Maltz Online

HolQeD article of vol. 8 issue 4, December 1999, page 6-10

Written by Marc Okrand; Originally published in HolQeD, the quarterly journal of the Klingon Language Institute, Flourtown, PA, ISSN 1061-2327.


New Klingon words for compass directions, plus a new adverbial with a related idiom.


Maltz has been a busy fellow, passing along several insightful tidbits (via Marc Okrand) to the online community [➞ Usenet]. The following selections are reprinted with permission. — LMS

[This information is from the newsgroup message of 21 Nov 1999]

Traditionally, in dealing with orientation, bearings, headings, and so forth, Klingons have divided things up into three, not four, primary directions or compass points.

There are three nouns for these principal points. The translation of these words using terminology familiar to the Federation are a little awkward, but they give an idea of the meanings:

chan area eastward / area towards the east

'ev area northwestward / area towards the northwest

tIng area southwestward / area towards the southwest

While the four main compass points used in the Federation (north, east, south, west) are distributed evenly (that is, they are 90 degrees apart from each other: north is 90 degrees away from east, east is 90 degrees away from south, and so on), this is not the case in the Klingon system. The three directions are not evenly spaced(that is, they are not 120 degrees apart from each other). Instead, the areas associated with 'ev and tIng are closer to each other than either is the the area associated with chan. (The areas associated with 'ev and tIng are something like 100 degrees apart from each other, and each is 130 degrees away from the area associated with chan.)

English words like "east" and "southwest" are, as noted, just convenient tags for what the Klingon words mean. Since chan actually refers to that part of the landscape in the direction of the sunrise, "east" is a reasonable English counterpart. The standard translations of 'ev and tIng follow from the standard translation of chan. But Klingon chan does not work the same as English "east." From the Klingon point of view, it makes no sense to say that something is "in the east." One can go towards the east, something can be to the east of something else, but nothing can actually be "in" the east. No matter how far eastward you go, there's something still to your east. Thus the awkward translations "area eastward, area towards the east" and so forth. (And, of course, the same can be said for the other directions.)

These Klingon direction nouns work in the same manner as other nouns of location (nouns used to express prepositional concepts) such as Dung area above, bIng area below, and retlh area beside, area next to. Thus, just as nagh Dung, literally rock area-above or rock's area-above is used for "above the rock," *veng chan*, literally city area-eastward or city's eastward area is commonly translated "east of the city."

Depending on the sentence in which the phrase is used, the second noun in this construction could take the locative suffix -Daq, as in:

veng chanDaq jIwam I hunt east of the city

The "city in the east" (actually, "city toward the east") or "eastern city" should be the area-eastword city chan veng.

Again, if appropriate, the locative suffix -Daq follows the second noun:

chan vengDaq jIwam I hunt in the city in the east

The city's east, meaning "the eastern part of the city," would make use of yoS area, district: *veng chan yoS* (literally _city areal-eastward district_ or _city's eastward-area's district_).

The directional nouns may also be used with possessive suffixes. For example (switching from the east, for the sake of variety):

'evwIj northwest of me (literally "my area-northwestward")

'evmaj northwest of us (literally "our area-northwestward")

These words may also be translated "northwest of here." For example:

'evmajDaq jIwampu' I have hunted northwest of here

This work only when the speaker is indeed "here" (that is, she is currently speaking). If, however, "here is a place on a map that the speaker is pointing to, "northwest of here" would be something along the lines of Daqvam 'ev, literally _this-location area-northwestward_ or _this place's area-northwestward_.

In the standard dialect of Klingon (ta' Hol) and in most other dialects, the locative nouns (or nouns of location, or nouns expressing prepositional concepts) do not take possessive suffixes, while in the dialect of the Sakrej region, they do.

The directional nouns (chan, 'ev, tIng), on the other hand, take possessive suffixes in all dialects (or at least in all dialects studied to date).

It is also possible (though the Sakrej folks tend not to do this) to use the full pronoun plus locative noun construction with the directional nouns: jIH chan "east of me" (literally I area eastward). There is a slight meaning difference between jIH chan, using the full pronoun, and chanwIj, using the possessive suffix, however. The construction with the full pronoun emphasize the pronoun (in this case "I," the speaker him-herself) as the reference point; the construction with the pronominal suffix is more neutral. Thus, chanwIj is _east of me, east of where I am, east of here_ but jIH chan is east of ME, to MY east.

Perhaps what occurred historically (though there may well be other explanations) is that the speakers of the Sakrej dialect took a grammatical rule which had a restriction ("possessive suffixes may follow directional noun, but not other locative nouns") and generalized it (applied it more broadly) by eliminating the restriction ("possessive suffixes may follow locative nouns" — or maybe even, simply, "possessive suffixes may follow nouns"). In theory, it could have happened the other way around. The speakers of some dialect — including ta' Hol — could have interpreted the rule to be "possessive suffixes never follow locative nouns except for directional nouns" and then made the rule apply more generally by dropping the exception (yielding "possessive suffixes never follow locative nouns"). But this didn't happen.

To express directions between the three cardinal points, the nouns are compounded. Thus, halfway between southwest and east (that is, halfway between tIng _area southwestward_ and chan _area eastward_) is tIng chan (literally area-southwestward area-eastward or area-southwestward's area-eastward or, for short, southwest's east). Similarly, halfway between northwest and east is 'ev chan. Logically, these words could come in the other order (that is, chan tIng or chan 'ev), but, for whatever reason, chan always comes second.

