Friday, May 8, 2009

No Klingon in Star Trek


Apparently some of the Star Trek faithful are upset that Klingon isn't spoken in the new Star Trek movie. I found this very interesting article about the Klingon language on Slate.com yesterday written by linguist Arika Okrent:

I first came to Klingon as a linguist doing research for a book on artificial languages. My intention was to observe from a nice, distant, scientific perspective, but somehow I ended up with a little bronze pin indicating that I'd passed the first-level certification exam. The grammar offered an irresistible linguistic challenge. Klingon is difficult but not impossible, weird yet totally believable. Anyone can put on a pair of pointed ears or memorize some lines of dialogue, but learning to speak Klingon requires genuine hard work.


Klingon was never spoken on the original TV show. A handful of words were spoken in the first Star Trek movie back in 1979. Otherwise it didn't exist until the producers of Star Trek III hired linguist Marc Okrand (responsible for the Vulcan heard in Star Trek II) to create it. He came up with "an "ungodly combination of Hindi, Arabic, Tlingit, and Yiddish [that] works like a mix of Japanese, Turkish, and Mohawk."

Only about 20-30 people can speak it, and about 100 can read it. "Klingon has 36 verb suffixes and 26 noun suffixes that express everything from negation to causality to possession to how willing a speaker is to vouch for the accuracy of what he says."

There's no word for "hello" (an omission done on purpose not on accident).

So it turns out, if you ever run into someone who speaks Klingon, odds are they're a language geek, not a Trekkie.

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