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Duolingo launches Klingon course

Duolingo launches Klingon course

If you are visiting a foreign country, you might take along a pocket guide to the language to help you order things in restaurants or explain to the local police what the person who snatched your cell phone looks like. It beats pointing and grunting or shouting in English, and the natives will admire you for making the effort, even if they bring you squid instead of chicken.

The thing with Klingon is, though, that there is no country to visit where you will encounter native speakers. That’s because Klingon is a made-up language from the fictional Star Trek universe. It’s a proper language though, with fully codified grammar and syntax thanks to the efforts of Marc Okrand, a professional linguist who created Klingon for Star Trek and coached the actors in speaking it. He has subsequently written three books on Klingon, including a guide to Klingon dialects, customs and etiquette called Klingon for the Galactic Traveler.

That guide could save your life in the Star Trek Universe. Klingons are quick to take offence, and accidentally saying, for example, “Hab SoSlI’ Quch” to a Klingon could be the last thing you ever say to anyone (it means “Your mother has a smooth forehead”).

There are estimated to be around 50 fluent Klingon speakers on Earth, a few hundred good conversational Klingon speakers, and many thousands who know some basic phrases. Every good trekkie has to be able to say a few things in Klingon to pass muster at cosplays.

Okrand deliberately created the language to sound alien. The sounds are guttural and tricky for English speakers, and the sentence structure is object-subject-verb, which is the rarest order found in Earth languages. But Okrand didn’t make it so difficult that the actors couldn’t speak it on screen: it is a choppy language rather than a free-flowing one, so phrases and sentences can be memorised and reproduced one sound at a time.

Klingon has spilled far beyond the boundaries of the films and TV shows, and is spoken by nerds and geeks just for fun or to prove their trekkie credentials. There’s a Klingon Language Institute that organises conferences and annual gatherings of Klingon speakers (the next one is in Indianapolis on July 19th, if you’re curious) and maintains a wiki and other resources.

So it was just a matter of time before the major language course providers started offering Klingon courses. The fact that Duolingo have invested their time and money into this Klingon course is a testament to how popular this artificial language is becoming.