This speculation is related to the most recent episode of Star Trek: Discovery: Season 4, Episode 12. If spoilers are an issue please return after your viewing.

The question was asked: If the 10-C were so intelligent, why don’t they have Universal Translators?

captain burnham uses a universal translator via her communicator
A Federation Universal Translator system, used via a standard issue communicator.,

In Star Trek: Discovery, Season 4, Episode 12, the crew of the Discovery encounter a species so advanced that there is almost no common ground for direct communication, yet they don’t make use of a universal translator. Why not?

There are a variety of reasons they may not utilize such technology, the most important being, they don’t talk to anyone but each other. Given their level of technological sophistication (they were rated Level 2 on the Kardashev scale) they may not have many species capable of interacting at their technological (and presumably social) level.

kardashev scale
On the Kardashev scale, the C-10 are a Type II civilization.

If there aren’t many K2 level societies in the Milky Way Galaxy, the 10-C may have never needed to have Universal Translators. Everyone capable of communicating with them is likely living inside of the Hyperfield they constructed for their own protection against unknown potential threats.

Their level of sophistication is so far removed beyond our own, we may as well be chimpanzee’s in the presence of an intelligent machine. There would have no language in common and the computer would have to create a means for the chimpanzees to be able to understand the concepts it would hope to convey to said simians, who by the computer’s standards would have barely any language skills at all.

The 10-C did make a concession to our limited intellect, by determining that we are able to use numeric notations sufficiently complex to recognize how to communicate with them. We did manage to build starships, after all. Reasoning, after scanning Discovery, our collection of species were sophisticated enough to build artificial computational resources capable of understanding rudimentary communication.

Just as a scientist might discover a new language and recognize it is language, because of periodicity, repeated phrases, and language structures, without some means of comparing the new language to the one he is using, without a Rosetta Stone, as it were, there is little chance of effective translation.

Discovery’s DOT robots applying the “peaceful” hydrocarbon to the external surface of the hyperfield boundary as a sign of both peaceful intent and demonstrating a degree of understanding of the communication based nature of the compound.

Once the 10-C realized Discovery’s crew had discovered the previously established “emotion-tangential molecular structures” they decided to make the effort to communicate with Discovery. But Discovery did not understand how the molecules were more than emotion-delivery systems, they were also a temporal coordinate and information delivery mechanism when utilized in three or four dimensions, since they used time to orient information in the molecular structure as well.

star trek discovery 10-c encounter
A portion of the First Contact coalition waiting in the hanger bay as Species 10-C begins their attempt at communication.

Discovery’s crew would use a simplified computer programming notation to recognize and repurpose for simple linguistic interaction. Inelegant, but usable.

Universal Translators? How quaint.

Since their language depends on emotional context delivered through molecular, photonic and positional notations, the standard universal translator would likely need extensive reprogramming.

There are 16 complex hydrocarbon molecules in use by the 10-C as part of their communication protocol which comes with chemical, photonic and temporal indices.

Such reprogramming which would only be done after a successful index of information with the primary species in their native language and a comparative linguistic database for Federation Standard could be compiled.

The language of the 10-C may be so complex and nuanced, there may be no true translation possible between their language and Federation languages, which may lack the capacity to convey the complexity of the 10-C molecular, photonic and temporally complex language parameters.

Answer Man Thaddeus Howze


Thaddeus Howze
Thaddeus Howze

Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.