A history of the Klingon Language

John Swansburg, Culture Editor for Slate, says:
200905071101 We've got a quirky piece pegged to the Star Trek release that I thought Boing Boing readers might really like. It's a piece on Klingon, the language, by a linguist who studies invented language. It turns out that Klingon is really, really sophisticated, and incredibly hard to learn -- a combination of Hindi, Arabic, Yiddish, Turkish, and Mohawk.


  1. As interesting a the article is, it seems to skip any reference to the people who created the language in the first place.

    Lawrence Schoen is an acquaintance of mine, and his work on Klingon seems to have been missed by the Slate author.


  2. I’m still looking for a complete Mangani dictionary — you know, the language Tarzan’s Great Apes spoke.

  3. I’m glad that the piece mention’s Doohan’s contribution to the language, a fact often left out of Klingon histories. Okrand invented the language, but Doohan invented its sound and character.

  4. If I remember correctly, Okrand decided to leave out the verb “to be” when he worked on Klingon for ST3. When ST6 came around, he needed to translate “To be or not to be” into Klingon, much to his chagrin.

  5. There was a project a few years ago to translate the Bible in Klingon. Does anyone know what happened to that?

  6. CORRECTION @ nr 1, jjasper:
    i´ve met Lawrence M Schoen on a couple of occations, and I think he´d take issue with the notion that he has created the klingon language. As he explained it to me, he and the other fine members of The Klingon Language Institute only interprets the klingon language.

    He only recognizes words and/or sentences invented either by Marc Okrand or by Star Trek script writers to be actual klingon, and all their work (like the awesome Hamlet translation) is directly derived from there.

    It makes sense too, because if you´d let people outside of the “cannon” make up their own words, then Klingon would become a code rather than a fictional language.

  7. Ah, this is why I love geeks. People pursuing useless things for the sheer joy of the accomplishment–which I believe is a good definition of art.

  8. For a completely non-Trek purpose, I met and talked to Marc Okrand a couple years ago at his day job at the National Captioning Institute in Virginia. The special edition DVD of Search For Spock had just been released, and I recognized him from the feature on Klingon, and he was more than happy to re-tell the whole story of how it came about. Once detail the Slate article left out– the whole reason Okrand was in a position to meet with the Trek people to to create that dubbed Vulcan bit was he was in California to help put together the first closed captioning on a national broadcast, the Academy Awards. Since he was out there, Nicholas Meyer had him come by and work with Nimoy on the lines.

  9. As per “The Onion”:

    I’m shocked that the new Star Trek movie is selling out by subtitling the Klingon dialogue so that people who haven’t even bothered to learn Klingon can understand it!!!

  10. #15: I had heard that there was spoken Klingon dialogue, but that it had been cut. (via Slashdot, if I recall correctly.)

  11. @#8: Last time I checked into it, there were a few of the books done, as well as a bunch of the Psalms. I was hoping to find Song of Solomon, but it looks like that one hasn’t been done yet. I would appreciate a translation of that from Klingon back into English! Yays for Klingon love poetry!

    Klingon Language Institute‘s page on the work so far.

  12. I like as you progress through ST:NG and to the current time Klingon gets softer and softer.

    When Worf spoke it was like he was going to gut you and drink Romulan blood wine from your skull…

    Now it’s just seems like another language….

    The old intensity and inflection was such much better.

  13. Well, you can learn basque and still sound like a klingon (and you would have a whole country to practice it).

  14. The various Klingon writing systems don’t have any canonical status, so Unicode won’t just pick one. Besides, unless things have changed in the years since I disengaged with the UC, they weren’t encoding the Tolkienian scripts either.

  15. I used to play in a band that did a full set of Bad Company covers translated into Klingonese. Sung by a Japanese guy in an ill fitting suit and fedora. Can’t Get Enough O’ Your Love is oddly compelling that way. Palate shredding, but compelling.

  16. Nadreck@15:

    “As per “The Onion”:

    I’m shocked that the new Star Trek movie is selling out by subtitling the Klingon dialogue so that people who haven’t even bothered to learn Klingon can understand it!!!”

    Those Klingons should learn our language if they want to live here. What’s next, teaching our kids Klingon along with English?

    Heh. So is the study of Klingon called “klinguistics?”

  17. Funny, just the other day I was reading that there are more Klingon speakers than Esperanto speakers*.

    Which made sense, because in all the study I’ve done of Klingon** and Esperanto***, Klingon seemed a lot easier to learn and a lot more logical in vocabulary structure. (And I majored in modern languages, so I should have some clue about ease-of-learning. But it could very well be the case that Klingon could be one of those “easy to learn, hard to master” chesslike sorts of things.)

    *Not actually true.
    **Flipping through The Klingon Dictionary once when it first came out.
    ***Skimming an “Intro to Esperanto” website after meeting a guy who spoke it.

  18. A few years back, a friend of mine asked for my help dubbing a movie he’d made into Klingon. My God it’s a wretched language. I mean, all I did was read the phonetically-transcribed phrases he’d already translated, but doing so was physically painful; practically every single word has those horrible back-of-throat scraping sounds. I needed water breaks every five minutes. I can’t imagine what it was like for the actors in Search for Spock.

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