The person who invented Star Trek’s Klingon language


“wIy cha’! HaSta! cha yIghuS! ‘eH… baH!”

These are the phrases you hear on the very beginning of the very first “Star Trek” film — the one from 1979 with Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock that was awkwardly known as “Star Trek: The Movement Image.” They’re instructions (“Tactical! Visible! Stand by on torpedoes! Prepared… Fireplace!”) barked out by a member of an aggressive alien species known as Klingons.
Marc Okrand, the creator of Klingon language for the Star Trek TV series, being carried by two men in Klingon costumes.

Marc Okrand, the creator of Klingon language for the Star Trek TV sequence, being carried by two males in Klingon costumes. Credit score: Robert Sherbow/The LIFE Photos Assortment/The LIFE Photos Assortment/Getty Photos

They have been invented on the set with the purpose of sounding otherworldly and menacing, identical to the warmongering race they belonged to. However since then, from only a few phrases that have been little greater than gibberish, the Klingon language has turn into essentially the most extensively spoken fictional language on the planet, in response to the Guinness World Records.

It was developed by Marc Okrand, a linguist employed to invent extra Klingon phrases for “Star Trek 3,” which featured the aliens prominently.

“The producers wished it to sound like an actual language, and I assumed that to make it sound like an actual language, it needed to be one,” he mentioned in a cellphone interview.

“However I had by no means created a language earlier than. So I went again to the ‘Movement Image’ and there have been possibly eight traces of Klingon in the entire film. I wrote down the phrases as finest I may to make an inventory of the totally different sounds and the totally different syllable sorts. That was the beginning, and I constructed from that.”

A guttural language

Klingons had appeared within the unique “Star Trek” TV present that ran from 1966 to 1969, however they solely spoke English. For the 1979 film, they bought a makeover, gaining ridged foreheads and a extra outlined tradition based mostly round honor and fight. It was solely pure that additionally they spoke in their very own language.

Klingons as they looked in Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-1969).

Klingons as they appeared in Star Trek: The Unique Collection (1966-1969). Credit score: CBS Photograph Archive/CBS/CBS by way of Getty Photos

These first Klingon phrases have been created by James Doohan — the actor who performed chief engineer Scotty. Okrand had nothing to do with them and even the film itself: his first contact with “Star Trek” was three years later, for “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” which got here out in 1982. He was employed to write down some traces in Vulcan, the native language of Mr. Spock. “I really taught Mr. Spock learn how to communicate Vulcan,” he joked.

“Then I bought known as again to write down some Klingon for “Star Trek 3.” The purpose was to make an alien language, however the sound needed to match the phrases spoken within the unique film for consistency and it needed to be pronounceable, as a result of actors had to have the ability to say the traces.”

To make Klingon sound alien, Okrand grabbed sounds from totally different languages after which broke just a few linguistics guidelines.

“Human languages are usually patterned. Sure sounds go collectively and sure others do not. I violated these guidelines and put sounds in Klingon that should not be in the identical language. There isn’t any sound in Klingon which you could’t discover in some actual language, however the assortment of sounds is exclusive.”

The result’s one thing that registers as actually alien, with sounds harking back to Arabic, Turkish, Yiddish, Japanese and Native American languages. Its defining attribute is that it needed to be “guttural,” Okrand mentioned, to match the tough sounds devised by Doohan for these first traces.

The sentence construction is equally uncommon. In contrast to English, which makes use of the widespread subject-verb-object sample, Klingon prefers object-verb-subject, a uncommon sample primarily utilized by small tribes within the Americas.

The Klingon dictionary

To show the traces to the actors, Okrand recorded them on tapes and invented a particular writing system in order that they could possibly be included within the scripts. It makes use of the common English alphabet and works very similar to a phonetic transcription, with a mixture of uppercase and lowercase letters. The uppercase letters point out sounds that do not exist within the English language, signaling to the actors that some particular effort could be required.

When the film wrapped, Okrand thought his contributions to the Klingon language had wrapped with it.

“On the time I had no concept that it was going to reside past ‘Star Trek 3.’ Not a clue. However once I was engaged on the movie, lots of people would come as much as me and say ‘Oh, you are the Klingon man! Say one thing in Klingon!’ That made me assume that ‘Star Trek’ followers may need been too. So, later, I began writing a e-book explaining how the language labored.”

Worf, played by Micheal Dorn is "Star Trek: The Next Generation" starting in 1987, is one of the most famous Klingon characters.

