tlhIngan-Hol Archive: Sat Dec 11 21:25:12 1993

Back to archive top level

To this year's listing

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next]

tlhIngan Hol qun vIwam - an article


        Following is an article I intend to submit to HolQeD. Please offer
your comments. Many Klingons do not have InterNet access, so HolQeD is their
only dependably ongoing source of information on the language, and your
editorial contributions here may improve the quality of what they receive.

       Given the recent rash of Klingon misspellings in HolQeD articles, we
should concentrate on improving our accuracy whenever possible.

       Following HolQeD convention, the article will have Klingon examples in
bold and English translations in italics. Since InterNet does not transmit
such information, I'll use {Klingon} and [English] brackets, instead.

                    {tlHIngan Hol qun vIwam} -part 1

                              By {charghwI'}

       Between the interview with Marc Okrand by David Barron, published in
{HolQeD} vol. 1, #2 and my personal experience at a seminar and a brief
private conversation with Mr. Okrand at Stellarcon 17, I have been offered
the resources to understand more than many Klingon students about how the
language was originally developed and how it evolved from there. I have
concluded that my most immediately useful offering to my fellow students of
the Klingon language would be a more detailed anthropological reconstruction
of the evolution of the language. While Marc could certainly step forward and
write a more authoritative article on this, until such an event I step in to
fill this void. Please correct me in my mistaken presumptions.

       For those unfamiliar with the roots of Klingon, in ST1, an actor
improvised alien sounds, most of which sounded like {cha'}. Subtitles were
applied to them. Nobody cared about grammar or vocabulary. During ST3, Marc
Okrand was hired to create a language for Klingon lines for that movie. He
began by watching the first movie, notating the sounds made by the actor and
creating a grammar and vocabulary such that those sounds really meant those
subtitles. Almost.

       The first recording of spoken Klingon was {wIy cha'}, subtitled as
[Tactical] at the beginning of ST1. I must confess that I initially thought
he said {ghuy' cha'}, which is one of the epithets taught at the beginning of
CK and listed in TKD on page 58, or {ghay' cha'} in TKD on page 178. Neither
seemed to have anything to do with things tactical. Instead, {wIy cha'}
appears in TKD on page 72 as an example of clipped Klingon. There, the
translation is [Show the tactical display!] This is different from my
original interpretation of the subtitle. I thought in saying, [Tactical], he
was just addressing the tactical officer to get his or her attention.

       The next utterance sounded to me like two very separated words: {HaS
cha'}, subtitled [Visual.] It is instead explained by another clipped Klingon
example in TKD on page 73 as {HaSta}, translated as [Visual (display)!] or
[Show the visual display!] As {HaSta} it is one of those extremely rare (less
than 2% of the vocabulary) Klingon words ending in a bare vowel(1): {cha, Da,
Do, gho, ghu, HaSta, He, Hu, je, jo, may, pay, pey, po, puy, ro, Sey, ta, tI,
yay, yoy, 'a, 'uy}. Did I miss any? If not, then HaSta is the only
polysyllabic Klingon root word ending in a bare vowel. Without the glottal
stop at the end, {HaSta} is a most unusual Klingon word. With it, it is quite
typical. Also, note that this is the only Klingon word from ST1 to use {t}
and it is debatable as to whether it was not really {ch}. This places the {t}
in the position of possibly being part of the second layer of phonemes
invented by Okrand, rather than as part of the initial foundation invented by
the actor in ST1. I would credit the actor, if I knew his name.

       The subtitle [Tactical, stand by on torpedoes] was stated in Klingon
as {cha yIghuS}. This appears in an explanation in TKD page 24, last
paragraph before 3.3.3. There, the translation is [Stand by torpedos!] or
[Get the torpedoes ready to be fired!] Presumedly, the tactical officer
understood the statement was being made to him (or her), since the subtitled
reference to tactical was never made in the Klingon. It should be noted that
the pronunciation difference between this {cha} (with no glottal stop) and
all the other {cha'}s (with glottal stops) escapes me. In ST1, the presence
or absence of the glottal stop is not obvious. My personal suspicion is that
Mr. Okrand omitted the glottal stop from this word just to get a different
meaning out of the actor's overuse of {cha'}.

