The Klingon Dictionary

Pronunciation of the Klingon sounds

The Klingon pronunciation is not so hard. Most of the letters that are written lowercase (like a, b, l, m, n, u...) do resemble sounds that English speakers are used to. Unusual sounds are written in upper case, such as H, I, S, Q, to make it obvious that these are spoken differently.

The used IPA symbols on this page originate from the introduction in paq'batlh. It's not clear if that was written by Okrand, although he at least has vetted the book.

Vowels

There are five vowels in Klingon: a - e - I - o - u. (1) Most of them are pronounced just like they are written. Except for one, they follow the "Italian," open pronunciation:(2)

letter IPA description never as...
a [ɑ] as in bar or father choice-cancel never as in fat or back
e [ɛ] as in bed choice-cancel never as in to be or earth
I [ɪ] as in fit or ship choice-cancel never as in see or eye
o [o] as in mosaic or go choice-cancel never as cop or mock
u [u] as in gnu choice-cancel never as in cut

Sound of o, English accent

The exact pronunciation of the letter o has lead to some discussions, because TKD describes the vowel o "As in English mosaic." (3) and "o as in go" (4). Although this seems clear in the first place, American English speakers speak the letter [o] in these examples as a diphthong, i.e. [moʊˈ.zeɪ.ɪk] (mow.zei.uhk) and [goʊ] (gow). In addition to this, TKD explains that no syllable ends with -ow because there would be no difference to a syllable ending with -o; which seems to confirm that o sounds like a diphthong [oʊ].

The problem here lies in the interpretation of the sound ow. If this sound were possible in Klingon, it would not rhyme with English bow or glow. The letter w is not identical to [u], as it's not a vowel. To speak the w sound, the lips only take the form of speaking the sound of o or u, but with no voice. In combination with other vowels, an additional sound is unintentionally created that makes the aw rhyme with [au] (as in cow). But in combination with o and u, this additional sound is not heard because the lips do not change their position. ow would simply be o+o. Same counts for uw.

All of the spoken examples from Marc Okrand and the actors do never pronounce this vowel as a diphthong in the middle of a syllable. If someone said [xoʊɫ] or [xəʊl] for Hol, it would be considered having a strong English accent.

So, although not explicitely stated in the book, it is recommended to speak a clear and straight [o] sound which one might know from the English word "door" or "more". Unfortunately, this sound does not exist in English, so finding examples is quite difficult. Other languages like French or German have no problem with this.

Sound of o, German accent

German speakers tend to pronounce the o like an open [ɔ] as in offen, but they must be reminded to say a closed [o] like in Ofen (5) or Dose or Brot. This is hard for German speakers, because many German words with o in the first and also second syllable are pronounced with this open [ɔ] (think of Kompott, Bordstein). It's not so wrong anyway, since in few cases, Marc Okrand pronounces the letter o like an "open o", as in SoH [ʂɔx].

Good rhyming examples:
Klingon Good German rhyme Bad English rhyme
not never DONE Not choice-cancel note, not
bot block DONE Boot choice-cancel boat, bot
lot disaster DONE Lot choice-cancel lote, lot
toD rescue DONE Tod choice-cancel toat, Todd
yoD shield DONE Iod

Consonants

Most of the consonants in Klingon are pronounced as they are written. Note that there are few sounds that are written using multiple letters, but are considered one single letter in Klingon.

letter IPA description
b [b] as in bar or bed
ch [t​͡ʃ] as in chip
D [ɖ] close to a d, but the tongue is much more in the back of your mouth
gh [ɣ] a gargling G with a humming sound, think of "grr"
H [x] described in TKD as the final sound of the name Bach
j [d​͡​ʒ] as the initial sound of jungle
l [l] as l in lamp or belly
m [m] as m in mother
n [n] as n in north or no
ng [ŋ] as ng in thing, never as in engage
p [pʰ] as p in puppy followed by a puff of air
q [qʰ]  
Q [q͡χ]  
r [r] lightly trilled or rolled
S [ʂ] as sh in shoe or bush
t [tʰ] as t in tea
tlh [t​ɬ]  
v [v] as v in vowel
w [w] as w in water
y [j] as y in yes
' [ʔ] see apostrophe

