Thursday, May 07, 2009

A Brief History of the Klingon Language

Linguist Arika Okrent has written an article for Slate about the origins and structures of the Klingon language:

As if that weren't complicated enough, Klingon also has a large set of suffixes. Attached to the end of the verbs SIQ and chep is the ending -jaj, which expresses "a desire or wish on the part of the speaker that something take place in the future." Klingon has 36 verb suffixes and 26 noun suffixes that express everything from negation to causality to possession to how willing a speaker is to vouch for the accuracy of what he says. By piling on these suffixes, one after the other, you can pack a lot of meaning on to a single word in Klingon—words like nuHegh'eghrupqa'moHlaHbe'law'lI'neS, which translates roughly to: They are apparently unable to cause us to prepare to resume honorable suicide (in progress).

Just saying a word like this one requires Klingon-like discipline and fortitude. To the layman, the time commitment involved in studying this invented language may seem ridiculous—why not take up a language with practical value, one that might earn you a little respect, or at least not encourage jeers? 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."

I tried to teach myself Klingon when I was twelve. Now, like my Spanish, I remember just enough to get into a bar fight in Tijuana.

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