Klingon language: Wikis


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tlhIngan Hol
Pronunciation /ˈt͡ɬɪŋɑn xol/
Created by Marc Okrand
Date founded 1984
Setting and usage Star Trek films and television series (TNG, DS9, Voyager, Enterprise)
Total speakers Unknown. Around 12 fluent speakers in 1996, according to Lawrence Schoen, director of the KLI[1]
Category (purpose) constructed languages
Category (sources) constructed languages
 a priori languages
Regulated by Klingon Language Institute
Language codes
ISO 639-1 None
ISO 639-2 tlh
ISO 639-3 tlh

The Klingon language (tlhIngan Hol in Klingon) is the constructed language spoken by the fictional Klingons in the Star Trek universe. Deliberately designed by Marc Okrand to be "alien", it has a number of typologically uncommon features. The language's basic sound, along with a few words, was first devised by actor James Doohan ("Scotty") for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. That film marked the first time the language had been heard on screen; in all previous appearances, Klingons spoke in English. Klingon was subsequently developed by Okrand into a full-fledged language.

Klingon is sometimes referred to as "Klingonese" (most notably in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Trouble With Tribbles", where it was actually pronounced by a Klingon character as /klɪŋɡoni/), but among the Klingon-speaking community this is often understood to refer to another Klingon language that is described in John M. Ford's Star Trek novels as Klingonaase.

A small number of people, mostly dedicated Star Trek fans or language aficionados, can converse in Klingon. Its vocabulary, heavily centered on Star Trek-Klingon concepts such as "spacecraft" or "warfare", can sometimes make it cumbersome for everyday use – for instance, while there are words for "transporter ionizer unit" (jolvoy') or "bridge (of a ship)" (meH), there is currently no word for "bridge" in the sense of a crossing over water. Nonetheless, mundane conversations are common among skilled speakers.[2]



Though mentioned in the original Star Trek series, Klingon was first used on-screen in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). For Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), director Leonard Nimoy and writer-producer Harve Bennett wanted the Klingons to speak a proper language instead of made-up gibberish, and so commissioned Okrand to develop the phrases Doohan had come up with into a full language. Okrand enlarged the lexicon and developed grammar around the original dozen words Doohan had created. It would be used intermittently in later movies featuring the original cast: in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), translation difficulties would serve as a plot device.

With the advent of the series Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987) – in which one of the main characters, Worf, was a Klingon – and successors, the language and various cultural aspects for the fictional species were expanded. In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode A Matter of Honor, several Klingons speak a language that is not translated for the benefit of the viewer, until one Klingon orders the others to "speak their (i.e. humans') language". The use of untranslated Klingon words interspersed with conversation translated into English was commonplace in later seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, when Klingons became a more important part of the series' overall plot arcs.

Worf would later reappear among the regular characters in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1992) and B'Elanna Torres, a Klingon-human hybrid, would become a main character on Star Trek: Voyager (1995). Later in the pilot episode of the prequel series Star Trek: Enterprise, "Broken Bow" (2001), the Klingon language is described as having "eighty polyguttural dialects constructed on an adaptive syntax"; however, Klingon as described on television is often not entirely congruous with Klingon developed by Okrand.


The Klingon language has a following and numerous reference works. A description of the actual Klingon language can be found in Okrand's book The Klingon Dictionary (Published by Pocket Books, Simon & Schuster, 1985, second edition with new addendum 1992, ISBN 0-671-74559-X). In May 2009, Simon & Schuster in collaboration with Ultralingua Inc., a developer of electronic dictionary applications, announced the release of a suite of electronic Klingon language software for most computer platforms and handhelds including a dictionary, a phrasebook and an audio learning tool. Other notable works include The Klingon Way (with Klingon sayings and proverbs), Klingon for the Galactic Traveler and the two audio productions Conversational Klingon and Power Klingon.

The Klingon Hamlet

Four books have also been published in the tongue: ghIlghameS (Gilgamesh), Hamlet (Hamlet), paghmo' tIn mIS (Much Ado About Nothing), and pIn'a' qan paQDI'norgh (Tao Te Ching). The Shakespearian choices were inspired by a remark from High Chancellor Gorkon in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country who said: "You have not experienced Shakespeare, until you have read it in the original Klingon." In the bonus material for the DVD screenwriter Nicholas Meyer and actor William Shatner both explain that this was an allusion to the "German myth" that Shakespeare was in fact German. However, this myth is unknown in Germany, although the German translation is commonly considered so good as to be better than the original.[citation needed]

The Klingon Language Institute exists to promote the language.

