Klingon Language

The Klingon language (in Klingon: tlhIngan Hol) was invented in 1984 by linguist Dr. Marc Okrand for Paramount Pictures, originally for the third Star Trek movie, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Rather than making just a code for English, Dr. Okrand decided to make a true language with linguistically interesting features.

Development of the language

The first Klingons appeared in the episode "Errand of Mercy" in March 1967. There was not a single Klingon word spoken in Star Trek (The Original Series), but the language was first mentioned as "Klingonese" in the episode "The Trouble with Tribbles" in December 1967. Later mentions usualy used the word "Klingon". See below for details on the name of the language.

First Appearance

The first person hired to create a Klingon language was Hartmut Scharfe, a professor from UCLA. He translated some dialogues into Sanskrit and added some random vowels to make the language sound stronger. The producers did not like his version, but they never told him.

Instead, the first lines of the opening scenes of Star Trek - The Motion Picture were created by actor James Doohan and associate producer Jon Povill. When Okrand was called to develop the language, it was Mark Lenard who told him who created the first lines. Lauren Weinstein, who worked for the firm originally hired to do the effects, was tasked with creating a written Klingon language, but his work was never used onscreen.(1)

Marc Okrand's entry

Before Okrand got called to develop the Klingon language, he had translated a Vulcan dialogue for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. He described his first contact with Paramount in a video interview on YouTube. (2) (3)

In 1982, Marc Okrand was in Los Angeles working on the closed captioning for the Academy Awards. Since there was an incomplete part of his job which he had to wait for a few more days, he had some spare time and called a friend who lived in L.A. That friend was Sylvia Rubinstein, who was the administrative assistant to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan executive producer Harve Bennett, whom Marc Okrand had also known for a long time. When she heard where he was, she said that this is only a mile away from her job at Paramount Pictures, and she invited him to come for lunch.

During the lunch conversation, they talked about how they would redo the Vulcan scene. She mentioned a linguist from UCLA who was asked to help them [Okrand did not remember his name then; It was Hartmut Scharfe.], but he was hard to get at the time, being busy all day. The producers needed the job to be done before the end of the week and that was exactly the time Okrand was there, so he suggested that he could do that.

So he just went there and did it. First he met with Kirstie Alley (aka Saavik) and a couple of days later he worked with Spock actor Leonard Nimoy.

Creation process

When Okrand had to develop the language, the first material he received were the scripts of all episodes from Star Trek (The Original Series) that involved Klingons. Based on those, he could find out who the Klingons are and find the words he might need later. This explains why we have lots of Klingon words for things that were never spoken on screen, such as words for tribble, Sherman's planet or quadrotriticale (from the Tribbles episode).

In the next step, Okrand got all the Klingon lines from the script for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, but due to strict secrecy reasons, he did not get the entire script. He then translated all those lines spoken by a Klingon, not knowing which of those would be spoken at the end.

Marc Okrand said many times that Klingon was made to be unlike existing natural languages but still able to be spoken by human actors: "Klingon was designed as not human, so I violated a lot of rules." (4)

During filming, lots of the scenes were spoken in English first, and later redubbed over in Klingon, so Okrand had to redo his Klingon translations, and in some cases needed to find synonyms matching the lips movement of the actors (like the obvious wej for "wait"). This did not only create new words, but also new grammatical rules: Instead of saying that the actor made a mistake, Okrand just adapted his grammar. See ➞ unintentional vocabulary for details.

For the later movies – i.e. after The Klingon Dictionary was published – changing the grammar was no longer possible. The only way to adapt mistakes was to add new vocabulary or explain any mistakes as being a regional dialect. These were incorporated into the addendum of TKD, others are explained in Klingon for the Galactic Traveler. Such corrections also happened in the 2013 movie Star Trek Into Darkness because the scene's dialogue had been cut and edited in a way that made the originally provided Klingon lines incomprehensible.

Current situation

Okrand has provided a handful new words for the Klingon dialogues and also the Klingon subtitles in Star Trek: Discovery. Today, Okrand still enjoys providing new words for running translation projects and for Klingon meetings such as the KLI's qep'a' and the German Klingon meeting qepHom'a'.

Name of the language

The most commonly accepted name for the language is just "Klingon". However, many people still insist on using the term "Klingonese" because it has been heard on screen so it counts as Star Trek canon. Do not confuse with Klingonaase, a Klingon language created by John M. Ford.


