Newsgroup message of July 9, 1998

Subject: Re: maHeghlaw'lI'


about writing in Klingon


Newsgroup: Klingon Usenet Forum
Date: Thursday, July 09, 1998 02:58 PM


Qov [Robyn Stewart] (and others) bring up an interesting point about writing in Klingon.

The verb for "write" in the sense of "compose" is qon, literally "record." This is used for songs and also for literary works (poems, plays, romance novels, and so on). As has been pointed out, it's as if the song or story is somehow out there and the "writer" comes into contact with it, extracts it (to use Qov's nice phrase), and records it.

The verb usually translated "write," ghItlh, refers to the physical activity of writing (moving the pencil around, chiseling, etc.)

The question is, if you can ghItlh it, must you also qon it? That is, is everything that is written down the result of composition (in the sense described above)?

The answer is "not necessarily." There's another verb, gher, which doesn't have a straightforward equivalent in English, but which has sometimes been translated (not entirely satisfactorily) as "formulate" or "compile" or "pull together." The idea seems to be that of bringing thoughts together into some kind of reasonably coherent form so that they can be conveyed to someone else.

Thus, one would usually say naD tetlh gher "he/she compiles the Commendation List" or "he/she writes the Commendation List" (naD "commendation," tetlh "roll, scroll, list," gher "he/she compiles it").

(Maltz laughed at, but accepted, Soj tetlh gher for "he/she writes the grocery list" [Soj "food"].)

One would probably gher, rather than qon, a suggested list of readings, a gazetteer, a simple menu, or the instructions for assembling a toy (assuming the latter is not really an exercise in creative writing).

One might also say QIn gher "he/she formulates a message" or, more colloquially, "he/she writes a message" (QIn "message," gher "he/she formulates it"). But now it begins to get tricky. Using gher here implies that the writer of the message was passing along some information he or she got elsewhere, such as scribbling down a telephone message. Saying QIn qon "he/she composes a message" or "he/she writes a message" (literally "he/she records a message") suggests that the writer is presenting some new information as opposed to merely passing something along. It may also imply that the written message has some sort of literary merit, and thus be a compliment.

But not always. HIDjolev qon "he/she composes the menu" (HIDjolev "menu," qon "he/she composes it") suggests that the speaker thinks the list of available fare is written with a certain literary flair. This is not likely to be said of menus in Klingon restaurants (whose menus, if posted at all, tend to be rather pithy), and thus could easily be taken as an insult.

Similarly, something like bom gher "he/she formulates the song" (bom "song") would be taken as a disparaging comment about the song or its composer (and is, in fact, sometimes heard when the song in question is of non-Klingon origin).

This should help somewhat, but it will no doubt raise additional questions about usage. Maltz seems to be willing to try to tackle them as they come along.

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