Qapla' (success)

Paramount Pictures owns a copyright to the official dictionary and other canonical descriptions of the language. However, even though they have copyrighted the Klingon dictionary, the Klingon language itself, like all conlangs, cannot be copyrighted. Mizuki Miyashita and Laura Moll note, "Copyrights on dictionaries are unusual because the entries in the dictionary are not copyrightable as the words themselves are facts, and facts can not be copyrighted. However, the formatting, example sentences, and instructions for dictionary use are created by the author, so they are copyrightable." [3]

It is commonly postulated that features of the Klingon language were taken from various real Earth languages which Okrand has studied, particularly Native American languages.[4][5] Okrand himself has stated that a design principle of the Klingon language was dissimilarity to existing natural languages, so he avoided patterns that are typologically common and deliberately picked features that occur relatively infrequently in human languages. This includes above all the highly asymmetric consonant inventory and the basic word order.


Mind Performance Hacks mentions learning a constructed language for reasons related to the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis suggesting that knowing an alternate language may provide a different method of critical thought when tackling a difficult problem;[6] the book mentions Klingon as one such language. Other mentioned languages include Lojban and Solresol, as well as a passing reference to Sindarin.[7]

In an episode during season 10 of the comedy series Frasier called "Star Mitzvah" Frasier Crane played by Kelsey Grammer gives a speech in Klingon at his son's Bar Mitzvah having been fooled by a Jewish colleague he had let down into thinking it was Hebrew.


An important concept to spoken and written Klingon is canonicity. Only words and grammatical forms introduced by Marc Okrand are considered proper, canonical Klingon.

It is a point of contention among Klingonists as to what level of neologism is permissible.[8]


The following are works which are considered by the Klingon Language Institute to be canon Klingon and are the sources of Klingon vocabulary and grammar for all other works.[9]

The Klingon Dictionary (TKD)
The Klingon Way (TKW)
Klingon for the Galactic Traveler (KGT)
Sarek, a novel which includes some tlhIngan Hol
Federation Travel Guide, a pamphlet from Pocketbooks.
Audio tapes
Conversational Klingon (CK)
Power Klingon (PK)
The Klingon Way (TKW)
Electronic resources
The Klingon Language Suite, language learning tools from Ultralingua with Simon & Schuster
Other sources
certain articles in HolQeD (the journal of the KLI) (HQ)
certain Skybox Trading Cards (SKY)
a Star Trek Bird of Prey poster (BoP)
Star Trek: Klingon, a CD-ROM game (KCD, also STK)
On-line and in-person text/speech by Marc Okrand (mostly newsgroup postings)

The letters in parentheses following each item (if any) indicate the acronym by which the source is referred to when quoting canon.


Klingon has been developed with a phonology that, while based on human natural languages, is intended to sound alien. When initially developed, Paramount Pictures (owners of the Star Trek franchise) wanted the Klingon language to be guttural and harsh and Okrand wanted it to be unusual, so he selected sounds that combined in ways not generally found in other languages. The effect is mainly achieved by the use of a number of retroflex and uvular consonants in the language's inventory. Klingon has twenty-one consonants and five vowels. Klingon is normally written in a variant of the Latin alphabet (see below). In this orthography, upper and lower case letters are not interchangeable (uppercase letters mostly represent sounds different to those expected by English speakers). In the discussion below, standard Klingon orthography appears in <angle brackets>, and the phonemic transcription in the International Phonetic Alphabet is written between /slashes/.


The inventory of consonants in Klingon is spread over a number of places of articulation. In spite of this, the inventory has many gaps: Klingon has no velar plosives, and only one sibilant. Deliberately, this arrangement is quite bizarre by the standards of human languages. The combination of aspirated voiceless alveolar plosive /tʰ/ and voiced retroflex plosive /ɖ/ is particularly unusual, for example. The consonants <D> /ɖ/ and <r> (/r/) can be realized as [ɳ] and [ɹ], respectively. Note that the apostrophe character <'> is not a punctuation mark but a full-fledged letter, representing the glottal stop (/ʔ/).

  Labial Dental or alveolar Retroflex Postalveolar
or palatal
Velar Uvular Glottal
Central Lateral
Plosive voiceless p /pʰ/ t /tʰ/       q /qʰ/ ' /ʔ/
voiced b /b/   D /ɖ/        
Affricate voiceless   tlh /t͡ɬ/ ch /t͡ʃ/ Q /q͡χ/
voiced       j /d͡ʒ/      
Fricative voiceless     S /ʂ/   H /x/    
voiced v /v/         gh /ɣ/    
Nasal m /m/ n /n/   ng /ŋ/    
Trill   r /r/
Approximant w /w/ l /l/   y /j/      


In contrast to consonants, Klingon's inventory of vowels is simple and similar to many human languages, such as Spanish. There are five vowels spaced evenly around the vowel space, with two back rounded vowels, and two front or near-front unrounded vowels.

