tlhIngan wo' Hol (more commonly referred to simply as tlhIngan Hol) is a constructed language which has been used in multiple Star Trek films and TV series.
CreationEditThe first few lines of dialogue in a Klingon language were written by James Doohan, and they were spoken by a Klingon captain (played by Mark Lenard) in the opening scene of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
In the production of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, linguist Marc Okrand (who had written Vulcan dialogue for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) was brought in to create Klingon dialogue for that film's antagonists.
To do so, Okrand started by listening to the Klingon dialogue for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and documenting what sounds were found the language and how the words seemed to fit together. He then set about fitting this source material into a vaster framework, with a consistent phonology and rules of grammar.
One of Okrand's design goals was for this language to be realistic, but also to sound alien. Some of the alien aspects of tlhIngan Hol include:
- The standard word order is Object-Verb-Subject, which is very uncommon among Earth languages.
- Each of the phonemes used in tlhIngan Hol is also used in various Earth languages, but the combination of sounds (or "phonotax") is unique to tlhIngan Hol.
Originally, the purpose was only to create dialogue for the film. However, as the language developed, Okrand also started working on The Klingon Dictionary, which described the rules of the language in great detail. The language has since continued to develop, through numerous books, films, audio courses, articles and more.
Okrandian canon and the extended corpusEdit
When talking about Star Trek, there are numerous conceptions about which information is to be considered official, or "canonical". For many Star Trek fans, canon is defined as the body of materials comprising of the officially licensed Star Trek films and TV series.
However, there is also a broader definitions, sometimes labeled "soft canon", which includes all licensed Star Trek products, including novels, comic books, reference books and more. There is also fanon, which includes fan-produced materials.
For tlhIngan Hol, there exists a separate definition of canon (here referred to as the "Okrandian canon"), consisting solely of information explicitly approved by Marc Okrand. Klingon words, names and sentences appearing in licensed Star Trek works that have not been approved by Okrand are considered part of the extended corpus.
To illustrate this using a few examples:
- In the 1994 TNG episode "Lower Decks", Worf used the Klingon word gik'tal, which was described as meaning "to the death". This word thus became part of the regular Star Trek canon, and of the Klingon extended corpus. Then, in 1998, Marc Okrand used the word (which he spells ghIqtal) in his book Klingon for the Galactic Traveler, making it a part of the Okrandian canon.
- In his 2008 book, Klingon Empire: A Burning House, author Keith R.A. DeCandido mentioned an animal called a Hun. Because the word was used in a licensed Star Trek work, it was considered part of the extended corpus. Later, in 2011, Marc Okrand used the word in an e-mail, thereby making it part of the Okrandian canon.
Use throughout Star TrekEditThroughout the various Star Trek series, different writers have taken different approaches to alien dialogue, making it a bit difficult to distinguish between what is and what is not tlhIngan Hol.
Marc Okrand has written Klingon dialogue for Star Trek III, V, VI, XI and XII, as well as several episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Enterprise. Furthermore, the Klingon dialogue from Star Trek: The Motion Picture is considered a part of tlhIngan Hol and the Okrandian canon.
Other script writers have used Marc Okrand's work as a basis to create new Klingon dialogue. Some have obeyed the rules of the language very closely, while others have done word-by-word translations.
Still others have decided to depart from these sources almost entirely. According to Ronald D. Moore: "Whether or not we use the language as spelled out in Marc's dictionary is up to the individual writer. I personally find the dictionary cumbersome and usually find it easier to make it up phonetically. 
While all of the phonemes in Klingon are also present in various Earth languages, many of them are rarely found within the same language, giving Klingon a unique flavor.
This section contains a description of how tlhIngan Hol is written.
The standard dialect of tlhIngan Hol contains 26 distinct phonemes, commonly represented in the Latin alphabet as follows:
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 '
A couple of important observations must be made here:
- Certain letters are capitalized, while others are not.
- For example, there is both a lower-case q and an upper-case Q, and there is a lower-case a but no upper-case A.
- Romanized Klingon is "case-sensitive", in the sense that changing the case of a letter can change the meaning of a word. For example, QoQ means "music", and qoq means "robot".
