The Klingon Language (with Video)

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The Klingon language (tlhIngan Hol, in Klingon) is the language spoken by the warring culture known as the Klingons, who inhabit the virtual realm of the Star Trek universe.

The Klingon language (tlhIngan Hol, in Klingon) is the language spoken by the warring culture known as the Klingons, who inhabit the virtual realm of the Star Trek universe.

Unlike most languages, which evolve over time by a developing culture, Klingon was intentionally designed by Planet Earth linguist Marc Okrand. 

Based heavily on Star Trek/Klingon-related concepts which evolve around spacecraft and warfare, the Klingon language is understandably awkward for everyday use by non-Klingons.  (For instance, while there is a term for the bridge of a ship (meH) there is no word for a bridge that crosses water.)  Purposefully constructed to sound "alien,” Klingon has a number of typologically uncommon linguistic features.

While it was Okrand who succeeded in developing the Klingon language into a fully-functioning, grammatically complete language, the language's basic sound, along with the first few words, was created by Enterprise Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott (James Doohan) for Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

This voyage marked the first time the Klingon language had been heard throughout the course of Star Trek missions.  During all previous voyages (including the original, Captain Kirk Star Trek missions), Klingons did not have a language of their own and were obliged to speak English.

The need to develop a fully-actualized Klingon language came about when the crew of the Enterprise "D" (The Next Generation), acquired a Klingon, Lt. Worf, as lieutenant junior grade relief flight control and tactical officer.

Wanting to be as precedent-setting and innovative as the original crew's voyages, The Next Generation used the occasion of the stardate entry called  "A Matter of Honor" to give late 20th century viewers the opportunity to hear several members of a Klingon ship's crew speak their native language--not filtered through an Enterprise universal translator--until one Klingon ordered the others to speak in human language.

Since that momentous event, Trekkies and linguists around the world have studied the Klingon language, resulting in four Klingon translations of select Earth literature: ghIlghameS (Gilgamesh), tlhIngan Hol Hamlet (Hamlet), paghmo' tIn mIS (Much Ado About Nothing), and pIn'a' qan paQDI'norgh (Tao Te Ching).

The Shakespearian choices were inspired by a remark from Klingon High Chancellor Gorkon (in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country), who said, "You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon." To further promote the Klingon language, The Klingon Language Institute was established on Earth.

With similarities to both English and several Native American languages, the Klingon language has twenty-one consonants and five vowels.  Klingon is normally written in what superficially appears to be a variation of the Earth’s Latin alphabet.  In this orthography, upper and lower case letters are not interchangeable.  The list of consonants in Klingon is spread over a number of places of articulation.  In spite of this, the selection has many aural gaps: Klingon has no velar plosives (like the “k” sound), and only one sibilant (“s” or “sh”)--making its sound variations much less diverse than English.  And the combination of aspirated voiceless alveolar plosive /t/ (“t”) and voiced retroflex plosive /?/ (“d”) is particularly "foreign."

Vowels sounds in Klingon are, fortunately, easily reproducible by Earthlings:

– /?/ – open back unrounded vowel (in English spa)

– /?/ – open-mid front unrounded vowel (in English bed)

– /?/ – near-close near-front unrounded vowel (in English bit)

– /o/ – close-mid back rounded vowel (in French eau)

– /u/ – close back rounded vowel (in Spanish tu)

Diphthongs (two adjacent vowel sounds occurring within the same syllable) can be analyzed phonetically as the combination of the five vowels plus one of the two semivowels /w/ and /j/ (represented by and , respectively).  Thus, the combinations , , , , , , and are possible.  There are no words in the Klingon language that contain * or *.

Klingon syllabic structure is strict. A syllable must start with a consonant followed by one vowel.  In prefixes and other rare syllables, this is sufficient. 

More commonly, this consonant-vowel pairing is followed by one consonant or one of three biconsonantal codas: /-w' -y' -rgh/.  Thus, at (record), tar (poison), and targh (a type of animal on the Klingon home planet) are all legal syllable forms, but *tarD and *ar are not.  Despite this, there is one suffix that takes the shape vowel+consonant: the endearment suffix -oy.

Verbs in Klingon take a prefix indicating the number and person of the subject and object, whereas suffixes are taken from nine ordered classes, and a special suffix class called “rovers.”  Each of the four known rovers has a unique rule controlling its position among the suffixes in the verb.  Verbs are marked for aspect, certainty, predisposition and volition, dynamic, causative, mood, negation, and honorific, and the Klingon verb has two moods: indicative and imperative.

The most common word order in Klingon is object-verb-subject, and, in some cases, the word order is the exact reverse of analogous word orders in English.

Here are some common phrases you can use when meeting a Klingon (follow this link to hear their pronunciation):

(Hello: Roughly, "What do you want?") nuqneH (What's happening?) qaStaH nuq?

(Huh?) nuqjatlh?

(I understand) jIyaj (I don't understand) jIyajbe' (Good!: expression of satisfaction) maj (Well done!) majQa' (Where is the bathroom?) nuqDaq 'oH puchpa''e' (Come in) yI'el (Inviting in more than one person) pe'el (Come here) HIghoS

(Go away) naDevvo' yIghoS (Open the door!) lojmIt yIpoSmoH!

(Your mother has a smooth forehead!: an insult) Hab SoSlI' Quch!

(Today is a good day to die) Heghlu'meH QaQ jajvam

(Shut up!) bIjatlh 'e' yImev

Note to Readers: In that I am not a native-born Klingon and the Klingon language is my fourth language, I invite all those interested in the Klingon language to take full advantage of all comments made below, as they may indeed prove instructional, and apologize to all Klingons and Klingon speakers for any errors in the text I have provided here.

References:

Klingon Language Institute

http://www.startrekonline.com/splash?redir=frontpage

http://www.startrek.com/database_articles

http://www.fanpop.com/spots/star-trek-the-next-generation

Images via wikipedia.org

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