The two front vowels, <e> and <I>, represent sounds that are found in English but are more open and lax than a typical English speaker might assume when reading Klingon text written in the Latin alphabet, causing the consonants of a word to be more prominent. This enhances the sense that Klingon is a clipped and harsh-sounding language.

<a> – /ɑ/ – open back unrounded vowel (in English spa)
<e> – /ɛ/ – open-mid front unrounded vowel (in English bed)
<I> – /ɪ/ – near-close near-front unrounded vowel (in English bit)
<o> – /o/ – close-mid back rounded vowel (in French eau)
<u> – /u/ – close back rounded vowel (in Spanish tu)

Diphthongs can be analyzed phonetically as the combination of the five vowels plus one of the two semivowels /w/ and /j/ (represented by <w> and <y>, respectively). Thus, the combinations <ay>, <ey>, <Iy>, <oy>, <uy>, <aw>, <ew> and <Iw> are possible. There are no words in the Klingon language that contain *<ow> or *<uw>.

Syllable structure

Klingon syllable structure is strict: a syllable must start with a consonant (which includes the glottal stop) followed by one vowel. In prefixes and other more rare syllables, this is enough. More commonly, this consonant-vowel pair is followed by one consonant or one of three biconsonantal codas: /-w' -y' -rgh/. Thus, ta "record", tar "poison" and targh "targ" (a type of animal) are all legal syllable forms, but *tarD and *ar are not. Despite this, there is one suffix that takes the shape vowel+consonant: the endearment suffix -oy.


In verbs, the stressed syllable is usually the verb itself, as opposed to a prefix or any suffixes except when a suffix ending with <'> is separated from the verb by at least one other suffix, in which case the suffix ending in <'> is also stressed. In addition, stress may shift to a suffix which is meant to be emphasized.

In nouns, the final syllable of the stem (the noun itself, excluding any affixes) is stressed. If any syllables ending in <'> are present, the stress shifts to those syllables.

The stress in other words seems to be variable, but this is not a serious issue because most of these words are only one syllable in length. Still, there are some words which should fall under the rules above, but do not, although using the standard rules would still be acceptable.


Klingon is an agglutinative language, using mainly affixes in order to alter the function or meaning of words. Some nouns have inherently plural forms: "jengva'" "plate" vs. "ngop" "plates", for instance. In other cases, a suffix is required to denote plurality. Depending on the type of noun (body part, being capable of using language, or neither), the suffix changes. For beings capable of using language, the suffix is "-pu'", as in "tlhInganpu'", meaning Klingons, or "jaghpu'", meaning enemies. For body parts, the plural suffix is "-Du'", as in "qeylIS mInDu'", the Eyes of Kahless. For items that are neither body parts, nor capable of speech, the suffix is "-mey", such as "Sarghmey", (sarks), for the Klingon horse, or "targhmey", or (targs), for a Klingon kind of boar.

Klingon nouns take suffixes to indicate grammatical number, three noun classes, two levels of deixis, possession and syntactic function. In all, 29 noun suffixes from five classes may be employed: jupoypu'na'wI'vaD "for my beloved true friends". Speakers are limited to no more than one suffix from each class to be added to a word, and the classes have a specific order of appearance.

Another important suffix is "-ngan", as in "romuluSngan". It denotes that someone, or something, is from the first part of the word - in this case, Romulus. In cases like "vereng" (Ferenginar), the last "ng" is dropped, in favor of the suffix. Gender in Klingon does not indicate sex, as in English, or have an arbitrary assignment as in Danish or many other languages. It indicates whether a noun refers to a body part, a being capable of using language, or neither of these. In certain cases, however, there is a word part that defines gender. The words "puqloD" and "puqbe'" (meaning son and daughter respectively), when referenced with other words, imply that "-loD" means "male", where "-be'" is female ("puq-" meaning "child").

Verbs in Klingon take a prefix indicating the number and person of the subject and object, plus suffixes from nine ordered classes, plus a special suffix class called rovers. Each of the four known rovers has its own unique rule controlling its position among the suffixes in the verb. Verbs are marked for aspect, certainty, predisposition and volition, dynamic, causative, mood, negation, and honorific, and the Klingon verb has two moods: indicative and imperative.

