There are some common features of sci-fi that are “problematic” at best – and none more so than the issue of language. When your plot involves a mixture of races from various parts of the universe it’s inevitable that the question of how they communicate will come up at some point – unless the scriptwriters decide to just brush it under the carpet altogether.

Usually the solution is some kind of universal translator: a technological marvel which somehow translates alien languages into plain English, even for races that are being encountered for the first time. At least Douglas Adams confronted the absurdity of this head-on with his biological alternative, the Babel fish.

One of the more common translation-based plots is based on a joke that’s probably been doing the rounds ever since cro-magnon man noticed that the neanderthals had a bit of a funny accent: the gag in which a completely innocent phrase in one language is misinterpreted completely in another. Yes, we descended low enough to use that idea in one of our earlier comics – but we’re in good company, as even the inventor of the Babel fish had a go at it.

Very occasionally, though, writers try to deal with the translation issue in a more considered way. Perhaps the best known example of this is the ST:TNG episode “Darmok” in which the universal translator does a perfect job of translating the words of the alien captain, but totally misses the meaning due to the aliens’ language being based on metaphor. The writer of this episode clearly understood what we’re trying to draw attention to with this comic: when it comes to interpreting language, context is everything.

Cette bande dessinée est aussi disponible en français
This comic is also available in French

Questo fumetto è disponibile anche in italiano
This comic is also available in Italian

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↓ Transcript
[Some Greys are standing by a dead human astronaut]

G1: I think the human ambassador is dead. It looks like suffocation.

G2: How did this happen? Have you checked the airlock?

G1: Yes. The seals are fine. There's absolutely no way that any oxygen has leaked in here

[Caption: The word "Airlock" means something different to methane breathers]