Contemplation: What the Fuck is the Deal with the Klingon Language?

I’ll just jump right into this contemplation, by saying, ever since I learned of the speakable Klingon language I have been absolutely baffled, if not outright irked, by its existence and its devotees.  I’ll admit that a big part of this is due solely to my feeling that the Star Trek franchise (from which Klingons originate — just in case any of you weren’t savvy on that) is really really nerdy.  And please note that this is coming from an openly self-described nerd.  Sure I’ve found my moments of Star Trek enjoyment.  I rather liked J. J. Abrams recent film, simply titled “Star Trek.” I also take special enjoyment from Shatner’s guttural cry of KHAN! in reference to Ricardo Montelbán’s Star Trek villain Khan Noonien Singh. But beyond those two examples, and a limited number of other moments of enjoyment of the original series campiness, I ultimately find the franchise ridiculous and annoying.

The fact that a language for one of the fictitious alien species from that franchise has been created, and furthermore that there are people who find pleasure and enjoyment out of learning it and writing it and speaking it, pretty much drives me to the edge of sheer maddening bafflement.  As such it was rather interesting to read Andrew O’Hehir’s article “Excuse me, do you speak Klingon?” which appears on Salon.com.  The piece specifically focuses on the book “In the Land of Invented Languages”  by Arika Okrent, which (I assume you can guess from the title) takes a look at various invented languages, amongst which exists (as I assume you can guess from Mr. O’Hehir’s article’s title) Klingon.

Personally I’d really love to pick up Ms. Okrent’s book out of sheer curiosity.  Regardless of how ultimately nerdy I might think the existence of a Klingon language is, I cannot help but find interesting the idea of creating a working language.  I suppose that a part of my fascination comes from my love of language in the first place.  I went to school as a Writing major which was based primarily on my love of playing with language (specifically English which is the only language that I am truly proficient in — I’ve got a bit-o-skill in both French and Latin, but it is nothing really to brag about).  The thing that gets me most about language is how it is so utterly unavoidable as the prime tool of human communication.  It has been argued (likely by a great many people) that our reliance on language has completely shaped our understanding of reality in that we are constrained to the ability and availability of language to describe and understand the world.  Behold, I cannot express this contemplation to you in any other way than through the writing of a known language (that English one which I mentioned briefly ago).

I am not going to pretend to know or offer a theory on how language originally developed, but I do think it is safe to say that the history of human communication using language has been a long one, with many changes along the way.  With that being said linguistic study must be fascinating because some of the changes in languages are inevitably slow processes that can only be determined by examining text written by people long dead and gone.  Further, I think it is safe to assume a general natural origin of the major spoken languages in the sense that they had origins and have more or less developed on their own over thousands of years.

So why create a new language?  Well, in the case like Esperanto it might be in the pursuit of bringing world peace by overcoming the language gap.  Or for Klingon it is supposedly for the purpose of creating more a consistent and “realistic” story (realistic my ass . . . btw).  Then there are probably some, like Tolkien’s elvish languages, which are created by avid lovers of linguistics and philology.  I’m sure there are some other reasons to create a language as well.

All that being said though . . . WHAT THE FUCK?

Seriously.  Again, I find language quite fascinating, and can even find an appreciation for something like a Tolkien thought experiment through the creation of a language, but in the end it all just seems ridiculous to me, made even more so ridiculous by the enthusiasts who pursue these made up languages.  Now I realize that it is incredibly judgemental to consider one hobby ridiculous, especially when one pursues his own somewhat strange hobbies, like mushroom hunting and beer brewing, but in truth I must clarify that I don’t think I am being too judgemental because I actually think all hobbies are truly quite absurd and bizarre (including my mushroom hunting and beer brewing).  But still, the whole made up language thing really gets to me, not necessarily as annoyance (though Klingon does, just because I really don’t like Star Trek or Star Trek nerds), but more as bafflement.

I suppose the interest in the whole made up language thing has a lot to do with our fascination of language as a species (again that inescapable degree to which we rely on language).  I would also fathom that there might be something like the ideal of the edenic language in there too.  But really, like all hobbies, probably the pursuit of these made up languages really just has a lot to do with individuals’ desires to feel a part of something bigger than themselves, which is in no way a bad thing, in fact it might be one of the most human desires that we can have.

Well, I think I have pretty much exhausted this contemplation.  For any of you super Star Trek nerds out there, please don’t take this post too personally, I know you can’t help your uber-nerdiness (but I swear to the God which I don’t really believe in that if anybody ever tries to speak Klingon to me I will punch them in the fucking face).

Happy Friday y’all!

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~ by Nathaniel on June 5, 2009.

2 Responses to “Contemplation: What the Fuck is the Deal with the Klingon Language?”

  1. When I give tours of the Library, I talk about how the collection spans about 3000 years and covers all known languages – I usually throw in the joke that we even have items in Klingon. Not that funny, but usually gets a laugh out of a few people.

    • No, that is funny . . . also awesome . . . seriously, 3000 years? Holy shit, that is a long lot of material not to mention some serious language spanning.

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