tlhIngan-Hol Archive: Mon Apr 15 11:58:20 2002

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Re: What makes a 'real' language?

Will said:
> >I'll add one thing for the beginners trying to understand the difference
> >between the Klingon verb suffix {-lu'} and the English passive voice.
> >ghunchu'wI' described a lot about this difference, but the biggest 
> >difference
> >is that the English passive voice has a way of indicating what the subject
> >really is, while the Klingon {-lu'} does not.
> >
> >In other words in Klingon, I can say {Qorwagh ghorlu'} and I can translate 
> >that
> >into the English passive-voiced sentence, "The window is broken," but if I
> >start out with the English passive voice sentence, "The window was broken 
> >by
> >Krankor," there is no way to translate that meaning into a Klingon sentence
> >using {-lu'}. I can think of ways that people who "encode" English into 
> >Klingon
> >might THINK they can translate that sentence using {-lu'}, but they'd be 
> >wrong.

Sean said:

> Right, but you get the same meaning across with {Qorwagh'e' ghor Qanqor}. 

Will continues:

The English passive "The window was broken by Krankor," can emphasize the 
window or the breakage. The Klingon {Qorwagh'e' ghor Qanqor,} emphasizes only 
the window. I see it better translated as, "As for the window, Krankor broke 
it." The passive voice might just as well fit in as:

The window was designed by SuStel. 
The window was built by DloraH. 
The window was broken by Krankor.
If there is an emphasis here, it is on the action, or the relationship between 
the action and the direct object. I don't think the passive voice typically 
puts an emphasis on the direct object more than it does on the action of the 

Of course, that could be translated:

Qorwagh'e' 'ogh SuStel; chenmoH DloraH; ghor Qanqor. The main point to all of 
this is that since Klingon has no passive voice, you have to recast from 
English passive voice to whatever grammatical construction best serves the 
meaning of the original sentence.

If there is no specified subject in the passive voice English, typically, 
you'll find that the verb suffix {-lu'} does a good job most of the time. If 
the original English uses the passive voice and does include a reference to the 
subject of the action, you can't use {-lu'}. Often the noun suffix {-'e'} might 
work, but just as often you should just abandon passive voice and use a regular 
active voice sentence.

Klingon similarly lacks (so far as we know) an indirect quotation. The 
character of the language reflects that of the fictional people who speak it. 
I'll again post my favorite exchange in the history of this mailing list.

Nick Nickolas wrote:

An aside: is it just me (and I know for  afact it isn't), or does talking in 
Klingon actually *force* you to be rude? ;)

Richard Kennaway replied:

No, talking Terran forces you to be wittering, vague, and indecisive.

> That is, you can put the emphasis specifically on the window.  (or am I 
> mistaken?)  (Although, I suppose if this were the conclusion of a mystery 
> novel, the emphasis would actually be on the doer: The window was broken 
> by...Krankor! / {Qorwagh ghor...Qanqor'e'!})
> Even though we sometimes have to circumlocute a lot, we can say anything in 
> tlhIngan Hol that we can say in other languages.  This is what makes it an 
> actual language, as opposed to Klingonaase or Richard Adams's Lapine. 

Agreed. Klingon definitely has strong areas (where I can say things more 
clearly and concisely in Klingon than in English) and weak ones (where 
vocabulary is undeveloped or where the resulting translation of an English 
sentence is awkward in the Klingon). Meanwhile, this is true when comparing any 
two languages.

> Some 
> languages seem primitive to us because the plural of 'dog' is 'dog dog' 
> (some Polynesian languages) or because there number system consists of 'one, 
> two, many' (at least one language of the Amazon basin), but all the same 
> concepts can be expressed.  (Although I hope I'd never have to specify 
> high-order numbers in the example number system, it could be done if it were 
> important that more specifity than 'many' be expressed.)  We may be lacking 
> a bit of vocabulary, but so were the Pacific islanders when European ships 
> first came across them (lacking vocabulary for many of the things Europeans 
> used, that is - that had all the vocabulary they needed for their own 
> lives).

