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Language is a systematized form of communication that most commonly occurs in spoken, written, signed/gestural, and thought (telepathic) forms, although other methods of communication have been observed in the known galaxy. The use of language is one of the defining features of sentience; though non-sentient species may exhibit some of the properties of language in their communications, the possession of all of these characteristics is the domain of sentients.
General features of natural languageEdit
Languages are set apart from random signals and non-sentient communication in that set relationships between the various components are determined by a systematized grammar, a set of rules by which that language operates. Even in the most extreme examples of telepathic language (i.e. that of the Cairn), which are otherwise devoid of a recognizable set of symbols, the images, emotions, and concepts conveyed are bound together by the logic of the situations depicted such that the meaning intended by one interlocutor can be accurately deduced by the other.
The symbols used in languages--aside, perhaps, for the direct images used by the Cairn language and components of certain other telepathic forms of communications--are arbitrary in nature. That is to say that while a symbol (a morpheme or word, for instance) may be assigned one meaning in one language, it need not carry that meaning in another language. For instance, the name "Bena" (daughter of Ferengi Grand Nagus Rom and his Bajoran wife Leeta) means "joy" in Bajoran, but "underflooring" in Ferengi. (DS9 novel: Ferenginar: Satisfaction is Not Guaranteed)
Comparative evolution of natural languageEdit
Languages do not evolve at the same rate or in the same sequence for every species. It is most common for species to develop a spoken or signed language first, but in at least one known case--that of the Leyrons, who developed a written language before either of the former. (TNG episode: "Loud as a Whisper")
It is also possible for a species undergoing evolutionary transition to lose the capacity for a certain mode of communication during the process due to preference for another more advantageous one. The most notable example is the Cairn loss of vocal speech capabilities after they evolved an image-based telepathic language. (TNG episode: "Dark Page")
In some cases, a particular species may simply never have evolved a particular form of communication. Two known examples of humanoid species not developing the capacity for speech--both Delta Quadrant races--are that of Fantome's race encountered by the USS Voyager in the Void, and the Ventu, native to the planet Ledos. (VOY episode: "The Void", VOY episode: "Natural Law") The Efrosians are known to have never developed written language, and continue to use a music-based archival system even though since their first contact with the Federation, they have been thoroughly exposed to the concept. (TTN novel: Taking Wing)
In other cases, a form of communication may be observed in a primitive state, such as the spoken language of the Pakleds, who became a spacefaring race by stealing the technology of other species. (TNG episode: "Samaritan Snare").
Political aspects of languageEdit
United Federation of PlanetsEdit
On many worlds with unified governments, one language tends to dominate that society and may become known as the language of that people, or even overall organization as in the case of Federation Standard, an apparent descendant of the English language. (In certain quarters, Federation Standard has also been referred to as Anglish. [TOS novel: The Romulan Way]) In the case of Federation Standard, no evidence exists to suggest that any other languages have been suppressed, as the case of Ensign Muñiz, who reverted to his native Spanish as he neared his death, illustrates (DS9 episode: "The Ship"). Still, there are those living on United Earth who take a rather less favorable view upon other languages. Lieutenant Commander Data once attempted to suggest that Jean-Luc Picard's native French language had become obsolete following the rise of Federation Standard, a suggestion that incurred the captain's ire. (TNG episode: "Code of Honor") This points to an ongoing debate regarding the preservation and use of minority languages in the modern Federation.
There has been evidence of an attempt to devise an intergalactic auxiliary language to avoid giving preference to the Earth language of Federation Standard. Ironically, this language was termed Esperanta after a similar attempt native to Earth itself. While Captain James Kirk demonstrated familiarity with this auxiliary language on one occasion, the project appears to have largely failed after the 23rd century, as no evidence has appeared of it since. (TOS comic: "Invasion of the City Builders")
One known relative of Federation Standard is the Neyel language, which similarly to Federation Standard, appears to be descended from English. It is possible, however, that Neyel may be more appropriately classed as a dialect of English from a linguistic standpoint, given that the Universal Translator initially refused to render a translation on grounds of the marked similarities to Federation Standard. (TLE novel: The Sundered)
Federation member worldsEdit
At this time, there is ample evidence that just as Earth has retained non-official languages, so too have some of the Federation's member worlds. Long-standing Federation member Andor is known to have at least three prominent languages in active use: Greater Andorian, Lesser Andorian, and Graalen.
Vulcan and Bajor are also known to continue the active use of at least one non-Federation Standard language. However, following the admission of Bajor into the Federation, bilingual signage has begun to appear on Bajor in both the Bajoran language and Federation Standard, suggesting that bilingualism may become the norm on Federation member worlds. (DS9 novel: Bajor: Fragments and Omens)
In the case of the Klingon Empire, multiple "dialects" of the Klingon language are known to exist, and vary along regional and house lines. Whether these "dialects" are variants upon the same language or in fact separate languages merely labeled as dialects for political reasons (much as has been done in the case of the Earth language of Chinese) is unknown. Major dialects observed include the Klingonaase prominent in the 23rd century and the TlhIngan Hol observed in later periods. Although Klingonaase has largely fallen out of favor these days, certain expressions and customs have cropped up again in recent times, particularly the practice of hailing a returning hero with the salutation, "Kai [name]!"
The Romulan Empire, an offshoot of the Vulcan race, is notable for having deliberately designed a language to oppose their former tongue as thoroughly as possible. Even the new language's phonology (sound set) was chosen with the intent of destroying any possible resemblance to Vulcan: where the former preferred gutturals and strong consonants, Rihannsu prefers long vowel clusters and soft consonants. Rihannsu, as both the people and the language are known, means "The Declared," and this very act was a declaration of their break with their Vulcan past.
The Ferengi Alliance maintains at least two languages in active use: the Ferengi language observed when a Ferengi ship crashed in Roswell, Earth, in the year 1949, and a Trading Tongue. Reasons for the use of a separate commercial language are unknown, though they could include simplifying language for the easier comprehension of species without Universal Translators--or allowing the Ferengi language to be reserved under such circumstances for negotiators to confer secretly amongst themselves...or both at the same time. Currently it has yet to be ascertained which if any of these reasons are valid.
The role of the Universal TranslatorEdit
Greatly facilitating galactic exploration and communication was the Universal Translator, a device capable of rendering speech in other languages into the native language of the user. This technology originated in the 22nd century, its use pioneered on the first Enterprise, though at that time (and continuing into the 23rd century), it was standard practice on Starfleet vessels to maintain an expert linguist on the bridge given the technology's imperfections.
Non-natural languages include programming languages, logical languages, and any other intentionally-designed language deliberately created by sentient races. One of the most notable examples of a non-natural language is Linguacode, devised by Hoshi Sato as a sort of "universal languages" for cases when the experimental Universal Translator proved ineffective. (ENT episode: "In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II") The Romulans have also been observed to have their own constructed language operating on a similar premise. (TNG episode: "Tin Man")
Borg alphanumeric code may represent either another constructed language or a straight programming language.
Languages of major galactic powersEdit
These are some of the most notable galactic languages: