Sprechen Sie Klingon?


A German  radio station's decision to translate reports into Klingon marks a milestone for the only truly universal language, writes Shane Hegarty.

It is, as its speakers like to say, the fastest-growing language in the galaxy. Now, a German radio station will be translating its online reports into Klingon, meaning that particularly dedicated Trekkies and passing alien warriors will be able to find out what's happening down here on planet Earth.

When Deutsche Welle, described as the German equivalent of the BBC's World Service, decided that it wanted to do something for its tenth birthday it looked to the popularity of Star Trek - or Raumschiff Enterprise as it is called in Germany. Now, the language of the rude, lumpy-headed aliens of the series has become the 31st in which the channel publishes.

"The dialogue of cultures does not stop at the edge of the solar system," says the Deutsche Welle director, Erik Bettermann. "We should celebrate our 10-year presence in the online universe with a cross-border language. This should help users from other galaxies get an impression of Germany."

The thing about Klingon, of course, is that its origins are very much earthbound. It was devised by a linguist Marc Okrand for Star Trek 3 and has its own grammatical rules, syntax and vocabulary. For those unfamiliar with Star Trek, when Klingon is uttered it sounds rather as if the speaker has a phaser stuck in his throat.

The first dictionary was published in 1985, and since then there have been a range of books, including The Klingon Way (with recipes for Duani lizard skins and the complete lyrics to the Warrior's Anthem), Klingon for the Galactic Traveler and the two audio books Conversational Klingon and Power Klingon. There are now estimated to be speakers in about 40 countries and in 1999 the Modern Language Association announced that there were more fluent speakers of Klingon than there were of the Najavo language in the US.

Shakespeare's Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing have both been translated, as has Edgar Allen Poe's The Raven and an original Klingon tale The Eyes of Kahless. Work continues on translating the Bible. You can view your Google page through the language.

Elsewhere on the web, you can find the long-running Klingon Language Institute, which is dedicated to teaching the language and keeps tabs on its ever-growing vocabulary. Among the more recent additions are the words "bor" (burble) and "bur" (hiccup). It publishes an online journal of poetry and stories in the language and in recent years has held five-day Klingon conferences at which people can come and greet each other with the closest thing the language has to hello: "nuqneH (what do you want?)"

Its growth has attracted academic interest. There have been theses on the language, as there have been examinations of Klingon spirituality as depicted in the show. An American computational linguist, Dr d'Armond Speers, tried to raise his daughter as bilingual in Klingon and English but was unsuccessful, with the child sticking firmly to the older tongue.

Elsewhere, it was widely reported last year that the Department of Human Services in Multnomah University was looking to hire a Klingon interpretor, although it had, in fact, only included it on a list of 55 languages it thought might conceivably need one.

Deutsche Welle's recognition of Klingon began as a joke by the station's engineers but it has proven popular. However, given the Star Trek universe's never-ending propensity for conflict, there could be trouble ahead. There is a growing community of Vulcan speakers who might feel increasingly disenfranchised. Meanwhile, thanks to the popularity of The Lord of the Rings, there are people out there learning the variants of Elvish who might also like to catch the news headlines. It's enough to make speakers of Esperanto - the famous, but largely unsuccessful, invented language - curse in multi-lingual desperation.

And before you ask: no, there is no Klingon translation for "nerd".

Deutsche Welle: www.dw-world.de

Klingon Language Institute: www.kli.org