In the long-running Star Trek franchise, the Klingon race are the natives of the planet Qo’noS (Kronos) in the Beta Quadrant. Their language, natively tlhIngan Hol, is spoken by several people inside the Star Trek universe – AND in the real world today!
This language was designed to “sound alien”, and it deliver! Initially created by producer Jon Povill and actor James Doohan for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the language has expanded significantly since and has been learned by many real people enough to even be used in day-to-day life!
A Few Facts about the Star Trek Language of Klingon
1. In 1985, linguist Mark Okrand published the first English – Klingon dictionary
Originally intended as just a guide for writers and actors, the book became so popular that Okrand later developed Klingon into a fully structured language and released a revised version of the dictionary in 1992.
2. A Klingon Christmas Carol, first produced in 2007, was the first play to be written and performed entirely in Klingon
The show was expanded in 2010 and has run intermittently across the US in several cities since then, with the last significant performance in 2017. The play was originally created as a fundraiser. it was written in 2007 by Christopher Kidder-Mostrom and Sasha Warren and was originally translated by Kidder-Mostrom, Laura Thurston, and Bill Hedrick. Later, Chris Lipscome would also contribute.
3. A 2010 opera named ʼuʼ was performed entirely in Klingon
The title in English is Universe or Universal, and the opera tells the story of an epic traditional Klingon legend. It debuted in the Netherlands and has been staged many times since then.
4. One man raised his son as a native speaker of Klingon
D’Armond Speers raised his son by speaking only Klingon while the mother would only speak English. After this, Speers’s son refused to speak Klingon and both parents started speaking only English once more.
5. Several interesting translations and learning systems exist for potential real-life Klingon speakers
- An Oregon mental health program in 2007 hired Klingon translators for the eventuality of a mental patient emergency where the patient could not speak any other language.
- Simon & Schuster worked with Ultralingua Inc in 2009 to create Klingon language software including a dictionary, a phrasebook, and an audio learning tool.
- Eurotalk released a “Learn Klingon!” course in 2011, approved by Okrand and CBS.
- The UK education company Bidvine started offering Klingon courses in 2016
- The language learning app Duolingo has a full Klingon course.
- The Klingon Language Institute has a free Klingon Language course for its members, the first few lessons of which are free.
6. Klingon is mostly written in a Latin script, though a Klingon script named pIqaD is also used.
The language was developed specifically to sound harsh. As well, capital letters do not interchange with small letters – different sounds come depending on capitalization. There are 26 letters, five of which are vowels.
7. Klingon has different pronouns depending on if the noun can speak language or not.
Klingon pronouns are:
|Capable of using language||Not capable of using language|
8. Klingon uses an object-verb-subject (OVS) word order, very different from English and its SVO word order
A simple English sentence like “I learn Klingon” would be transliterated as “Klingon learn I.” Prepositional phrases go before the object, so “I learn Klingon on the internet” would be “Internet on Klingon learn I.” Adverbs go at the beginning of the sentence, meaning “I can easily learn Klingon on the internet” becomes “Easily internet on Klingon learn I.”
9. There are three noun classes in Klingon, and no articles (either definite or indefinite)
- Class 1 is for living things capable of understanding and using language
- Class 2 is for body parts of living things, but not the body itself
- Class 3 is for living or non-living things which are not capable of understanding and using language.
10. There are five suffixes in Klingon which are attached to change the word’s meaning. Each suffix type can be used once per word in order.
- Type 1 suffixes refer to affection and size
- –ʼaʼ augments or intensifies a word (protest into riot)
- -Hom creates a diminutive form (book to booklet)
- -oy creates an endearment form (mother to mommy).
- If the original word ends in a vowel, the suffix becomes -ʼoy.
- Type 2 suffixes pluralize nouns
- -puʼ is used for Class 1 nouns (soldier to soldiers)
- -Duʼ is used for Class 2 nouns (foot to feet)
- -mey is used for Class 3 nouns OR Class 1 / 2 nouns which are widespread or disorganized (book to books)
- Plural form suffixes are only required when context, pronoun, prefix, or number do not already imply plurality.
- Type 3 suffixes describe accuracy
- –qoq expresses inaccuracy (expert to so-called expert)
- -Hey expresses doubt (victory to apparent victory)
- -naʼ expresses absolute certainty (love to true love)
- Type 4 suffixes describe possession or reference.
- There are 10 possession suffixes, shown in the table below
|1st person||2nd person||3rd person|
|Class 2 or 3||-wIj||-maʼ||-lIʼ||-raʼ|
- There are two determinative suffixes
- -vam, meaning “nearby” or “recently discussed”
- -vetlh, meaning “far” or “previously discussed”
- Type 5 suffixes provide syntax
- -Daq is for locative nouns
- -voʼ is for ablative nouns
- -moʼ is for causative nouns
- -vaD is for the dative or benefactive cases of nouns
- -ʼeʼ indicates the head noun, emphasizes nouns within the phrase, and marks the sentence topic.
The usage statistics and the endurance of Klingon as a language outside of the Star Trek universe over the decades is a real symbol of the power of language and audience dedication. Star Trek fans have used this constructed language as a symbol of their own special culture!