak a third one. This ability is revisited in Interesting Times. During the majority of the books, though, everyone speaks English (or, as it is referred to, "Morporkian"), which we learn in Jingo is a sort of lingua franca for the entire Discworld, similar to English in our world (at least for now).
    • Interestingly enough, in both TCOM and IT, Terry stops providing us with the minutiae of the translation struggle at about the halfway mark, probably because it would drive the reader nuts.


BritBllt: Removing the natter...

  • Which runs into crashing Fridge Logic - they have to have a conventional form of language that they just aren't using. Otherwise, how do they tell the stories those metaphors refer to?
  • Fridge Logic kills most of Darmok, really. The universal translator shouldn't really care what the etymology of the word is — if their word for "betrayal" happens to be "That time Shumshok stabbed Drugah with his own knife at Rilford Falls", it'll just translate "That time Shumshok stabbed Drugah with his own knife at Rilford Falls" as "betrayal". That's how language works.
    • Never mind how a (limited) spacefaring race can rely on an entirely metaphorical language. Try explaining an internal combustion engine using nothing but metaphors from Greek mythology. Now consider that a warp core is probably a wee bit more complicated.
    • "Henry Ford and his Model-T!"
  • Fridge Logic even makes you wonder about some of the main characters. If Chekov was having such a hard time saying vessels/wessels/victor/wictor, why didn't he just speak in his native Russian all the time? Unless of course he just grew up speaking broken English...

Fridge Logic questions and answers should really be on the Headscratchers pages.