The most common word order in Klingon is Object Verb Subject, and in some cases the word order is the exact reverse of word order in English:

Klingon sentence a.GIF
DaH  mojaq-mey-vam  DI-vuS-nIS-be'           'e'   vI-Har
now  suffix-PL-DEM   1PL.A.3PL.P-limit-need-NEG  that 1SG.A.3SG.P-believe
"I believe that we do not need to limit these suffixes now."

Note that hyphens are used in the above only to illustrate the use of affixes. Hyphens are not used in Klingon.

Writing systems

The official Klingon writing system is the Latin alphabet as used above, but on the television series, the Klingons use their own alien writing system. In The Klingon Dictionary this alphabet is named as pIqaD, but no information is given about it. When Klingon symbols are used in Star Trek productions they are merely decorative graphic elements, designed to emulate real writing and create an appropriate atmosphere.

The Astra Image Corporation designed the symbols (currently used to "write" Klingon) for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, although these symbols are often incorrectly attributed to Michael Okuda.[10] They based the letters on the Klingon battlecruiser hull markings (three letters) first created by Matt Jefferies, and on Tibetan writing because the script had sharp letter forms – used as a testament to the Klingons' love for knives and blades.


A design principle of the Klingon language is the great degree of lexical-cultural correlation in the vocabulary. For example, there are several words meaning "to fight" or "to clash against", each having a different degree of intensity. There is an abundance of words relating to warfare and weaponry and also a great variety of curses (cursing is considered a fine art in Klingon culture). This helps lend a particular character to the language.

There are also many "in jokes" built into the language.[11] For example, the word for "pair" is chang'eng, a reference to the twins Chang and Eng, and the word for "fish" is ghotI'.

See also


  1. ^ Wired 4.08: Dejpu'bogh Hov rur qablli!*
  2. ^ Earthlings: Ugly Bags of Mostly Water, Mostly Water LLC, 2004. Retrieved 2009-11-27.
  3. ^ NAU.edu
  4. ^ There's No Klingon Word for Hello, Slate magazine, May 7, 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-08.
  5. ^ An attribution to Okrand may be found in the museum displays at the San Juan Bautista, California State Historic Park, which includes a short mention of the local Mutsun native people whom Okrand studied for his thesis.
  6. ^ A concept also central to Samuel R. Delany's 1966 science fiction novel Babel-17.
  7. ^ Ron Hale-Evans, Mind Performance Hacks: Tips & Tools for Overclocking Your Brain, pp. 199-201. O'Reilly, 2006. ISBN 9780596101534.
  8. ^ Klingon as Linguistic Capital, Yens Wahlgren, June 2000. Retrieved 2009-11-27.
  9. ^ KLI Wiki, Canon sources. Retrieved 2009-11-27.
  10. ^ Symbols attributed to Okuda: the Klingon Language Institute's Klingon FAQ (edited by d'Armond Speers), question 2.13 by Will Martin (August 18 1994). Symbols incorrectly attributed to Okuda: KLI founder Lawrence M. Schoen's "On Orthography" (PDF), citing J. Lee's "An Interview with Michael Okuda" in the KLI's journal HolQed 1.1 (March 1992), p. 11. Symbols actually designed by Astra Image Corporation: Michael Everson's Proposal...[3]
  11. ^ Puns in the Vocabulary of tlhIngan Hol, Retrieved 2009-11-27.


  • Bernard Comrie, 1995, ‘The Paleo-Klingon numeral system’. HolQeD 4.4: 6–10.

External links

Simple English

The Klingon language (named tlhIngan Hol in Klingon) is a language that was made for the Klingons in the Star Trek universe. It is an invented language. This means that there is no country that uses the language. Only few people can really speak the Klingon language. The Klingon Language Institute helps people learn Klingon.


The first Klingon words were made by the actor James Doohan in 1979 for the first Star Trek movie. When they made the third movie in 1984, Gene Roddenberry wanted to have a real language for the Klingons. So it was the linguist (a language scientist) Marc Okrand who made the Klingon language. He has written some books about the Klingon language.


The Klingon language feels like talking backwards. Marc Okrand wanted the language to be as complicated as possible. He did this to make it sound very extraterrestrial. The word order in a sentence is always object-verb-subject. So the English sentence "I see the cat" is said as "the cat see I" in Klingon.

This language uses many syllables that are attached to the word:

qet run
maqet we run
maqetbe’ we do not run


When writing in Klingon, some letters are always in uppercase and some are lowercase. This never changes because the letters are spoken differently when they are written differently. This is the Klingon alphabet:

a b ch D e gh H I j l m n ng o p q Q r S t tlh u v w y ’

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