Klingon: The Art of Inventing a Language

Category: Language

Since the beginning of time: 2161, or at minimum, over 40 Earth years ago when Gene Roddenberry launched the Star Trek enterprise, the crafty creators of races and galaxies, technologies and tools have been hard at work to transform everyday Earthlings into a Trekkies worthy of citizenship in the United Federation of Planets.

The Star Trek franchise builders have not been content to merely dabble in pop culture and fantasy storytelling. Now over 40 million human fans world-wide have access to powerful tools to cross the media threshold and interact with other weekend wanna-be warriors by learning to speak and read the Klingon language.

The master-mind (and mouth) of the Klingon language is linguist Dr. Marc Okrand, author of Conversational Klingon, the definitive audio book, the Klingon Dictionary, among others. A specialist in an extinct language of a people of Northern California, Okrand was making a living over-dubbing and subtitling for the film industry when he was brought into the Star Trek picture, literally. His first task was to create just four lines of otherwise non-extant Vulcan in post-production of Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan to match the actor’s English language lip movements as an over-dub.

Brought back to work on Star Trek III The Search for Spock, this time in the scriptwriting phase, he decided to formally create an entire new language from scratch, complete with grammar and vocabulary as well as an inventory of sounds, Klingon at once needed to reference the history and current world view of the inhabitants of that distant galaxy. No detail was overlooked.

Since then, new stories and new characters have been blending into those earlier “realities”, necessitating the development of Klingon’s greater linguistic complexity. Klingon further morphed as fans began try to speak and write it in their ordinary, 21st Century Earth-bound lives. There are also lexicons and grammars created by fans, such as the online program “battle tested” at the Klingon Language Institute that has attracted many adherents and many efforts to compile English – Klingon dictionaries.

While Microsoft’s Bing search engine identifies 1,060,000 entries for “translate Klingon”, now, in cooperation with Paramount and the Klingon Language Institute, Bing offers written translation from many languages into both the “original” Klingon script as well as Roman and Hindu-Arabic characters. It seems that Bill Gates’ team has been considering how to do this for a long time, and released it in time for the premiere of Star Trek Into Darkness. There are no coincidences!

While we at Acclaro have yet to receive a request for translation into Klingon, we salute the Trekkies who have delved into learning the language for themselves. To you, we say majQa’…well done!