The Klingon language (tlhIngan Hol in Klingon) is the constructed language spoken by Klingons in the fictional Star Trek universe. Deliberately designed by Marc Okrand to be "alien", it contains many peculiarities, such as Object Verb Subject (OVS) word order. The language's basic sound, along with a few words, was first devised by actor James Doohan ("Scotty") for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. That film marked the first time the language had been heard on screen; in all previous appearances, Klingons spoke in English. Klingon was subsequently developed by Okrand into a fully-fledged language.
Klingon is sometimes referred to as "Klingonese" (most notably in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Trouble with Tribbles", where it was actually pronounced by a Klingon character as /klɪŋgoni/), but among the Klingon-speaking community this is often understood to refer to another Klingon language that is described in John M. Ford's Star Trek novels as Klingonaase.
A small number of people, mostly dedicated Star Trek fans or language aficionados, can converse in Klingon. Its vocabulary, heavily centered on Star Trek-cum-Klingon concepts such as "spacecraft" or "warfare", can sometimes make it cumbersome for everyday use for instance, while there are words for "transporter ionizer unit" (jolvoy') or "bridge (of a ship)" (meH), there is currently no word for "bridge (that you drive over)". Nonetheless, mundane conversations are common among skilled speakers.
Though mentioned in the original Star Trek series, Klingon was first used on-screen in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979); for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), Okrand enlarged the lexicon and developed grammar around the original dozen words Doohan had created. It would be used intermittently in later movies featuring the original cast: in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), translation difficulties would serve as a plot device.
With the advent of the series Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987) – in which one of the main characters was a Klingon, Worf – and successors, the language and various cultural aspects for the fictional species were expanded. In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode A Matter of Honor, several Klingons speak a language that the Universal Translator seems unable to translate, until one Klingon orders the others to "speak their (i.e. humans') language". The use of untranslated Klingon words interspersed with conversation translated into English was commonplace in later seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, when Klingons became a more important part of the series' overall plot arcs. Possibly the Universal Translator understands some Klingon dialects but not others, in which case the reference to "their language" (cited above) could also be described as "the language used when speaking to outsiders" (which would, in this context, refer to humans).
Worf would later reappear among the regular characters in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1992) and B'Elanna Torres, a Klingon-human hybrid, would become a main character on Star Trek: Voyager (1995). Later in the pilot episode of the prequel series Star Trek: Enterprise, "Broken Bow" (2001), the Klingon language is described as having "eighty polyguttural dialects constructed on an adaptive syntax"; however, Klingon as described on television is often not entirely congruous with Klingon developed by Okrand.
The Klingon language has a following and numerous reference works. A description of the actual Klingon language can be found in Okrand's book The Klingon Dictionary (Published by Pocket Books, Simon & Schuster, 1985, second edition with new addendum 1992, ISBN 0-671-74559-X). Other notable works include The Klingon Way (with Klingon sayings and proverbs), Klingon for the Galactic Traveler and the two audio productions Conversational Klingon and Power Klingon.
Three books have also been published in the tongue: ghIlghameS (Gilgamesh), Hamlet (Hamlet), and paghmo' tIn mIS (Much Ado About Nothing). These last two choices were inspired by a remark from High Chancellor Gorkon in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country that "Shakespeare is best read in the original Klingon". Some fans assumed it to be a joke, though another explanation subsequently surfaced that a future Klingon time traveler had translated some Klingon operas and sold them to Shakespeare. Others took it to be an allusion to Soviet propaganda techniques where major world inventions were attributed to Russians or other Slavic peoples.
The Klingon Language Institute exists to promote the language.
Some Trekkies take the time to learn it and at some Star Trek conventions one can hear enthusiasts use it amongst themselves. They often greet each other with the Klingon word nuqneH (literally: "What do you want?"). This is the only greeting in Klingon. Another phrase commonly heard among Star Trek fans is Qapla', the Klingon word for "success".
Paramount Pictures owns a copyright to the official dictionary and other canonical descriptions of the language. Some people dispute the validity of Paramount's claim of copyright on the language itself in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's Feist decision, but no challenge has actually been brought to court.
It is commonly postulated that features of the Klingon language were taken from various real Earth languages which Okrand has studied, particularly Native American languages. It is known however, that a design principle of the Klingon language was dissimilarity to existing natural languages. Its way of forming noun clauses, and of forming noun "and" sequences (e.g. "gun and sword and spear"), follows Sanskrit.
According to Guinness World Records for 2006, it is the most spoken fictional language by number of speakers.
Mind Performance Hacks mentions learning a constructed language for reasons related to the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis (no relation to the Klingon character named "Worf") suggesting that knowing an alternate language may provide a different method of critical thought when tackling a difficult problem; the book mentions Klingon as one such language. Other mentioned languages include Lojban and Solresol, as well as a passing reference to Sindarin (Elf, J.R.R. Tolkien).
An important concept to spoken and written Klingon is canonicity. Only words and grammatical forms introduced by Marc Okrand are considered proper, canonical Klingon.
It is a point of contention among Klingonists as to what level of neologism is permissible.
The letters in parentheses following each item (if any) indicate the acronym by which the source is referred to when quoting canon.
Some Klingonists have gained relative renown for various accomplishments. Most of those who might be mentioned here are members of the Klingon Language Institute.
