Thursday, April 12, 2012

The A to Z of Fiction to Reality: Klingon

I bet you didn't know that, did you? We now have fully functioning Klingons. Really! Just head right down to any big sci-fi or comic book convention, and you'll see plenty of them wandering around. They even have their very own beauty pagent right here on Earth!
If you listen carefully, you might even hear some of them speaking in their own native language. And, really, that's what this is all about.

I'm not really a big Star Trek fan (yeah, yeah, I know... them's fightin' words to a lot of you out there. Especially you Klingons). It's not that I haven't watched it; I have. Well some of it (sorry, I've never seen a complete episode of Voyager or DS9). It's just that, well, to put it bluntly, it never could stand up against Star Wars, and that's all there is to it.

But there is one thing that has fascinated me about Star Trek and that's people's devotion to it and especially their devotion to the Klingons.

See, the Klingons were created  to be the whipping boys of the Star Trek universe. And I mean that in the original sense of the word. They were created to take all the punishment so that we, the viewers, could learn whatever lesson was being preached by Roddenberry that week. You wouldn't think that people would latch onto the dudes that weren't just the bad guys but the incompetent bad guys at that. From what was considered a failed television show.

But that's what happened.

Way before sci-fi conventions were cool or popular, back in the '70s, Star Trek was becoming a thing. More specifically, the Klingons were becoming a thing. When Paramount decided to go ahead with a feature film in the late '70s (released in 1979), they decided that the Klingon language should actually be represented, so James Doohan ("Scotty") came up with some words for the film. In effect, Doohan created the sound of the language.

Fans wanted more, but there wasn't more to go on.

Until 1984. Production was underway on The Search for Spock, and Leonard Nimoy (Spock) wanted something more than the "gibberish" that they'd been using as the Klingon language. It would be hard to say, at that point, that pressure from fans of the Klingons had nothing to do with this. At any rate, linguist Marc Okrand was hired to devise the basics for a full Klingon language. His first book on the subject, The Klingon Dictionary, was published in 1985. The language has only continued to expand from there.

There have been more than just a handful of books published in Klingon,

and, in 1992, the Klingon Language Institute (KLI) was founded in Pennsylvania. Klingon is the most widely spoken fictional language.

Wait! What? It's the most widely spoken fictional language? Yes. As the KLI's existence implies, you can take classes in Klingon, and there are some experts that are fluent in it. Well, as fluent as one can be in a language that's still missing words. The thing to note here is that people can speak fictional languages. And I'm not talking kids speaking Pig Latin, either. Adult people that devote their time to learning these things.

Somewhere in there, a line was crossed. The line from just being some bit of a story somewhere into something that's real. The only other good example we have of something like this is Tolkien, who devised not just one but two languages as support for his writing. But he did that. And Tolkien was a linguist. It was all a part of his world building. But Klingon has gone a step beyond. Klingon has come about, really, from pressure from fans. It was like they reached into this fictional world of Star Trek and pulled Klingon out of it into the real world.

Just, you know, if you do ever happen to be at any of those conventions and see Klingons walking around, be careful. You don't really know how real they may or may not be.


  1. I've seen the KLI's website. That's a bit further than I'd ever want to go. I don't need to speak it (or dress the part) to enjoy a Star Trek convention.
    I've seen every movie and every episode multiple times. Still sticking with Star Trek is better than Star Wars.

  2. I'm not a Star Trek fan. To be fair, I'm not a Star Wars fan either.

    The boys on the Big Bang Theory play Klingon boggle.

  3. I think the Klingons were intended to be the "Evil Empire," the Soviets to the Federation's Americans. Anyway, I think they're gross, especially their food.

    What's always silly to me is how they had to actually come up with an explanation for why the Klingons in the original series don't have brow ridges but the ones in the movies, Next Gen/DS9/etc. do. There was like a whole 2-part "Enterprise" episode devoted to making up some convoluted explanation when really we know it was because they didn't have the money for fancy brow ridges on the original series.

    The best Klingon though is the Shakespeare-quoting General Chang (played by Christopher Plummer) in "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country." Although the Klingon played by Christopher Lloyd in Star Trek III was pretty badass too. I mean he did blow up the original Enterprise.

  4. Wow. Somewhere a line was crossed indeed.

    But then, who among us really knows what is real anyway?

    I get scared reading murder mysteries. So there you have it.

  5. Once they decide vampires or zombies need a language, well, it's all over.

    Are there any space shows on TV these days?

  6. I don't like how Klingon has basically become a real language. But then again, in a world that believes in god, leprechauns, santa, grumpkins and seems perfectly at home.

  7. Haha, another sci-fi fan who doesn't love Star Trek. I always feel so guilty admitting that one. We should start a club - and make sure there's bodyguards to keep us safe from all the hardcore Trekkies.

    Klingon is the most widely spoken fictional language? Really? I would have gone with Elvish. But hey, more power to em.

  8. Klingons! I had so much to say about this yesterday that I decided not to waste my time trying to compose a response on my phone... this one was going to come from my laptop after I got home.

    That idea didn't work out so well. Now I can't remember what I was so fired up to say.

    Oh well, I agree with Patrick that Christopher Plummer was the ultimate Klingon.

  9. Alex: Well... everyone's entitled to their opinion (even if it is wrong :).

    M.J.: I love their Rock, Paper, etc thing best.

    Grumpy: I'm not sure about that with the Klingons. Roddenberry was pretty big into uniting all peoples, so I don't think the Klingons were supposed to be a representation of the USSR. I could be wrong about that. I've never been interested enough to go reading about Roddenberry.

    Pish: Real is different for each person. In that, I mean each person has to decide where they draw the line of reality. Many people say that Tolkien lived in the world that he created for so long that, by the end of his life, he believed it was real.

    Stephen: Zombies do have a language: "Rrr... Argh... Grr... Braiiinsss..."
    Other than The Clone Wars (animated), I don't really know of any. Then, again, I don't really watch TV in the way that normal people do.

    Michael: I just don't know why anyone would actually want to speak it.

    S.L.: Have you seen Fanboys? If not, you need to.
    You draw up the charter for the club, and we'll start promoting it.

    Rusty: See, I hate when I do that. And it happens more and more. I blame my kids, because, well, frequently, it's their fault.

  10. I am highly amused by the existence of a beauty pageant...for Klingons!

    So Klingon is winning the fictional language battle, eh? Does that mean sci-fi geeks can kick a fantasy geek's butt?

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse, co-host of the 2012 #atozchallenge! Twitter: @AprilA2Z

  11. Shannon: Yeah, the whole beautiful Klingon thing amuses me, too.

    I don't know how to respond to that Shannon. I mean, what does it say about a person who invests serious amounts of time into studying something like a fictional language? I would say that, based on the amount of money that, say, LotR made (as a movie) as opposed to Star Trek that fantasy fans are more well adjusted. Overall, that is.

  12. P'tahk! I mean, not you, personally... it's just my favorite Klingon thing to say, whenever I get mad at my customers at work.

    I am an all-levels geek but I have to say my first love is Star Trek. ALL of Star Trek. Any Star Trek on TV, even DS9 or Voyager, is preferable to anything else. :)

    And I like Klingon, it reminds me of German. :)

  13. RG: Star Trek was one of my earliest sci-fi things, but nothing really grabbed me until Star Wars.

    I always wanted to learn German when I was a kid.