A universal translator is a device common to many science fiction works, especially on television. First described in Murray Leinster's 1945 novella "First Contact", the translator's purpose is to offer an instant translation of any language. Technology companies are striving to develop a practical "universal" translator for common use.
As a convention, it is used to remove the problem of translating between alien languages, unless that problem is essential to the plot. To translate a new language in every episode when a new species or culture is encountered would consume time (especially when most of these shows have a half-hour or one-hour format) normally allotted for plot development and would potentially, across many episodes, become repetitive to the point of annoyance. Occasionally, alien races are able to extrapolate the rules of English from very little speech and then immediately be fluent in it, making the translator unnecessary.
While a universal translator seems unlikely, due to the apparent need for telepathy, scientists continue to work towards similar real-world technologies involving small numbers of known languages. See machine translation and speech recognition for discussions of real-world natural language processing technologies.
Other articles related to "universal translator, universal, translator":
... They are from a race called the Skrreeas, but their language is difficult for the universal translator to understand ... have a hard time adjusting to rules and regulations at first, but the universal translator eventually translates their language and enables them to communicate ... for Haneek that Haneek seemed to be admiring when the universal-translator was not yet functioning ...
... of SpeechGear's CompadreInteract product stated, At last, this is the StarTrek Universal Translator, and you can buy it today ... has announced that it is developing a translator ... The United States Army has also developed a two-way translator for use in Iraq ...
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