Klingon has been developed with a phonology that, while based on human natural languages, is intended to sound alien. When initially developed, Paramount Pictures (owners of the Star Trek franchise) wanted the Klingon language to be guttural and harsh and Okrand wanted it to be unusual, so he selected sounds that combined in ways not generally found in other languages. The effect is mainly achieved by the use of a number of retroflex and uvular consonants in the language's inventory. Although natural languages use a number of different airstream mechanisms besides the common pulmonic egressive, these other mechanisms are not used in Klingon. This is perhaps because these sounds are a lot more difficult to learn to produce if one's language does not use them. Klingon has twenty-one consonants and five cardinal vowels. Klingon is normally written in a variant of the Latin alphabet (see below). In this orthography, upper and lower case letters are not interchangeable (uppercase letters mostly represent sounds different to those expected by English speakers). In the discussion below, standard Klingon orthography appears in <angle brackets>, and the phonemic transcription in the IPA is written between /slashes/.
|Labial||Dental or alveolar||Retroflex|| Postalveolar|
|Plosive||voiceless||p /pʰ/||t /tʰ/||q /qʰ/||' /ʔ/|
|voiced||b /b/||D /ɖ/|
|Affricate||voiceless||tlh /t͡ɬ/||ch /ʧ/|
|Fricative||voiceless||S /ʂ/||H /x/|
|Nasal||m /m/||n /n/||ng /ŋ/|
|Trill|| r /r/|
|Approximant||w /w/||l /l/||y /j/|
The two front vowels, <e> and <I>, represent sounds that are found in English but are more open and lax than a typical English speaker might assume when reading Klingon text written in the Latin alphabet, causing the consonants of a word to be more prominent. This enhances the sense that Klingon is a clipped and harsh-sounding language. Vowels
Diphthongs can be analyzed phonetically as the combination of the five vowels plus one of the two semivowels /w/ and /j/ (represented by <w> and <y>, respectively). Thus, the combinations <ay>, <ey>, <Iy>, <oy>, <uy>, <aw>, <ew> and <Iw> are possible. There are no words in the Klingon language that contain *<ow> or *<uw>.
In nouns, the final syllable of the stem (the noun itself, excluding any affixes) is stressed. If any syllables ending in ' are present, the stress shifts to those syllables.
The stress in other words seems to be variable, but this is not a serious issue because most of these words are only one syllable in length. Still, there are some words which should fall under the rules above, but do not, although using the standard rules would still be acceptable.
Klingon is an agglutinative language, using mainly affixes in order to alter the function or meaning of words. Some nouns have inherently plural forms: "jengva'" "plate" vs. "ngop" "plates", for instance. In other cases, a suffix is required to denote plurality. Depending on the type of noun (body part, being capable of using language, or neither), the suffix changes. For beings capable of using language, the suffix is "-pu'", as in "tlhInganpu'", meaning Klingons, or "jaghpu'", meaning enemies. For body parts, the plural suffix is "-Du'", as in "qeylIS minDu'", the Eyes of Kahless. For items that are neither body parts, nor capable of speech, the suffix is "-mey", such as "sarqmey", (sarks), for the Klingon horse, or "targhmey", or (targs), for a Klingon kind of boar.
Klingon nouns take suffixes to indicate grammatical number, gender, two levels of deixis, possession and syntactic function. In all, 29 noun suffixes from five classes may be employed: jupoypu'na'wI'vaD "for my beloved true friends". Speakers are limited to no more than one suffix from each class to be added to a word, and the classes have a specific order of appearance.
Another important suffix is "-ngan", as in "romuluSngan". It denotes that someone, or something, is from the first part of the word - in this case, Romulus. In cases like "vereng" (Ferenginar), the last "ng" is dropped, in favor of the suffix. Gender in Klingon does not indicate sex, as in English, or have an arbitrary assignment as in Danish or many other languages. It indicates whether a noun refers to a body part, a being capable of using language, or neither of these. In certain cases, however, there is a word part that defines gender. The words "puqloD" and "puqbe'" (meaning son and daughter respectively), when referenced with other words, imply that "-loD" means "male", where "-be'" is female ("puq-" meaning "child").
Verbs in Klingon are even more complex, taking a prefix indicating the number and person of the subject and object, plus suffixes from nine ordered classes, plus a special suffix class called rovers. Each of the four known rovers has its own unique rule controlling its position among the suffixes in the verb. Verbs are marked for aspect, certainty, predisposition and volition, dynamic, causative, mood, negation, and honorific, and the Klingon verb has two moods: indicative and imperative.
DaH mojaq-mey-vam DI-vuS-nIS-be' 'e' vI-Har
now suffix-PL-DEM 1PL.A.3PL.P-limit-need-NEG that 1SG.A.3SG.P-believe
"I believe that we do not need to limit these suffixes now."
Note that hyphens are used in the above only to illustrate the use of affixes. Hyphens are not used in Klingon.
Unlike most artificial auxiliary languages, which seek to either emulate elements of several evolved human languages in order to be easier to learn, or to be more regular with fewer exceptions than is the case in evolved existing languages, the Klingon language tries to break away from the most common features of other languages and embraces the exceptions to its own rules.
The official Klingon writing system is the Latin alphabet as used above, but on the television series, the Klingons use their own alien writing system. In The Klingon Dictionary this alphabet is named as pIqaD, but no information is given about it. When Klingon symbols are used in Star Trek productions they are merely decorative graphic elements, designed to emulate real writing and create an appropriate atmosphere.
The Astra Image Corporation designed the symbols (currently used to "write" Klingon) for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, although these symbols are often incorrectly attributed to Michael Okuda. They based the letters on the Klingon battlecruiser hull markings (three letters) first created by Matt Jeffries, and on Tibetan writing because the script had sharp letter forms used as a testament to the Klingons' love for knives and blades.
A design principle of the Klingon language is the great degree of lexical-cultural correlation in the vocabulary. For example, there are several words meaning "to fight" or "to clash against", each having a different degree of intensity. There is an abundance of words relating to warfare and weaponry and also a great variety of curses (cursing is considered a fine art in Klingon culture). This helps lend a particular character to the language.