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We’ve all experienced it: that moment when we’re reading a sci-fi story or watching a sci-fi movie about alien contact and we realize that everyone is speaking the same language….usually English. Early Star Trek episodes are sometimes lampooned for this Anglo-centric stance. So the question for us is this: how does everyone know the same language?

Authors and artists approach the problem of cross-linguistic translation in multiple ways. (In this post, I’m conflating translation and interpretation under the term translation, but these are different linguistic processes.) Fans of Doctor Who, for example, know that the TARDIS facilitates the ‘automatic’ translation of language. This allows the Doctor’s linguistically ordinary human companions (usually monolingual) to participate in all of his adventures unencumbered by linguistic barriers that most of us would face in similar situations.


This blog post was originally published here: