On one of the audio tapes, the narrator says that Klingons sometimes inaccurate, but never approximate. This phrase is quoted way too often when talking about Klingon language. Some klingonists over-interpret this phrase as a set rule, avoiding approximation entirely.

That should not happen, because first of all it was said specifically in the context of telling the time (i.e., the hour of the day), and secondly there may be situations in which specifying a time as being shortly before (or after) an event is the least approximate thing you could say.

Quote from Conversational Klingon: (1)
Klingons have adopted the way most civilized planets in the galaxy tell time. They have twenty-four hour days. "Zero hours" means midnight, "twelve hundred hours" means noon, "nineteen hundred hours" means seven p.m., and so on. Klingons pride themselves on punctuality, so it is important to be precise when referring to time. Though Klingons are sometimes inaccurate, they are never approximate.

The context here is punctuality. Instead of saying "in the evening", you should say "7 pm". One might argue that this extends to longer periods of time, outside the context of stating a time to meet, but that would be an interpretation. Many don't believe that the quote text implies that a Klingon wouldn't say "almost a century" or "most of a decade", when the context has nothing to do with punctuality.


"most of the century"

SkyBox Card #15 introduced the word HochHom to indicate "most of the 23rd century":

wa'DIch tlhIngan Dujmey luleghlu'pu'bogh rur qItI'nga' Duj. tera' vatlh DIS poH cha'maH wej HochHom lo'lu'taH. tera' vatlh DISpoH cha'maH loS bong QongmeH qItI'nga' Duj tI'ang ghompu' DIvI' 'ejDo' 'entepray'.
Similar in configuration to the first Klingon vessels encountered, the K'Tinga-Class remained in use for most of the 23rd century. A sleeper ship of this class, the T'Ong, was encountered in the 24th century by the U.S.S. Enterprise.

Smithsonian exhibit

The text from the GoFlight App also uses the word HochHom to talk about a rough time period:

tera' jar Soch, DIS wa' Hut jav Hut, maSDaq SaqmeH Qu' wa'DIch HochHom turlu'taHvIS, wej logh lengwI'pu' pa'mey 'oH Apollo wa'maH wa' ra'ghom bobcho' Columbia'e'.
The Apollo 11 Command Module, 'Columbia,' was the living quarters for the three-person crew during most of the first manned lunar landing mission in July 1969.

Okrand wrote the Klingon translation based on an original English text that he was free to edit. (If you compare the English version of the exhibit and the bilingual one, the English text of the bilingual exhibit had been edited down to leave out unimportant details.) The evidence shows that he was free to leave out the "most" from the English text, but he chose to leave it in both the English and the Klingon.

It seems to be perfectly fine to express "most of a [time period]" in Klingon when the context has nothing to do with punctuality. When you're talking about "most of the 23rd century" or "most of the mission", there's no expectation that someone would be punctual, because the context is not about stating a specific time for a purpose. The only reason we can't easily say "almost a year ago" is because of how Klingon has separate words for "year" and "years ago" and "years from now", and we don't know how to modify ben. We can certainly say, for example, wa' DIS HochHom ret, using ret instead of ben.

General approach Spoken in general, one should not take seriously any claims in Star Trek along the lines of "species X always/never does Y". Spock says Vulcans don't lie (which is obviously a lie). We also find statements about Klingons (translated into Klingon) such as the following in The Klingon Way: "No Klingon ever breaks his word", "Klingons never bluff", "Klingons do not faint". Granted, these were originally expressed by Star Trek writers and Marc Okrand merely translated them. But he chose those specific sentences to translate when he could've ignored them. Does that mean that the Klingon language has no way to express exaggeration or falsehood, or talk about fainting? Of course not. In the same way, even if Klingons prefer directness, it doesn't follow that they can't express approximation.

See also

  • Usage of the word "all"


1 : Conversational Klingon, side 2

Category: Grammar    Latest edit: 07 Apr 2019, by MarcZankl    Created: 12 Feb 2019 by KlingonTeacher
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