In October 2017, Klingon teacher Lieven L. Litaer started a poll on different places on the internet to find out the general opinion. The result showed that of 153 votes, more than 90% of the users prefer to use the word "Klingon" instead of "Klingonese". Those who preferred the latter based their argument on the pronunciation from the TOS episode (see below).

poll on Facebook by Klingon Teacher
poll on Facebook by Klingon Wiki
poll on Twitter

Mentions of "Klingonese"

The use of the term "Klingonese" is based on only two on-screen occurrences:
  1. During the TOS episode "The Trouble with Tribbles" (5), there is a Klingon named Korax who claims that half the quadrant is learning "Klingonese". Some people hear him saying something like Klingonee, i.e. without the s sound: "We like the Enterprise. We, we really do. That sagging old rust bucket is designed like a garbage scow. Half the quadrant knows it. That's why they're learning to speak Klingonese."
  2. During an episode of Deep Space Nine, Quark mentions the language as Klingonese (6): "Having to learn all this Klingonese isn't helping my performance. " Note that Quark is not a Klingon, nor does he know much about them, so it is possible that this was intentional error, since during the same episode, Grilka uses the word "Klingon" (see below).

The script of Star Trek - The Motion Picture uses the terms "Klingon language" and "Klingon dialogue", but when naming the language, says "Klingonese" (7):

    All eyes on the viewer that shows the ships sweeping
    on the Mysterious cloud.
                        KLINGON CAPTAIN
                        (In Klingonese)

    The TECHNICIAN makes the switch.

Mentions of "Klingon"

Throughout all of his books and other works, Okrand names the language as "Klingon". Note his book titles "The Klingon Dictionary" and "Klingon for the Galactic Traveler". A few quotes from the books that reinforce this position: "Learn to Speak Klingon Like a Native" (p. 1) - "Klingon is the official language of the Klingon Empire" (p. 9) - Title of Chapter 1: "The sounds of Klingon" (p. 13).

Within the policy of Memory Alpha, TKD is not considered canon, they only regard contents spoken on screen as canon(8). Nevertheless, besides the above exceptions, every reference to the Klingon language was done using the word "Klingon". Here is a list of on-screen mentions of the word "Klingon" used to describe the language. The list is far from complete.
Star Trek V Caithlin "And I don't speak Klingon."
Star Trek VI Chancellor Gorkon "You have not experienced Shakespeare, until you have read him in the original Klingon,"
TNG, "The Emissary" K'Ehleyr "You speak Klingon."
DSN, "Looking for Par'Mach in all the wrong places" Grilka "Why learn to speak Klingon and observe our customs?"
VOY, "Hope and fear" Captain Janeway "And to think I still struggle with basic Klingon."
VOY, "Hope and fear" B'Elanna Torres "No problem. You speak Klingon?"
ENT, "Broken Bow" Hoshi and Archer "What's that?" - "Klingon."
DSC, "Vaulting Ambition" Dr. Pollard to Saru "Yes, that's Klingon."

The script of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock also uses the word "Klingon", not "Klingonese"(9):
                                        KRUGE (O.S.)
                             Well done, Valkris... Stand by.

                   The PAN CONTINUES UPWARD to reveal BATTLE COMMANDER
                   KRUGE, a Klingon War Lord of handsome but frightening
                   presence, and relative youth. Now, in Klingon:

                            (Disengage cloaking device!)

The script of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country also uses the word "Klingon", not "Klingonese"(10):
             47   INT. GORKON'S STATEROOM, KLINGON FLAGSHIP                   47

                   Gorkon, several advisors and soldiers were seated but
                   the impact has thrown them about. They speak SUBTITLED

              53   A snowy picture on the visual display, then Chang comes     53
            VFXA   on (still in AMBER LIGHT)...                              VFXA

                                     (He's screaming in Klingon,
                                      reverting to his native
                                      language under stress.)

              58   INT. GORKON'S STATEROOM, FLAGSHIP                           58

                   Chang and his ASSISTANTS are trying to sort things out
                   without gravity. Chang shouts efficient orders in
                   Klingon as he finds and tries to help Gorkon...

The script of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "The Way of the warrior" (and others) also uses the word "Klingon" in the script:

   Martok turns and barks a command in Klingon to someone 
   off screen. (English translations are in parentheses.)

         Sowee TAH! (Uncloak!)

See also


1 : Tweet by Lauren Weinstein, April 16, 2019

2 : Creator of the Klingon Language: Marc Okrand, uploaded September 20, 2016

3 : Qapla' -- Klingon Language Creator Marc Okrand, Part 1, on startrek.com, November 14, 2011

4 : Inventor of Klingon to lecture at WMC

5 : TOS, Episode 13, 2nd Season, First aired: 29 December 1967

6 : DS9, "Looking for par'Mach in All the Wrong Places", Episode 5, 3rd Season, First aired: 14 October 1996

7 : ST1 movie script on dailyscripts.com, see scene 7, 9, 18, 21, 85,

8 : http://memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/Canon Policy of Memory Alpha, retrieved 20 Sep 2016

9 : ST3 movie script on scifiscripts.com, see scene 15, 184, 237, 244

10 : ST6 movie script on st-minutiae.com, see scene 47

Category: General    Latest edit: 08 Aug 2021, by KlingonTeacher    Created: 02 Mar 2014 by LieVen
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