How the Klingon of Star Trek became a fully developed language

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  • The Klingon language of Star Trek is a fully developed fictional language with grammar, syntax, and vocabulary, making it unique among fictional languages.
  • Linguist Marc Okrand played a key role in taking the Klingon language from scratch created by James Doohan to a fully understood language with over 3,000 words.
  • Klingon has developed its own community and culture, with non-profit organizations dedicated to the study and exploration of the language. It has been used in various media, translation work, and even a Pizza Hut commercial.

Throughout its 57-year history, Star Trek, throughout its many iterations, has seen a variety of alien races: Vulcans, Ferengi, Cardassians, Borg, and even Tribbles. Although as guilty as other sci-fi franchises with aliens who speak English fluently, there is an attempt to compete. Star Trek Your own language, whether it’s a word or two, or a full conversation. The most developed of these is Klingon, recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the most widely spoken fictional language. So, it might surprise you to know how widespread the Klingon language is.

Klingon is one of many fictional languages, a subset of fictional languages ​​created specifically for fiction. JRR Tolkien Widely recognized as the first person to invent a whole language, complex, for use in fictional works. In the case of Tolkien, the Elven languages ​​Quenya and Sindarin, among others, are used in his language. Lord of the Rings trilogy. In 1974, a linguist Victoria Fromkin Became the first person hired to create a language for television, the development of Paku for The land of the lostA children’s action series that ran from 1974 to 1976. Since then, many series and films have used linguists to develop language such as: David PetersonWho created the Dothraki for Game of ThronesAnd Paul FrommerWho works with James Cameron To develop the Na’vi language for Avatar movie. What sets Klingon apart from its peers is that it is fully developed Artificial language, complete with grammar, syntax, and vocabulary.

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Who created the Klingon language?

Captain Koloth (William Campbell) holds the tribble in the 'Star Trek: TOS' Episode
Image via NBC

Klingon was first mentioned in the beloved classic Star Trek episode “The Trouble With Tribbles”, but was never actually spoken or heard until 1979 Star Trek: The Motion Picture. In the opening scene of the film (which also saw the debut of what is now the actual Klingon ridged forehead), three Klingon warships are engaged in battle with large blocks of energy that quickly disposes of them. Before their deaths, the Klingons on board were shouting orders in their native language. Those words were not simply words for the sake of an alien voice. Instead, they were actually created by none other than Scotty himself, James Doohan. Doohan is an experienced voice actor and takes it upon himself to create dialogue with a distinctly quirky sound. With that, the Klingon seed began to grow.

The man who took language much, much further was the linguist who worked on the first real-time telecasting system: Marc Okrand. A friend who works Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan Brought Okrand to write the dialogue in Vulcan for the scene between Leonard Nimoy And Kirstie Alley. The scene was shot in English, so Okrand was brought in to create dialogue that could be dubbed into existing lines while matching the actors’ mouth movements (so no. Godzilla-like). Or, as Okrand himself said in a 2018 interview with The Washington Post“They needed a linguist to come and make up the gobbledygook that matched the mouth movements. And I said, ‘I can do that!'” There was a successful delivery, when the production team Star Trek III: The Search for Spock Looking to add scenes in Klingon, they called Okrand again. But this time there are no restrictions: the actors will speak the dialogue that Okrand created.

Is Klingon a real language now?

Worf (Michael Dorn) and K'Ehleyr (Suzie Plakson) in a scene from 'Star Trek: TNG
Image via Paramount Television

While it’s true there aren’t any restrictions like matching lip movements, there are still a few things Okrand has to consider. First, he had to work from the Klingon created by Doohan for the first film. Second, the language should match the harshness, brutality, and violence associated with any warrior race. Finally? Make it a fully understandable language. No problem. Okrand begins with a throaty voice, based on stage directions from the script that indicate the language should be guttural, and words that lack anything resembling social pleasure. He creates patterns and rules, pulls sounds and other elements from other languages, and plays with grammatical structures to get it right. What he created was a language with limited vocabulary but complex sentence structure. With the language ready to go, based on the history of Klingon, Okrand taught the actors about pronunciation, a mutually beneficial process that allowed Okrand to correct Klingon to match common mispronunciations, and work on subtitles after the lines were recorded. Okrand launched the Klingon Dictionary in 1985 after his film career, selling over 300,000 copies.

Since then, the Klingon has taken on a life of its own. From the skeleton of the Klingon language, Okrand told Mashable that he created to cover the Klingon vocabulary needed for the film, the language grew to nearly 3,000 Klingon words. A non-profit organization, the Klingon Language Institute, was created “to facilitate academic research of the Klingon language and culture” in 1992, promote the growth of the Klingon language and ensure that the use of Klingon in other media is correct. Work like A Christmas Carol, Village, and even the Bible was translated into Klingon. There are Pizza Hut commercials spoken and written entirely in Klingon. There are online resources where anyone can learn how to speak Klingon, such as Duolingo, for example. Internet forums and discussion groups have contributed strongly to the growth of Klingon, as referenced in the popular media, most notably. The big bang theory. However, it should be noted that there is a small group of people who are actually capable of Klingon, estimated to be around 30 to 200 people worldwide. So, sorry for the explosion of your faith, but the odds of four nerds in Pasadena, California, nerds who spend an unusual amount of time together, all know how to speak the language is quite distant. As for Okrand, he is still involved in the evolution of what he creates, coming up with new words when needed, including words for … well, as Okrand told Mashable, “when Star Trek Monopoly board came out, I added new words. I think ‘mortgage’ never existed in Klingon before.”

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