Universal Translator, Babelfish Possible

The universal translator is a classic Star Trek plot device that makes encounters with alien civilizations much less awkward. Alienese goes in - American English comes out.


(Star Trek Universal Translator)

But that's just television. Now, when a Professor of Biological Anthropology and Linguistics starts talking about it, that's something worth understanding.

Terrence Deacon of the University of California, Berkeley, posits that all language has a universal structure. Regardless of whether the aliens communicate with sounds, pictures or even odors, there must be a set of rules that govern the communication.

One common way to denote an object, for example, involves pointing to it and then emitting an expression. Whether you use an index finger, a tentacle or antennae, you've just directly referenced the object.

Professor Deacon argues that even abstract symbols can be understood as referencing words that point directly to real objects in the physical world we all share. If that is true, it should be possible to have a device that uses software to tease apart the symbols of a completely alien language and then determine how they reference the world - a universal translator.

Other references to this idea include the famous Babel Fish from Douglas Adams' 1979 novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and the translator discs from Larry Niven's 1970 novel Ringworld.

Consider these real-life (if Earth-bound) translators:

Via Universal 'babelfish' could translate alien tongues.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 4/24/2008)

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