Hol Sarmey QeD QulwI' ghItlh: a typological analysis of Klingon
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Linguistics
Klingon is a constructed language initially created solely for entertainment purposes by the linguist Dr. Marc Okrand. Klingon plays an important part in the popular science fiction franchise Star Trek as the language spoken by the militant Klingon race. This language has OVS (Object-Verb-Subject) as the basic word order, something that is rarely found in natural languages. On the topic of how he created Klingon, Okrand has mentioned that he tried his utmost to make Klingon as different from other languages as possible.
The goal of this thesis is to find out how ‘unique’ the features of Klingon really are. I use data obtained from various sources such as the Klingon Dictionary and actual speakers of Klingon and compare it to the universals that are proposed for languages with similar word order. Consulting the speakers was a particularly important here as there are no native speakers of Klingon, and there are very few people who can even speak it fluently.
For most of my thesis, I use generalisations based on the OV-VO typology. While I examine some general principles from works like Vennemann (1973), I also look at some typological generalisations about topic and focus, causative constructions, negation and comparative/superlative constructions in Klingon. I compare the characteristics of Klingon to those found in another OVS languages like Hixkaryana as well as ‘consistently OV’ languages like Japanese and Korean. I also mention briefly some typologies based on constituents other than the relative position of verb and object such as the VS-SV distinction and universals for subject-final languages, but these typologies fail to clearly answer the question of whether Klingon can be considered as a typical subject-final language or verb-intermediate language. This is because the generalisations based on subject-final languages turned out to actually mostly be about verb-initial languages, and in case of other typologies, Klingon could only partially answer the questions posed.
Despite discovering several interesting syntactic properties, I concluded that even though Klingon seems to have some features that are rarely found in other OV languages, it actually is very consistent with most of the generalisations I have used to test its OV nature. Thus, despite the many interesting features discovered, I could say that Klingon indeed is a ‘consistently OV language’.
My study also highlights some of the challenges associated with collecting data on Klingon as a relatively new language, especially given the occasional differences between the interpretation of an ambiguous rule by the speakers as opposed to what Dr. Okrand actually intended. I also talk about the ever-growing vocabulary and constantly evolving grammar rules in Klingon that could potentially make some parts of my thesis slightly outdated in just a few years.