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"In science fiction one can say a great many things that are unpalatable, … because it's expressed as science fiction you can slip it past their defenses."
- Frederik Pohl

Translatophone  
  A device that performs mechanical translation of one language into another.  

This Is a very early, if not the earliest, reference to machine translation of language, in science fiction.

"One of the most successful of these various contrivances, and the one, indeed, in which I was most deeply interested, was a small machine very much resembling in appearance the tube, with a mouth-piece at one end and an ear-piece at the other, frequently used by deaf persons, but very different in its construction and action. In the ordinary instrument the words spoken into the mouth-piece are carried through the tube to the ear, and are then heard exactly as they are spoken. When I used my instrument the person spoke into the mouth-piece exactly as if it were an ordinary tube, but the result was very different, for the great feature of my invention was that, no matter what language was spoken by the person at the mouth-piece, be it Greek, Choctaw, or Chinese, the words came to the ear in perfect English.

"This translation was accomplished by means of certain delicate machinery contained in the end of the mouth-piece, which was longer and larger than that of the ordinary ear-tube, but the outward appearance of which did not indicate that it held anything extraordinary. It would take too long to explain this mechanism to you, and you would not be interested; nor is it necessary to my story.

"When, after countless experiments and disappointments, and days and nights of hard study and hard work, I finished my little machine, which I called a translatophone, I was naturally anxious to see how it would work with some other person than myself at the mouth-piece. In the course of its construction I had frequently tried the machine by putting the ear-piece into my ear and speaking into the mouth-piece such scraps of foreign languages as I was able to command. These experiments were generally satisfactory, but I could not be satisfied that the machine was a success until some one else should speak into it in some foreign tongue of which I knew positively nothing, so that it would be impossible for me to translate it unconsciously.

From My Translatophone, by Frank Stockton.
Published by Not known in 1901
Additional resources -

Compare to Translator Discs from Ringworld (1970) by Larry Niven, the Babel fish from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1979) by Douglas Adams and Language Rectifier from Ralph 124c 41 + (1911) by Hugo Gernsback.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from My Translatophone
  More Ideas and Technology by Frank Stockton
  Tech news articles related to My Translatophone
  Tech news articles related to works by Frank Stockton

Translatophone-related news articles:
  - Deep Speech 2: Mandarin and English Recognized

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