       The next subtitle, [Ready] accompanies a nearly unintelligible
single syllable {'eH}, nearly drowned out by a percussive moment in the
music. I initially suspected that the spelling was a humorous transliteration
of the sound Okrand made as he was trying to write down the actors word.
Later, in a similar firing sequence without subtitles, the Klingon leader
gives the same hand signal for ready as he hisses a simple {SSS}, as noted as
a variation on the word {SuH} at the bottom of page 57 in TKD. He then yells
{baH} as he gives the same hand signal as the first order to fire.

       Note the beginning glottal stop in {'eH}. There are no directions in
TKD for pronouncing a glottal stop at the beginning of a syllable. This seems
only to serve the function of preventing any word from beginning with a
vowel, resulting in elided vowels for some prefixes. This serves the general
rule that the vast majority of Klingon syllables have the
consonant-vowel-consonant format. The glottal stop is considered to be a
consonant, if a silent one. 

       The next line was {baH}, or [fire], subtitled [Fire torpedoes.] See
the clipped Klingon example in TKD on page 72.

       Lastly, [Evasive] is {junchoH}, though it sounded to me a lot like
{chunchaH}. It is the only ST1 example of {j} or {o}, and this is a dubious
interpretation of the actor's improvised sounds. The second vowel was nothing
like an {o}. It was clearly an {a}. The {j} sound was both inaccurate to the
actor's sound and probably the least appropriate addition to the language. I
say this from a personal dislike for the {j} sound in Klingon. It fails to
close a syllable in a clean, Klingon way, and I must confess that it sounds
barbaric to what I believe to be my acquired Klingon ear. The sound of wej
makes me cringe. It does not fit the sound of the other numerals. It sounds

       We can see that a very interesting quantity of information was
gathered from these first few lines originally improvised by an actor, then
codified into TKD and built upon. First, let's look at the phonemes. Those
used by these lines that were the foundation of the language: {a b ch e gh H
I j S t u w y '}. Of these, {e}, {j}, {o} and {t} are questionable
interpretations of sounds made in ST1.

       Mr. Okrand has remarked several times that he felt this was not a
complete set of phonemes for a language. He filled it in with: {D l m n ng o
p q Q r tlh v} (and possibly {e}, {j}, {o} and {t}).

       I've noticed that the seemingly random capitalization follows the
pattern that the least English sounding phonemes are capitalized, except for
"i", which for all I can tell is capitalized solely in order to be confused
with the lower case "L". All characters romanized with diphthongs are lower
case. This improves legibility for the {H}, since it is involved in {ch},
{gh} and {tlh}. All lowercase singular characters are, for the most part,
pronounced much like English.

       At Stellarcon 17, I asked Mr. Okrand if he had selected phonemes to
suit the prosthetic teeth worn by the actors portraying Klingons. He said
that he did not, though by happy accident, they did suit the teeth well. It
is interesting to note that the majority of phonemes were created in
imitation of a man wearing the Klingon teeth. This influence constitutes
slightly more than a happy accident. The only phoneme that violates the
physiological influence of the prosthetic is the {t} and perhaps the {l},
both of which would more naturally fall back to the {D} position while
wearing the teeth.

       Meanwhile, it is this difference between tongue position of the {t}
and {D} that Mr. Okrand explains was intentional, in order to make the
language difficult to pronounce and alien to any "natural" language. Oddly,
the {t} is one of the sounds he, perhaps mistakenly, noted from someone
wearing the teeth and the {D} is one of the sounds he made up for the
language. I offer only that the {D} tongue position follows naturally from
the {S} position and the {t} phoneme could have been an error in his original
writing down of these first improvised lines in Klingon.

       Next issue: How ST3 continued the evolution of {tlhIngan Hol}.

(1) If we accept Allen C. Wechsler's phonological theory of Klingon ({HolQeD}
vol. 1, #1, bottom of page 3) the number of open vowel syllables is reduced
by a third, since the {y} ending is interpreted as another consonant.

Back to archive top level