Klingon goes boldly beyond 'Star Trek' into pop culture

LOS ANGELES Fri Nov 2, 2012 5:12pm IST

A Klingon mask used as a prop from the television series ''Star Trek'' sits on display during a preview of the auction ''40 Years of Star Trek: The Collection'' at Christie's auction house in New York September 29, 2006. REUTERS/Keith Bedford/Files

A Klingon mask used as a prop from the television series ''Star Trek'' sits on display during a preview of the auction ''40 Years of Star Trek: The Collection'' at Christie's auction house in New York September 29, 2006.

Credit: Reuters/Keith Bedford/Files

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Why learn French when you could learn Klingon?

The language created more than 30 years ago for the "Star Trek" race of long-haired warriors has moved boldly into pop culture where few other alien tongues have gone before.

With a new book about the classic Klingon starship, Bird-of-Prey, and a Klingon spoof of the "Gangnam Style" music video racking up millions of views on YouTube, Klingons are showing a fun side that outstrips their Trekkies fan base.

With their high-ridged foreheads, starships that boast cloaking devices and strict code of honor, Klingons are rivaling Mr. Spock's Vulcans in the language and popularity stakes.

"Klingons are these big, mean tough warrior guys, but they are also funny, so it is fun to behave like a Klingon," said Marc Okrand, who created the guttural language and compiled the first Klingon dictionary in 1985.

Okrand, a Washington, DC-based linguist, also created the Vulcan and Romulan dialogue for the 2009 feature film "Star Trek." But he says neither language has caught the imagination of fans or the wider public the way Klingon has.

"Vulcan didn't catch on, probably because Vulcans aren't as much fun as Klingons. They are much more serious. The Klingons let loose and the Vulcans don't," Okrand told Reuters.

"People do ask me, when are you going to make a Vulcan dictionary? And the answer is, when they jabber more in Vulcan," he added.


Despite a tiny vocabulary of just 2,000 to 3,000 words, Klingon is the most spoken fictional language in the world, according to Guinness World Records. And last month saw a Swedish couple tie the knot in a Klingon wedding ceremony at London's "Star Trek" convention.

There is already a Klingon Language Institute, Klingon translations of Shakespeare's "Hamlet" and the Book of Mormon, a Klingon version of the board game Monopoly, a Dutch opera sung in Klingon, an annual Klingon staging of "A Christmas Carol" in Chicago, and a guided tour of Australia's famous Jenolan caves near Sydney, conducted entirely in Klingon.

The latest arrival is the book, "Klingon Bird-of-Prey Owners' Workshop Manual," packed with illustrations, graphics and information (with Klingon subtitles by Okrand) about the starship's weaponry, technical specifications and life on board.

Published on November6 and authorized by CBS Consumer Products which holds the license to "Star Trek" merchandise, the manual also explains why Klingons aspire to die in battle, how they celebrate victories by drinking blood wine, and their tradition of bursting into opera songs when they are happy at work.

The book comes about six weeks after the release of music video "Klingon Style" - a comic parody of wildly popular Korean pop star Psy's Internet hit "Gangnam Style" - that has been viewed more than 3.8 million times on YouTube.

"That is hysterical! Whoever did that, did their homework. The Klingon in that is really good," Okrand said of the spoof video.

Okrand said he never expected Klingon to take off the way that is has when he first created the language for the 1984 film "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock," and the dictionary a year later.

"I honestly thought people would buy the dictionary and look through and laugh and that would be end of it. I had no idea until a few years after that people would be studying it and learning it.

"I have heard of people who weren't interested in foreign languages, but they were interested in 'Star Trek' and they learned a little bit of Klingon, and thought this is fun, and then they started learning Russian," he said.

(Additional reporting by Frank Simons; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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