flag   This topic has been added to the todo-list. Reason: Update information. Current is December 2003.


Google is a well-known internet search engine that is availiable in Klingon (1). What not everyone realizes is that it takes Klingon-speaking volunteers to translate and type the Klingon.

Google Translate in Klingon?

In a long message on Twitter of 16 January 2019, klingonist David Yonge-Mallo explained why Google does not translate Klingon. (due to length restriction on Twitter, it was spread over 14 posts. This page shows a summarized version)

"Why doesn't Google Translate support Klingon?" This question comes up every so often on the Internet, and the answer is... me. I'm the reason why Google Translate doesn't support Klingon. That's the short answer.

The longer answer is this:
The way most modern translation software works is through machine learning on a massive parallel corpus. This means that you take a large body of text in the source language, high-quality translations of the same documents into the target language (done by human professionals) and feed them into your translator, which through magic (ahem, machine learning) acquires the ability to perform the same kind of transformation on new text. That's a bit simplified, but basically that's the idea.

The reason this can't work for Klingon is not because Klingon grammar is complicated (in fact, it's much simpler than most Earth languages), nor is it because it has limited vocabulary (one can always make up words from more basic units). It's simply because there isn't enough parallel text. The largest bilingual works in Klingon are the two... restored Shakespeare plays, Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing. These aren't exactly parallel: the Klingon Hamlet is the prince of Qo'noS, the Klingon Homeworld, instead of Denmark. So, right away, if you train your translation software on that, it'll mistranslate "Denmark" as Qo'noS (and vice versa). But even if you have a parallel corpus which is accurate, you'll still run into problems if it isn't large enough, because language is ambiguous.

For example, "iron" in English can refer to either 'uSqan (the element Fe ) or Sut HabmoHwI', literally, "clothing smoothener". Without a large enough corpus where "iron" occurs with both meanings so that each meaning can be tied to a different context, a machine translator can't possibly learn which meaning of "iron" you intend when you ask to translate "human blood contains iron" or "I need an iron to press my clothes". For major natural language pairs, such as English and French, millions of pages of parallel text exist in the form of translated novels, government documents, and so on. Such a corpus simply doesn't exist for Klingon. A number of years ago, I was tasked with evaluating whether it was possible to support Klingon in Google Translate, and the above was the conclusion I tendered.

Now, you may know that Microsoft's Bing translator "supports" Klingon. It does, but it's subject to the problems caused by an insufficient corpus. It's fine for translating single unambiguous words as well as programmed phrases, such as "Today is a good day to die", but incredibly, it fails even to correctly translate "Live long and prosper". Microsoft launched Klingon for Bing translator, despite the quality issues, to coincide with the marketing of Star Trek Into Darkness, which is fine and it's their decision to make.

But I'm glad that Google Translate doesn't support Klingon, because it wouldn't have produced correct translations. Machine translation software does not exist which produces correct Klingon. Again: Machine translation software DOES NOT EXIST which produces correct Klingon. If you want to translate something into or from Klingon, ask a person who actually knows the language. Contact the Klingon Language Institute. There are also a number of Klingon speakers on Twitter. There's no way around this.

If you want Google Translate to support Klingon, what you need to do is to demand that hundreds of novels be written in Klingon and translated into English, and for hundreds of existing English novels to be translated into Klingon. There's no way around this either.

The following information in this page might be not up to date, last update was 2003.

Situation as of 2003

The Google Klingon Translation is falling short of what it could be (the Elmer Fudd and Pig Latin Translations are further along).

These are the current statistics for the translation of the site (2003):
  • Google's Main Search Site (100 % complete)
  • Google Toolbar (100 % complete)
  • Google Wireless (100 % complete)
  • Google Toolbar Help Pages (15 % complete)
  • Google main site help pages (34 % complete)

The numbers are slightly off. Someone signed up as a Klingon translator and "translated" the English into non-Klingon. And also decided that English and Klingon are close enough that it didn't need a translation, and so English comes up as the translated version.

Somebody ([citation needed]) changed the tlhIngan Holqoq to English for the sake of anyone coming across it on the Google site, but we still have a long way to go to get this done.

For those of you who have always wanted to get involved in a Translation Project (like the KSRP or the KBTP), but just don't have the time or patience to sit down and translate a book, this is for you! The Google site will give you 1 phrase, sentence, or word at a time to translate. Translate as little or as much as you desire. Or spend your time editing the previous translations for errors (when you have a handful of people all translating computer terms that don't exist in Klingon, you're bound to have a few descrepencies).

Actual Situation 2014

In 2013, there was a try to reboot the translation process, in cooperation with Google. Apparently this project had been stopped shortly after(?).


1 : Google frontpage in Klingon, retrieved 18 Sep 2018

The first version of this page
originated in the old KLI wiki. ➞ see list
The Klingon Language Wiki is a private fan project to promote the Klingon language. See Copyright notice for details.