Worf, performed by Micheal Dorn is “Star Trek: The Subsequent Era” beginning in 1987, is among the most well-known Klingon characters. Credit score: CBS

The e-book, titled “The Klingon Dictionary,” was first printed in 1985. The primary half explains the grammar, and the second half is a Klingon-English bilingual dictionary.

“That was really tougher than describing the grammar, as a result of I needed to determine what phrases to really invent. I made a decision to not make up any phrases having something to do with Klingon geography or Klingon tradition. I do know it sounds unusual to have a dictionary about Klingon that does not cope with that facet, however the reason being as a result of I am not a author, I do not write the tales or the films and I did not wish to make one thing up that down the highway would prove flawed due to a TV episode or a film. So I might let writers make up the tradition, and are available again afterward to say ‘That is the way you name it.’ Not the opposite manner round.”

Klingon Language Institute

Though the e-book has bought over 250,000 copies since publication, it did not instantly create a following of Klingon language learners. That began brewing, Okrand mentioned, within the mid-1990s.

“That is when the web was getting going, so individuals have been capable of finding one another on widespread pursuits. At one level I bought an e-mail from Laurence Schoen, head of the Klingon Language Institute, which I had by no means heard of earlier than. He supplied to satisfy and instructed me they have been a bunch of people that bought collectively for actions centered round studying the language, and so they had a yearly conference. I did not know this was happening,” he mentioned.

Klingon fans in costumes at the San Diego Comic-Con in 2004.

Klingon followers in costumes on the San Diego Comedian-Con in 2004. Credit score: Sandy Huffaker/Getty Photos North America/Getty Photos

Immediately, the Klingon Language Institute has about 5,000 visitor (or free) members and about 300 full (or paid) members, and their 25th annual gathering — or qep’a’ cha’maH vaghDIch — takes place in Indianapolis on July 19 to 21, 2018.

What occurs on the gatherings? “We speak, we sing songs, we play video games, we’ve enjoyable,” Chris Lipscombe, assistant director on the KLI, mentioned in an e-mail. “It actually is determined by the group. Some exit locations like museums or galleries and communicate Klingon, others go eating places, whereas others simply have gatherings at residence. At our primary gathering (qep’a’) we additionally maintain lessons for learners, and panels for extra skilled audio system.”

Not everybody who attends the conferences is an knowledgeable speaker. Each Okrand and Lispcombe estimate that about 20 or so individuals on the planet have a excessive sufficient degree of proficiency to carry a dialog purely in Klingon. However many extra get by.

“I’ve studied French, Japanese, and Farsi apart from Klingon, and Klingon might be the simplest to get began on,” mentioned Lipscombe.

“The essential grammar is fairly easy, and I’ve seen individuals choose it up in a few hours. The superior grammar is extra advanced, however I nonetheless assume it is much less advanced than different languages. Klingon is extra tough than troublesome, because it does some issues that pure languages do not are likely to do.”

One drawback is that small speak does not come straightforward in Klingon, as many standard English phrases deliberately do not have a direct translation. There is no such thing as a “Hiya,” for instance, and the closest equal is “nuqneH,” which suggests “What would you like?”

A brand new starting

Klingon’s reputation remains to be rising: It’s, in any case, “the quickest rising language within the galaxy,” in response to the KLI’s web site — and the newest sequence, “Star Trek: Discovery,” closely options Klingons, providing lengthy scenes of uninterrupted Klingon dialogue (additionally obtainable with Klingon subtitles on Netflix outdoors the US). Final 12 months, Duolingo, a language studying platform, launched a Klingon course that at present attracts round 100,000 learners.
Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and “A lot Ado About Nothing” have been translated into Klingon, and Microsoft’s Bing on-line translator gives it as a language choice. In recent times, an alphabet has been created instead writing system to the phonetic one devised by Okrand, permitting individuals to write down in precise Klingon. And in the event you’re questioning how “My Coronary heart Will Go On” sounds in Klingon, a singer often known as Klingon Pop Warrior has you coated.

Many different constructed languages have been created after Klingon, resembling Dothraki and Valyrian from “Sport of Thrones” and Na’vi from “Avatar,” however all of them have a basic distinction to Klingon.

“These newer ones have been supposed to be languages from the start, which is nice and one of the best ways to do it,” mentioned Okrand.

Klingon was constructed as a substitute like a film set, Okrand mentioned. If a film set has a door however the door will not be used within the story, the set decorators will not hassle to make it really open.

“I solely made up what was wanted for the movie. Klingon has developed an entire lot extra since then, but it surely was not initially designed to be a completely fleshed out spoken language. It has turn into that.”

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