In Star Trek, the Klingons are an extraterrestrial humanoid warrior species who speak forcefully in a harsh, guttural language. Despite its disagreeable sound, ‘Klingonese’ has developed an extraordinary following in real-life.
Although the Klingon language was mentioned in the early Star Trek episode The Trouble with Tribbles (1967), it wasn’t until Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) that the first words were spoken on screen. The subsequent development of Klingon into a fully-fledged language and the growing numbers of fans who speak it fluently reflects the enormous impact of the sci-fi classic’s impact on audiences worldwide.
The first Klingon words were devised by actor James Doohan (“Scotty”). For Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), director Leonard Nimoy and writer-producer Harve Bennett wanted the Klingons to speak in a structured way instead of random words, and so commissioned a more authentic script based on the phrases Doohan had originated.
The task was undertaken by Marc Okrand, a language expert with a Ph.D. in Linguistics from the University of California, Berkeley. His new vocabulary and grammar were enthusiastically embraced by actor Christopher Lloyd (Captain Kruge) who impressed Okrand with his desire to get the pronunciation right, know what the words meant and how the sentences fitted together.
Okrand’s The Klingon Dictionary (1985), which described many aspects of the Klingon language, achieved sales of more than 300,000. In 1992 he released the audio book Conversational Klingon featuring Michael Dorn, the actor who played Worf. Among his follow up books The Klingon Way: A Warrior’s Guide is regarded by fans as a canonical source of the alien language.
Okrand says he never imagined people would study it so seriously or learn it so well that they could actually carry on conversations!
The Klingon Institute (KLI), founded in 1992 by fellow academic Lawrence M. Schoen, offers online courses and holds an annual conference providing lessons, lectures and exercises for those wishing to speak Klingonese. The KLI also runs several projects to promote the language, including the translation into Klingon of the Bible and works by Shakespeare.
Today, Klingon is probably the most fully developed fictional language in the world. Fans use it to conduct marriage ceremonies and to write songs. A Klingon Christmas Carol, based on the famous novella by Charles Dickens, is performed regularly in the United States. An opera in the Klingon language premiered in The Hague in 2010.
In Australia, the Jenolan Caves in the Blue Mountains became the first attraction to offer guided tours in Klingon after the Sydney-class starship U.S.S. Jenolan appeared in an episode of The Next Generation.
In art, in advertising, even in television series and movies that have nothing to do with Star Trek, Klingon is now so extensively used that you might call it the first ‘universal’ language.
[We are Klingons!]
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