- The apostrophe, ', is considered part of the Klingon alphabet.
- The apostrophe symbolizes a glottal stop; a sound produced by abruptly terminating the airflow in one's vocal tract. It's the sound heard between the syllables "uh" and "oh" in the expression "Uh-oh!".
- Omitting a glottal stop can change the meaning of a word. For example, the name of the Klingon homeworld is Qo'noS. If you omit the glottal stop, you end up with QonoS, which means "journal" or "log".
- Several of these "letters" are actually made up of more than one letters.
- ch, gh and ng are called digraphs. tlh is called a trigraph.
- These digraphs and trigraphs are treated as single letters in tlhIngan Hol, because they each represent a single sound. For example, gh does not represent a g-sound followed by an h-sound, but rather a single sound called a voiced velar fricative.
- Furthermore, each of these digraphs and trigraphs map onto a single symbol in the pIqaD alphabet (see below).
- This may be compared to the different way in which Mandarin Chinese is written. The word 中国 (meaning "China") consists of just two Chinese characters, but when it is transcribed into Pinyin, it is written using eight letters: Zhōngguó.
Marc Okrand made a conscious decision not to include the letters k and z in this alphabet, as he felt they were overused in science-fiction.
pIqaDEditAnother common way of writing Klingon is using the pIqaD alphabet.
Some have argued for pIqaD to be included in the Unicode standard, but it has yet to be accepted. However, pIqaD symbols can be found in a number of fonts that make use of the ConScript Unicode Registry, such as Code2000 and Pure Klingon.
tlhIngan Hol is an agglutinative language where words are routinely modified by the use of affixes.
In particular, there are five classes of noun suffixes, and ten classes of verb suffixes. There are also a number of pronomial verb prefixes, which are used to indicate the subject and object of a verb.
The standard word order of Klingon is Object-Verb-Subject. For example:
- loD chop targh. = The targ bites the man.
- loD = man
- chop = bite
- targh = targ
Machine translation and word-by-word substitutionEdit
While there have been many applications that have been described as Klingon translators, there are none that offer accurate translations. An example is the Universal Translator Assistant by Mr. Klingon, which only provides word-by-word translations.
Due to several factors, particularly the language's unusual word order and agglutinative features, word-by-word translations are almost never successful. One famous example is a sentence from the TNG episode "The Bonding":
The writers wished to translate the sentence "Mother, I honor you." in Klingon, and appear to have attempted to do so by word-by-word substitution:
- SoS jIH batlh SoH.
- mother = SoS
- I = jIH
- honor = batlh
- you (singular) = SoH
This actually means "You are mother's viewscreen's honor." An accurate translation would have been:
- SoS qaquvmoH.
- SoS = mother
- qaquvmoH = I cause you to be honored
- qa- : verb prefix indicating a first-person singular subject and second-person singular object
- quv = be honored
- -moH : type-4 verb suffix indicating cause
Statistical machine translationEdit
On March 15, 2013, Microsoft added Klingon as one of the languages supported by Bing Translator. Both Marc Okrand and the Klingon Language Institute were involved in the development of this feature.
Two modes are available:
- Klingon, which provides translations in romanized tlhIngan Hol.
- Klingon (Kronos), which provides translations in pIqaD.
Bing Translator is a statistical machine translator, meaning that rather than translating using a predefined set of rules, the program constructs a translation model by analyzing patterns in a large number of texts. This approach can often produce highly accurate translations between languages such as English and French, for which a vast number of translated texts already exist. For Klingon, the available corpus is much smaller, and as a result the translations are usually highly inaccurate.
There are a number of Klingon-speakers working on expanding the corpus, in the hope that the program's accuracy will improve over time.
- Other Klingon languages
- tlhIngan Hol in licensed Star Trek works
- tlhIngan Hol in other media
- The Klingon Lanuage Institute - A group dedicated to the study of tlhIngan Hol.
- An interview with Marc Okrand on StarTrek.com.
- wIqImu'ghom - A collaborative, online Klingon dictionary.
- ghItlh'a' - A collaborative, online encyclopedia in Klingon.