Tongue Tied Tellarites

Tongue Tied Tellarites (courtesy CBS Television)

The Klingon Language

One of the most culturally influential aspects to come out of Star Trek is the Klingon language. Since 1984 and the blockbuster Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, audiences and fans have been mesmerized by the detail put into the Klingon language by linguist Marc Okrand. There are meetings held throughout the world, websites, entire communities dedicated to mastering the Klingon language.

As the premiere of Star Trek Discovery nears, this could be an incredible asset, or a debilitating crutch. Other species were not given as much attention in the language department, and this shows through inconsistencies, horrible spelling, and obvious borrowings from Earth languages. For example, the Bajoran term “vedek”, a senior member of the Bajoran clergy, is strikingly similar to the English term “Vedic” referring to ancient sacred Sanskrit texts central to Hinduism.

New Alien Cultures and Languages

Of course, our stories draw from what we know, so these types of borrowings are bound to happen, even on an almost unconscious level. However, with effort and practice the writers and producers of Star Trek Discovery have a chance to create new alien cultures – or more specifically, languages – just as enduring as the Klingon’s. As a side note, Klingon is the only language that was ever officially commissioned for the Trek universe. Any information about other languages such as Bajoran, Vulcan, Romulan, Cardassian, etc, is fanfic and should not be thought of as “canon” or “standard”.

Some of the names, and linguistic features exhibited by species in the Trek universe fall into a silly cavern of trope-ishness that borders on annoying. Even the Klingons are not immune, such as the insanely high chance that a Klingon character’s name will begin with “K”, i.e., Kor, Koloth, Kurn, Kruge, Kahless, Klaang, K’mpec, to name only a few. The Ferengi had a more colorful naming habit of simple syllables, such as Quark, Zek, Nog, Rom, Pel, Brunt, etc. This, while probably not completely emblematic of their language, does give a hint that it operates somewhat like an isolating language full of compounding and derivations. Similarly, Cardassian names tend to be CVCVC (Consonant, Vowel). That is Dukat, Damar, Jasad, Macet, Ziyal.

Ferengi had names made of simple syllables (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - courtesy CBS Television)
Ferengi had names made of simple syllables (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – courtesy CBS Television)

Commonalities among names can make it easy for the viewer to immediately recognize a character and their respective culture or species, but it can also lead to an intense sense of silliness as seen in a 1966 memo about Vulcan names. Let us be thankful that this guidance didn’t last.

The new species that we are likely to be introduced to will have at least been thought out enough to have an outline of a backstory, but as the show progresses, and we learn more about them, let’s hope that they aren’t all named so similarly that only a vowel or consonant varies from name to name. And by the honor of Sto’vokor, let them not randomly scribble a few words down on a script and hope that they can convince the audience that it’s representative of a full language.

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About Carl Buck

Carl Buck is the newest contributor to our Opinion section. You can find him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nahskkrit. For now, he values his privacy. Be sure to check back here in case he is willing to share more about himself in the near future.