Star Trek: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About The Klingon Language

BImejDI’ reH betleHlIj yItlhap [Never leave without your bat’leth].

Star Trek Klingon

It has been called Klingoni/ee, Klingonese, and Klingonaase, but most 'Earthers' simply call it Klingon. More properly, the Klingon for Klingon (language) is tlhIngan Hol and that, you can choose to believe, descends from the fabled Kahless himself. In The Original Series, all Klingons spoke English, but then they also had smooth foreheads and we all know not to talk about that.

In the real world, it is the equally unforgettable Marc Okrand who invented and developed the targ’s share of the language’s grammar, vocabulary, and syntax. Another surprising, but familiar, face was also integral to the language’s creation, as we will find out in the list below.

Since then, this constructed language (or 'conlang') has taken on a life of its own. A community of Klingon language speakers has developed, most notably through the Klingon Language Institute (KLI) who seek to "promote and support" the "warriors’ tongue".

So, roll out that barrel of blood wine you’ve been saving, and warm up your vocal cords for those drinking songs as we discuss ten things you didn’t know about the Klingon language.

Please note that, for the sake of ease and readability for you Federation petaQ, Klingon words and phrases will be given in bold in the Romanised transliteration (also a transcription in this case) rather than in the native Klingon script (pIqaD). Occasionally, other widely used Federation transcriptions will be used.

10. Laddie, Don’t You Think You Should Rephrase That?

Star Trek Klingon
CBS Media Ventures

Korax could have called the Enterprise a garbage scow all day long, but Scotty wouldn’t have been able to retort with a similarly effective jibe in 'Klingoni' even if he’d wanted to. Klingons didn’t have ridges at this point (later retconned), and they had a language in only (apparently mispronounced) name. With an epic sense of l’esprit de l’escalier, Scotty could have replied Hab SoSlI' Quch [Your mother has a smooth forehead], for example, only years later.

It wasn’t presumably until all the side-effects of that augment virus had worn off (or everyone got the gift of reconstructive surgery under their seats when Oprah went to Qo’noS) that, in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the Klingons got a language, or the makings of one in any case. What you may not know is that the man behind the engineer (and the punch) played a vital role in its construction.

Dialectician Hartmut Scharfe was originally hired to create the Klingon dialogue for the movie, but Gene Roddenberry didn’t like what he came up with: not "alien enough". James Doohan, already gifted with dialects and languages, offered to help, and spent an afternoon with associate producer Jon Povill inventing a series of sounds (but only that) which would be used as the Klingon in the film. Doohan taught this to Mark Lenard (and the other actors). The latter then played not only the first Klingon with head adornments, but also spoke the first words on-screen in the Klingon language.

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Jack Kiely is a writer with a PhD in French and almost certainly an unhealthy obsession with Star Trek.