It's particularly amusing to look at some of the Native American translations 
of the Bible at a time when those languages lacked words for most of what I 
consider to be related to a psychotic construction lacking any basis on the 
world one experiences through the senses. It doesn't stop being psychotic just 
because a lot of people agree about it. Faith is an abstract concept when it is 
applied to faith in a world for which there is no evidence of its existance. 
Faith in God is based upon less evidence than faith in the Easter Bunny, hence, 
the Easter Bunny is easier to translate. "Special rabbit who hides colorful 
eggs on a special day each year." Santa is "old guy with long, white beard and 
red suit who gives kids gifts once a year if they are good."

It is quite difficult to translate "maker of all things" for a culture who does 
not see natural things as having been made. Rocks are just there, from the 
beginning. Plants grow. Nobody makes these things. Start with that cultural 
perspective and translation of "God" is extremely difficult. The arrogant 
assumption that everybody ought to understand the word "God" and readily accept 
the psychotic construction that goes with it amazes me repeatedly. That so many 
people have been murdered throughout history because of differences in their 
psychotic beliefs convinces me that humanity has a long way to go in its 
development as a species with any bragging rights.

I also feel odd about living in a country where the constitution guarantees one 
the right to one's own psychosis, no matter what form it might take, especially 
if you can get other people to agree with you. If I have a term to add to my 
native language it will be "organized psychosis".

Put a religious person and a psychotic person in the same room and get the 
religious person to start talking about their religion and get the psychotic 
person talking about the psychotic world in which their beliefs dwell, and I 
can assure you it can quickly become difficult to tell them apart. Any argument 
that succeeds or fails with one will similarly succeed or fail with the other.

That's not to say that they are both wrong. I'm just saying that if one of them 
IS right, it's pretty much impossible to tell which one.

> Ignoring the lack of vocabulary, I can express any thought in tlhIngan Hol 
> that I can express in English; I can create a grammatical structure that 
> expresses the same thought, even if I have to substitute the English word 
> for the missing vocab (or simply circumlocute).  (Well, theoretically I can; 
> my actual skill at this is not yet at great as I'd like.)  Does it bother me 
> that I can't say: 'The better of the two men won the contest', that instead 
> I have to say: 'There were two men.  The first man was better than the 
> second man.  The first man won the contest.'?  Well, sometimes it offends my 
> sense of efficiency, but I can still express that thought.

Well said. Then again, the sentence "The better of the two men won the 
contest," has some cultural implications as well. For a Klingon, this would be 
so obvious as to be redundant. The whole reason for a contest is to determine 
who is the better man. It is awkward to translate into Klingon simply because 
it is so redundant that you are forced to try to say the same thing two 
different ways.

Culture and language are deeply interrelated. One of the most fascinating 
aspects of the Klingon language for me is that Okrand managed to so 
consistently capture the nature of this fictitious race in a language he 
created in such a very short time. In the middle of shooting the third Star 
Trek movie (they had already shot Valkris's scenes in English and had to redub 
them in Klingon), Okrand was hired to work on the Klingon scenes. Before the 
movie was done, all of the vocabulary and grammar in TKD before the Addendum 
was done, and for all these years, Okrand has remained consistent with 
everything back to that point. He has expanded on it minimally, but he has not 
gone back and said that anything earlier on was wrong and should be redone. 

That is as impressive as anything else relating to the language.

The people are at once honorable, serious and funny. The hypermasculinity to 
the point of absurdity is at the root of the language as well as the people. It 
is a serious language capable of a wide range of expression, yet the vocabulary 
is full of puns and the grammar is full of quirks. Prepositional meaning is 
carried by noun suffixes, verb-to-object relationships and special nouns. 
Adverbial meaning is carried by chuvmey and verb suffixes. There is no tense, 
but there's a relatively wide range of expression for aspect, which is related 
to tense, but not really. The comparative structure is completely out of left 
field with no grammatical relationship to anything else in the language. {-meH} 
is applied only to verbs to modify either nouns or verbs. {-mo'} is applied to 
either nouns or verbs to modify only verbs.

The word {neH} is both an adverb and a verb, and its use has special exceptions 
to the rules that normally advise you on the use of either adverbs or verbs.

The suffix {-lu'} reverses the subject/object nature of the verb prefix, unless 
the verb is intransitive, and then the (null) prefix becomes normal. {quSDaq 

The whole thing is a fascinating puzzle. After more than a decade, I'm still 
fascinated by it.


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