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Learn Klingon Language in 7 Steps

If you are a fan of Star Trek, at least once in your lifetime you have wanted to learn the Klingon language. It is no surprise that the Star Trek franchise’s popularity made it one of the most widespread artificial languages designed specifically for a media franchise with a huge community globally.

History of Klingon Language

Originally Klingon language was designed to create the realism effect about a race of fictional aliens inhabiting the Star Trek universe, that originally started as a TV show back in the 1960s. Nowadays it’s a real language that has transcended Star Trek realm and now is used by many all over the world. For example, one can watch in several episodes of the Big Bang Theory how Sheldon and his friends communicate using Klingon language.

At first, characters in the franchise would speak only English until Star Trek: The Motion Picture released in 1979. In this movie, guttural shouts made by the Klingons were accompanied by subtitles, which was the only way for audience to understand what they were saying. There were no specific words behind the sounds pronounced by actors, however, it was the emergence of this language.

Creation Process

In the next two movies, situation was the same as script would contain some chaotic sound sequences that were presented as Klingon. However, later producers of this show decided to expand and standardize it. They hired professional linguist Dr. Marc Okrand to create some sort of small part of an original language for Klingons consistent with exclamations made by actors in previous parts. Dr. Okrand designed this alien language from scratch, not based on world’s tongues, rather with professional help of theoretical knowledge on language construction. He combined different features and speech sounds from many world languages and came up with wholly original sounding and syntax. He also trained actors on how to speak Klingon correctly during filming process. Dr. Okrand was tasked with making subsequent corrections in language itself, scripts, subtitles to match errors and mispronunciation.

Later on, he created The Klingon Dictionary and described its language features. Since then community of enthusiasts who desired to learn Klingon gradually started growing. In 1992 the Klingon Language Institute was established by Dr. Lawrence Schoen. The members of KLI since then have translated some literary works including Hamlet, Tao Te Ching, and Gilgamesh into Klingon language. The same year the second edition of dictionary was released. If you imagine KLI as something extraterrestrial and wonder if you can major in Klingon there,  institute is just an organization, and they do not offer any formal education or classes.

Original creator of this tongue spoken by aliens in Star Trek Dr. Okrand still supports language, amends dictionaries, attends conferences. KLI also have their own website where one can start learning. Many other dictionaries, Klingon word translator website, even tool for translation of phrases and texts have emerged since then on the internet. Now one can also look through scripts of Star Trek franchise containing Klingon and listen to original pronunciation. 

7 Steps to Learn to Speak Klingon Language

It is hard to imagine that one could take up traditional in-class course in Klingon with textbooks, blackboard, homework. Although some free language learning services such as DuoLingo offer programs and there is even Klingon dictionary, there’s no particular comprehensive teaching plan composed for this tongue. So if one is enthusiastic enough to master this alien language, this person would have to learn this language without any guidebooks or designed lessons. However, the learning strategy would still be the same as for any natural world language. If you are wondering how to learn Klingon, here is a simple solution for you. There are the 7 steps to follow in order to speak as a Star Trek alien:

  1. Reading Rules.
    The starting point for learning should be the alphabet. Although specific system of characters was created for Star Trek motion picture, enthusiast Klingon speakers have designed a way to represent them in the Latin alphabet. There are a total of 25 letters and glottal stop sign. Pronunciation of sounds differs from English, so when starting learning, first memorize how to read letters.
  2. Pronunciation Practice.
    When practicing to speak Klingon there are a few things to consider. The letters represented by two letters for example, “gh” or “gn” should be pronounced together as one sound. Also, all sound should be pronounced forcefully, with aspiration, and sound a little harsh. To start with, try to say the word for “no”, which in Klingon is ghobe’. Keep in mind that the first letter should be pronounced as one and there is a glottal stop sign at the end. The same glottal stop is found in the word for “yes” – HIja’. It indicates that the vowel at the end should not be that long, and it should stop abruptly.
    Klingon is a mixture of many sounds found in different natural languages so mastering them requires perseverance and practice. Try doing it in front of a mirror, this is how many people learn language pronunciations. For aspiration practice, try taking a piece of paper and hold it against your mouth. Make sure that paper is moved by your breath when the sounds are pronounced.
  3. Basic Phrases.
    As a rule, learners first grasp some basic phrases such as greetings or introducing oneself. To say “my name is” you need to use the phrase oH pongwIj’e’ or simply jIH. There is no specific word for “hello.” When you meet someone, you would greet this person by saying nuqneH. This phrase is translated as, “What do you want?”. 
  4. Vocabulary.
    Now as you have grasped the basics, it is high time to expand your vocabulary. If you are extremely passionate about mastering Klingon language, you might want to buy latest edition of Klingon dictionary. Read some famous texts translated in this Star Trek language, for example, Hamlet by William Shakespeare or Gilgamesh epic. However, you might find some English to Klingon translator tools online and for free. Of course, another good source of knowledge would be Star Trek movies and TV series.
  5. Grammar.
    As you learn new words, it is also necessary to grasp the tools to combine them. Sentence structure and grammar expression in Klingon are different from English. Let us consider extremely insulting phrase Hab SoSlI’ Quch. It is translated into English as “your mother has a smooth forehead.” The first word in the sentence is the verb Hab which means “to be smooth”. Verbs precede nouns, which is quite unusual. The next word is “mother”, which is SoS. But here it has suffix lI’, which indicates possession. Grammatical meanings are mostly expressed with suffixes, making them similar to Turkish or Japanese. 
  6. Word Structure.
    The suffix lI’ is just one of the huge variety of suffixes that exist. You can have their overview at  Klingon Suffix guide provided by Klingonska.org. With their help, it is possible to create very long words like in German. Start with learning the basic ones such as possessives and plural forms and gradually expand your toolset for word formation.
  7. Practice.
    The main prerequisite of success in learning any language is practice. For sure, with this fictional language, it is not possible to travel somewhere and try talking to native speakers. However, you can find huge community online, some nearly fluent Klingonists at Comic-Con, and even attend conferences. Take up a course and learn Klingon with the app Duolingo for additional practice and memory training. The best way to start with is to find some enthusiasts online who will gladly help you with your learning.

Where can I Find a Professional Klingon translator Online?

In an episode of The Big Bang Theory, it is mentioned that Bernadette and Howard have Klingon on the backside of their wedding invitations. If you would like to make a similar surprise to your close ones or would like to impress a crush who is a Star Trek fan you might need an English Klingon translator to help you. Yes, it might be hard to find such a person as only a few Klingonists have mastered the language at a decent level.

If you need only a few plain phrases, such resources as Omniglot, KLI, or Glosbe may be sufficient. However, if you need some extensive translation, it is necessary to find professional linguist. So far no educational institution has yet offered a course to major in Klingon so the quest to find one might not be easy. The best way would probably be to try one’s luck at KLI, or maybe ask language creator, Dr. Okrand;)

bIDo’ ‘e’ vIneH with Learning

It is unbelievable how from a few growling sounds in a movie Klingon has developed into a whole original language and became popular all over the world. To learn Klingon may be very fun and educational. If you are up to something unusual, or even alien, Klingon might be the best language for you. bIDo’ ‘e’ vIneH (Good luck) with learning!