About the Project

Klingon is an artificial or constructed language (ConLang for short), spoken by the eponymous race in the universe of Star Trek. But it's also more than that. Klingon is a real language, with actual rules and words, with real grammar and syntax. About a decade and a half ago, someone had the bright idea to translate Hamlet, yes the Shakespearean drama, into Klingon. As it turns out, this is interesting from a linguistic perspective, as Klingon and English differ on a couple of interesting points.

Of particular interest for this project are how fear and status are reflected in the two languages. In English, there is no rule against admitting your own fear, but this admission is considered taboo in Klingon, which makes Hamlet's noted cowardice an intriguing case study for the present material. Additionally, where English requires particular phrasing, such as "my lord" or "sir" to delineate a difference in status between interlocutors, Klingon has status built into the language, which makes seeing how the Klingon translation treats these differences an interesting course of study.

To this end, the entirety of the text has been marked up in XML, with each line's speaker and addressee marked, as well as any instances of fear or honorific affixes on verbs. These affixes denote the Klingon particulars of the distinctions made above. In doing so, they provide a window into the minds of the translators, and by proxy into Klingon culture. Since the data itself is copyrighted, only the results and a few sample passages, totalling less than 10% of the text, are shown on this site.

Key Terms

Affix: an affix is a piece of a word which is attached to some portion of the base form of that word. Common types of affixes are prefixes and suffixes, although "infixes" (affixes inserted inside the word stem) and "circumfixes" (affixes with portions placed that the front and back of the word stem) also exist. The term is used in this project to refer to the forms being studied, for reasons described below.

Honorific: An honorific affix is a piece of a word which is attached to it to signify a difference of status between the speaker and the addressee. Klingon's honorific affix is "neS," and is how status is built into the Klingon language.

Token: A token is a single instance of a form in use, and is synonymous with an individual data point.

Research Question

Put simply, the question is this: How do speakers and addressees line up with the use of the chosen affixes? Is either or both an effective tool for predicting use of these affixes? Is the use of these affixes culturally or textually defined?

About Klingon

The following is a segment from Act 1 of the Klingon Hamlet:

bernarDo bI'avtaHvIS jot'a'?

veranchISqo vIHbe' je ghew.

bernarDo vaj maj. Qapla'.

Horey'So quv, marSe'luS je Daghomchugh—

jI'avtaHvIS qochma' chaH—vaj tImoDmoH.

veranchISqo SuH, chaH vIQoylaw'. 'eH, yItaD! chol 'Iv?

For comparison, here's that same passage in English:

Bernardo Have you had quiet guard?

Francisco Not a mouse stirring.

Bernardo Well, good night.

If you do meet Horatio and Marcellus,

The rivals of my watch, bid them make haste.

Francisco I think I hear them. Stand, ho! Who is there?

The Important Stuff

Among the things you may have noticed are Klingon and English's differing stance on capitalization. Klingon does not feature sentence-initial captilization; rather a capital letter actually represents a different sound than a lower-case letter. Additionally, the apostrophe stands in for a brief pause in articulation. From a grammatical perspective, Klingon has a very rich system for verb marking, featuring 10 different categories of suffixes, each of which can be responsible for a single "suffix" on the verb. "Suffix" has been placed in quotes because one of the major suffixes--the fear suffix--only ever appeared at the beginning of a word in the analyzed data. A true suffix, however, can only be applied to the end of a word's base form. In reality, and as this project will refer to them hereafter, these so-called "suffixes" are actually better classified as "affixes," or meaningful units applied to a word in a concatenative process, regardless of position.