So far, so ridiculous.
We could mention that the Klingons originally spoke English in Star Trek, and that when James “Scotty” Doohan came up with some alien sounding language for the first movie it wasn’t designed as a consistent language, rather as some unconnected noises. It was Leonard Nimoy, when working on one of the follow-up films, who decided it needed to have some structure. The task was given to Mark Okrand (pictured), but – as often is the case with long running stories – the language has expanded and changed within the fiction.
While this expansion has mainly come through Star Trek fandom it must be noted that fictional languages – for example Game of Thrones’ Dothraki or Far Cry Primal‘s language based on Indo-European dialects (see blogs passim) – have become increasingly complex in comparison to Klingon. Yet the latter has been, through its longevity, the most famous of them. As well as Hamlet there have been Klingon translations of Much Ado About Nothing, The Epic of Gilgamesh, and Tao te Ching. There is even an institute to promote the language and a daily Klingon word available on Twitter!
Nonetheless, Klingon is not a viable concern for the translation industry. The number of people who speak it is in double figures only and an attempt to raise a child speaking the language ended in the child rejecting the language in favour of English.
Intuitively, fictional languages are thought of as being unworthy of interest from the business of translators: broadly speaking this is true. Klingon, for example is only ever going to be relevant for people in spaceships with futuristic technology. Dothraki is centred on a nomadic warrior culture fixated with horses. They simply aren’t relevant to the day-to-day lives of people consuming the fiction they enhance. Also, fictional languages are subject to copyright, as a Star Trek fan film recently found to his cost.
However one must not assume that fictional languages have no linguistic virtue. We blogged earlier about the devising of Far Cry Primal‘s language and how translation involves creativity. The logic behind Klingon’s structure is intriguing. Okrand had intended Klingon to be dissimilar to existing natural languages, and so chose to avoid word patterns and structures that appear frequently. As a result, Klingon feels more ‘alien’ to the viewers while simultaneously rewarding a knowledge of natural languages and their structures. I’d be really interested to hear from any translators out there who have, if only for professional interest, tried to translate (or in any other way work with) other mythical languages. If nothing else, as Tolkien demonstrated, there is money in it!
Rosetta Stone, Global Connects