May 7, 2009

I’m not ashamed to say it. I love Star Trek. I was raised on it. Growing up, I thought the only literature that existed was Star Trek novelizations. And Hardy Boys, the occasional comic book. Everything else was schoolwork.

What I liked best about Star Trek was how fundamentally optimistic it was. Some part of this had to do with the fact that the creators allowed entire races their history and culture, for culture’s sake. I mean, sure, Kirk would still probably bang anything that moved and the history didn’t usually amount to a whole lot but someone made the effort to put that all in there regardless of how easily cliche it all was.

Arika Okrent has a post up on Slate detailing the history of the Klingon language and its linguistics. Here’s something I didn’t know which delighted me. I can’t speak or understand a word of Klingon btw. Yet this is testament to its universality and awesomeness.

“Klingon is….an ungodly combination of Hindi, Arabic, Tlingit, and Yiddish and works like a mix of Japanese, Turkish, and Mohawk. The linguistic features of Klingon are not especially unusual (at least to a linguist) when considered independently, but put together, they make for one hell of an alien language.”

So yeah, it’s impractical. Only a few hundred people speak it. Yet, you can read Hamlet in it if you wanted. That’s pretty neat.

Just saying a word like this one requires Klingon-like discipline and fortitude. To the layman, the time commitment involved in studying this invented language may seem ridiculous—why not take up a language with practical value, one that might earn you a little respect, or at least not encourage jeers? But Klingon isn’t about practicality, or status, or even about love for the original Star Trek series. It’s about language for language’s sake, and the joy of doing something that’s not easy, without regard for worldly recognition. Hence the Klingon Hamlet, which took years to compose and which maybe 100 people can appreciate. What a piece of work is man indeed. Or as Wil’yam Shex’pir would put it, toH, chovnatlh Doj ghaH tlhIngan’e’—”A Klingon is an impressive specimen.”


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