Sound of H

H is described as the final sound of the name "Bach", but that only counts if spoken with an American accent. German speakers were pretty confused about this description. At qepHom 2016, Okrand explained the correct pronunciation very detailed, confirming that H is supposed to be velar [x]. (6)

Sound of Q

Q is pronounced [q_X](in X-SAMPA phonetic transcription), or basically like an aspirated q, that is, q followed closely by a raspy puff of air (7)

Sound of r

Explaining the sound r is a very difficult topic because Marc Okrand does not speak it as he described it in The Klingon Dictionary:

This is not like the "r" in American English, but it does resemble the "r" in some dialects of British English, as well as the "r" in many languages of Europe. It is lightly trilled or rolled.

From this, one can surely say that the r is NOT as in "sure" or "rock". It's a lot closer to the trilled R in Spanish, but not even that. Okrand has once said that he cannot trill the R as in the Spanish "perro", which is called an alveolar trill. What he speaks is more like an "alveolar tap", where your tongue is at the spot where you speak an English D - one light touch of the tip of the tongue on the ridge behind the teeth.

During his Klingon 101 at Starbase Indy 2016, Marc Okrand clearly identifies it as a trill, and then when he gives an example of "lightly trilling", he taps it. (8)

One should assume that the description of TKD "lightly trilled" is not to be taken too strictly and just shows the difference to the French (as in rouge) or the English (as in red or bar) way to say "r".

Diphthongs

Diphthongs are sounds that consist of two vowels. Phonetically, Klingon y and w are considered as vowels, so their combination with other real vowels makes them become a diphthong.

As an exception to the CVC syllable structure, the apostrophe (glottal stop) can follow a word that ends with a diphthong. Interestingly, of all the listed diphthongs, not all allow a glottal stop after them. The combinations ew', Iw', and Iy' do not occur in any word even though there is no rule against it.

Words ending with a glottal stop are spoken shorter than without.

#1 #2 diphthong IPA description plus apostrophe
a y ay [aɪ̯] as in cry ay'
e y ey [ɛɪ̯] as in pay never occurs
I y Iy [iː] as in key never occurs
o y oy [oɪ̯] as in toy oy'
u y uy [ʊɪ̯] as in gooey uy'
a w aw [aʊ̯] as in cow aw'
e w ew [ɛʊ̯] as in e + u never occurs
I w Iw [ɪʊ̯] as in I + u never occurs
o w -- [oo] see note -
u w -- [uu] see note -

Notes

No Klingon words have ow or uw, because w sounds similar to u, so there would be no difference heard compared to words ending in a vowel o or u. For instance, Duw would sound like Du. Also, -ow does not sound like a diphthong. See comment above regarding the pronunciation of the letter o.

Doubled letters

Doubled letters are pronounced either as a lengthening of the letter, or with a brief break between the two letters. Some speakers incorrectly pronounce a doubled letter as a single letter; this is especially true for ' ' (two glottal stops). (9)

See also

References

1 : The Klingon Dictionary

2 : paq'batlh, p. xxvii

3 : The Klingon Dictionary, chapter 1.2 vowels, p. 16

4 : The Klingon Dictionary, appendix, p. 169

5 : Das offizielle Wörterbuch, new edition 2013

6 : Message from Maltz on qepHom.de

7 : KLI mailing list Mark Shoulson, 2/20/98, Re: Introduction

8 : Klingon 101 - The Sounds of Klingon - Marc Okrand, on YouTube, uploaded on November 29, 2016

9 : Klingon for the Galactic Traveler, p. 138

Category: Grammar    Latest edit: 05 Jul 2020, by KlingonTeacher    Created: 23 Jul 2014 by KlingonTeacher
History: r19 < r18 < r17 < r16 - View wiki text
 
The Klingon Language Wiki is a private fan project to promote the Klingon language. See Copyright notice for details.