Thursday, May 14, 2009

There's Klingons on the starboard bow

Trekkies and Wordies both will enjoy Akira Okrent's Salon article about the development of the Klingon language.  Okrent is a linguist who began as an impartial observer, and ended up passing the first level certification exam.  Who knew there even was an exam.  With her academic background, she provides interesting insight into the complexities of this made up language. 

Knowing that fans would be watching closely, Okrand worked out a full grammar. He cribbed from natural languages, borrowing sounds and sentence-building rules, switching sources whenever Klingon started operating too much like any one language in particular. He ended up with something that sounds like an ungodly combination of Hindi, Arabic, Tlingit, and Yiddish and works like a mix of Japanese, Turkish, and Mohawk. The linguistic features of Klingon are not especially unusual (at least to a linguist) when considered independently, but put together, they make for one hell of an alien language.

But Klingon isn't about practicality, or status, or even about love for the original Star Trek series. It's about language for language's sake, and the joy of doing something that's not easy, without regard for worldly recognition. Hence the Klingon Hamlet, which took years to compose and which maybe 100 people can appreciate. What a piece of work is man indeed. Or as Wil'yam Shex'pir would put it, toH, chovnatlh Doj ghaH tlhIngan'e'—"A Klingon is an impressive specimen."


1 comment:

  1. Call me geek, but I think Tolkien would have been proud.