Klingons have been a part of Star Trek since the beginning, so it comes as no surprise that this alien race is one of the most beloved parts of the show’s lore. Some of the most iconic characters in the show’s history have been Klingon, or partially Klingon. These include Worf, first made famous on The Next Generation, as well as B’Elanna Torres, the chief engineer on Star Trek: Voyager. Klingons were also pivotal to the plot of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, which was the final film to feature the full TOS cast.
Given that Star Trek first premiered back in the 1960s, it’s not surprising that the show’s producers have used the last few decades to flesh out the language and culture behind this fictional warrior race. In fact, enough of the Klingon language has been spoken aloud to make it possible to learn Klingon, just like you’d learn French or German. If you want to speak Klingon, here’s a guide to help you get started.
Is Klingon a ‘Real’ Language?
In the clip above, Marc Okrand teaches a Klingon 101 class, which includes tips on making those harsh, hard-to-replicate sounds.
The “realness” of Klingon is complicated. The Klingon people, their language, and culture are, of course, all fictional creations. That being said, Klingon is real, in a way. It’s what linguists refer to as a “conlang” or “constructed language”.
A conlang is a new language created from scratch for a specific purpose, often designed to have unique sounds or speech patterns. Conlangs generally have a developed vocabulary, grammar, and syntax, though many “normal” words may be missing. For example, Klingon famously has no word for “Hello”, which often surprises new students of the language. Popular Mechanics also notes there’s no Klingon word or verb for “to be”.
Another example of this phenomenon from pop culture would be the creation of spoken Dothraki and Valyrian languages for Game of Thrones. Those languages were both created by David J. Peterson.
In a similar fashion, the “father” of the Klingon language is linguist Marc Okrand. He published the Klingon Dictionary back in 1985, and the language has grown in popularity since then. Okrand created the language in preparation for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. CNN notes that the translation of the first words of Klingon spoken onscreen in that film translate to the following commands: “Tactical! Visual! Stand by on torpedoes! Ready… Fire!”
One last fun fact about Okrand? He was also the creator of the Vulcan language. In fact, he is credited as the man who taught Mr. Spock how to speak Vulcan, for the second Star Trek film.
Common & Useful Klingon Phrases
There’s a lot to learn if you really want to master Klingon. All that being said, we’ve gathered some resources to help you get started with basic vocabulary and phrases. The video above is the first in a detailed series from the YouTube channel StarTrekIS. This channel has videos for teaching native English speakers, as well as German speakers. Additional video topics include topics like making a toast, or telling Klingon jokes.
Reading and pronouncing Klingon can be intimidating. The language does not adhere to English language conventions around capitalization or punctuation. Therefore, it’s common to see words with “funny” apostrophes, or words that have an unexpected blend of uppercase and lowercase letters. There aren’t as many vowels as you might expect. In addition, the syntax of Klingon is very different from English, by design, so new speakers often struggle with word order.
One odd rule called out on this Duolingo translation page is that the letter “t” is never capitalized in Klingon, even if it starts a sentence, or if it starts a proper noun.
As an example of just how unusual this language can look in text, a common phrase in Klingon is “nuqneH”. This short-but-intimidating phrase is included in the video lesson above. It means, roughly, “What do you want?” Another phrase commonly heard on episodes of Star Trek that feature spoken Klingon is “Qapla'”. Depending on context, this phrase can mean “success” or “Good luck!”
A classic Klingon phrase uttered on the show is “Today is a good day to die.” Or as they say in Klingon, “Heghlu’meH QaQ jajvam“!
One last word that every Klingon speaker should know? Part of the fun of speaking Klingon is using insults, which is exactly what “petaQ” is. Duolingo simply translates the word as “insult” without getting more detailed, though this archived post from the Klingon Language Institute indicates that the meaning is a particularly intense curse, and that it may have some variant spellings.
Resources for Learning Klingon Online
The popular language-learning app Duolingo offers both Klingon and Valyrian for its users.
Another great place to start can be books like Okrand’s Klingon for the Galactic Traveler and Conversational Klingon. But for some, learning from a book alone is too tough, particularly since you can’t hear the words read aloud.
In addition to YouTube channels that focus on Klingon, we also recommend reviewing the resources of the Klingon Language Institute, which has been operating since 1992. A non-profit, this organization puts out a quarterly journal on Klingon topics, which is called HolQeD. They also offer a beginner level Klingon course.
Still hungry for more phrases? Memory Alpha has a useful list of some of the spoken Klingon from the franchise’s history, along with translations and notes about which episode something was said in. This allows you to pull up that episode and refer to it for pronunciation help.
Klingon & The Arts
In the clip above, a performer known as “jenbom, the Klingon Pop Warrior“, performs a Klingon cover of ‘Love Is a Battlefield”. Once you have a working knowledge of Klingon, there’s a surprising number of ways you can use the language for communication with fellow fans, or just for personal enrichment.
In addition to gaining a better understanding spoken Klingon on episodes of the show, you can also practice your new language skills with friends at sci-fi conventions. You can even get kids in on the act, with books like Sleep Tight, Little Wolf, which is a bilingual bedtime book written in English and Klingon.
For the advanced student of Klingon, the ultimate goal may be enjoying a performance of Klingon opera or Klingon Shakespeare. Yeah, you read that correctly. There is a Klingon version of Hamlet. And who knows? Once you start learning, maybe you’ll be the next one to translate a famous work of literature into Klingon.