The area halfway between northwest and southwest is expressed as either 'ev tIng or *tIng 'ev*, with neither version significantly more common than the other.

To get even more specific, it is possible to make a compound of three words (though two would always be the same): 'ev chan 'ev would be a direction halfway between 'ev chan and 'ev; *'ev chan chan* would be a direction halfway between 'ev chan and chan.

How this extends to even finer tuning is something pretty much lost except to those knowledgeable in the old ways of navigating. In more recent times, those needing to express directions with greater precision use (numerical) instrumental readouts.

There is an idiomatic expression still head with reasonable frequency which makes use of all three cardinal direction terms:

tIngvo' 'evDaq chanDaq

Literally, this means _from area-southwestward to area-northwestward to area eastward:_ (-Daq, the locative suffix, here indicating to), but the idiom means "all around, all over, all over the place." It is used in the same place in a sentence in that the noun Dat everywhere might be used, but it is much more emphatic:

tIngvo' 'evDaq chanDaq jIlengpu' I've traveled all over the place

A more archaic form of the idiom is *tIngvo' 'evDaq 'evvo' chanDaq* (literally, _from area-southwestward to area-northwestward, from area-northwestward to area eastward_), but the three-word version (without the repetition of 'ev) has all but totally replaced it.

Finally, it should be noted that none of this terminology ever was adapted for navigation in space. Klingons have made use of the system common throughout the galaxy by which courses, bearings, coordinates, and so forth are given numerically:

He wej pagh Soch DoD cha' course 3-0-7-mark-2

[This following information is from the newsgroup message of 05 Nov 1999]

There is an adverbial which means "then" in the sense of "at that time" (as opposed to "subsequently"). And there is also an idiom meaning something like "by that time."

The adverbial is ngugh. It is used mainly to emphasize that a particular event occurred at the same time as something else, though ngugh doesn't indicate what that time is. Something else in the discussion makes that clear. ngugh does not mean "at some (vague) time in the past" or "at some (unknown) time in the future." For example:

vagh SanID ben buDbe' wamI'pu'. ngugh Ho'Hu'chaj lo' chaH, 'ach DaH tajmey lo'. 5,000 years ago, hunters were not lazy. Then (at that time) they used their teeth, but now they use knives.

DungluQ tIHIv. ngugh Qongbe' chaH.
Attack them at noon!
They won't be sleeping then. / Attack them at noon.
They're not sleeping then.

Note that in each case ngugh then refers to a time specified earlier in the discussion (here, "5,000 years ago" and "noon"). In the second example, the adverbial ngugh could be left out, and the basic meaning could still be the same ("Attack them at noon! They won't be sleeping.") With ngugh, however the speaker is emphasizing the time element. The first example also could be recast without ngugh (e.g., the second sentence could be two: Ho'Du'chaj lo' chaH. DaH tajmey lo'. They used their teeth. Now they use knives.). With ngugh, however, the contrast between "then" and "now" is highlighted.

The time reference need not occur in the immediately preceding sentence or clause (as it does in the examples above); it could be earlier in the discourse. Since ngugh points to or refers back to a previously established time reference, if that time reference is not clear (or is missing), an utterance containing ngugh would not make much sense. If someone asks "When?" after hearing a sentence containing ngugh, unless the question resulted from inattentiveness, ngugh was probably used inappropriately.

In addition to ngugh, there is an idiomatic expression involving the suffix -DI' when, as soon as used to mean "by that time, by the time that [something] occurred (or will occur)." The event that has occurred (or will occur) is typically expressed in the immediately preceding sentence or clause, though it could have been uttered earlier.

The idiom is found in two forms. The shorter (and more frequently heard) version is the single word pumDI' when it falls. The longer version consists of pumDI' followed by a subject noun specifying what falls. The most common noun heard is 'etlh _sword, blande_ (thus: pumDI' 'etlh, literally when the blade falls). Presumably the expression originally referred to a fight between two combatants wielding bladed weapons. The time at which one of them dropped the weapon and was thus defeated (or was as good as defeated) was a significant moment.

Some speakers, however, are rather creative and use nouns other than 'etlh. For example:

pumDI' DaS when the boot falls

pumDI' 'obmaQ when the ax falls

pumDI' nagh when the stone falls

pumDI' rutlh when the wheel falls

There seems to be no restriction on what noun may be used here, as long as it is something that could possibly fall. (Thus pumDI' QoQ whun the music falls would not be used.)

Choosing one noun or another to use in the idiomatic phrase is a form of word play. Depending on the topic being discussed, the noun could add a touch of irony or even humor. In any event, the choice of noun does not change the idiomatic meaning of the phrase. pumDI' X, where X is the subject noun, is used to mean "by then, by that time."

The idiom might be used when talking about a feast that had taken place a few nights ago. If a guest arrived late --- after the eating had already begin --- one might say something like:

tagha' pawpu' meb 'ach pumDI' Heghpu' qagh


tagha' pawpu' meb 'ach pumDI' 'etlh Heghpu' qagh
The guest finally arrived, but by then the gagh had died.

Unlike subordinate clauses in general, pumDI' X, when used idiomatically, always precedes the main clause (Hughpu' qagh in the example above). When idiomatic usage is not involved, subordinate clauses may either precede or follow the main clause.

See also

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