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By long tradition in the English-speaking world, ships are called "she". This tradition (which may predate English) continues in referring to the U.S.S. Enterprise, according to the star trek database

The U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-D was a Galaxy-class starship and the flagship of Starfleet. The fifth starship to be named Enterprise, she was commanded by Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

We know a good deal about the Klingon language, and about the Klingons. Do Klingons refer to their battleships as "she"?

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warbirds are typically romulan ships, klingon ships have mistakenly been called warbirds, but birds of prey is probably what your looking for in reguards to the klingons – Himarm Feb 3 at 21:58
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I suspect Klingons call their ships "it," though I'm totally guessing. – T-1000's Son Feb 3 at 22:01
    
@Himarm : I agree. I edited the question to refer to Klingon "battleships" instead of warbirds (which should be generic enough to cover Birds of Prey, Battle Cruisers, etc.) – Praxis Feb 3 at 22:05
    
@Praxis Thanks for improving my question with respect to the Star Trek universe. However: "Modern warships are generally divided into seven main categories, which are: aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, frigates, corvettes, submarines and amphibious assault ships. Battleships comprise an eighth category, but are not in current service with any navy in the world. Only the deactivated American Iowa-class battleships still exist as potential combatants, and battleships in general are unlikely to re-emerge as a ship class without redefinition." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warship – ab2 Feb 4 at 1:19
    
@ab2 : Good point. It was a just a quick fix to the "Warbird" issue (as these are Romulan ships). I'll edit it to say "ships" with no qualifier, but it's your question, so feel free to tweak as you see fit. :-) – Praxis Feb 4 at 1:22
up vote 28 down vote accepted

When speaking in (or having the words translated to) English, the answer is apparently "yes". However, the Klingon language has no grammatical differences for the sex/gender of an object or individual. The third person pronoun can be translated as either «he» or «she».

«ghaH vIlegh jIH» can be translated as either «I see him», or «I see her».

Thus, the modern Klingon word for a space vessel «Duj» has no sex/gender. It is an it - not he, not she. It.


This is further reflected in how plurals are formed for different noun classes / categories of things.

The categories of things (similar to "women, fire, and dangerous things" being in a category together in Dyirbal, or how ships are gendered female, or Japanese's numerous counters) in Klingon are:

  • Living beings capable of using language
    • Parrots do not fall into this category (see HolQeD 10:4, p. 4–5)
    • Robots are not living (sorry Data) (see when to use -wIj and when to use -wI’)
    • Babies, while they don't speak, are capable of using language
  • Body parts
  • General

So, this is how the Klingon language is structured for its categories. Unlike many Terran languages, there is no difference in the grammar for sex/gender. Space vessels are "it"s. They are not beings capable of language and they are not body parts. It's an "it".


The use of ship in context can be seen in Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country where the poor translation was a minor plot point:

In this, the question "What ship is that" is repeated several times. The Klingon is «Dujvetlh 'oH nuq, rIn?»

Duj is «ship» as mentioned above.
-vetlh is «that» in the situation that it isn't nearby
'oH is translated as «it» (compare with ghaH which is he/she)
nuq is quite simply «what»
rIn is the verb «finished»

Together, this is a bit overly wordy translated as «that not nearby ship, what? over.»

This agrees with the script:

SLEEPY KLINGON: (in Klingonese) What ship is that? Over.

Note the use of «'oH»

Going back to the Klingon Dictionary, section 5.1 describes pronouns:

{jIH} <I, me>             {maH} <we, us>
{soH} <you>               {tlhIH} <you (plural)>[[soH=>SoH]]
{ghaH} <he/she, him/her>  {chaH} <they, them>
{'oH} <it>                {bIH} <they, them>
{'e'} <that>
{net} <that>

The pronoun {chaH} is used when it refers to a group of beings capable of using language; otherwise, {bIH} is used.

Note the relationship between ghaH and chaH being things that can use language and 'oH and bIH as things.

Thus, again, the ship is referred to as it.


Moving to Star Trek V (that many of us would rather forget), there is an extensive body of text that is available at klingonska which is a collection of Okrandian (Marc Okrand is the creator of Klingon) canonic material. For this, Description of the Klingon dialog of <Star Trek V: The Final Frontier>, as prepared for the actors by Marc Okrand.

In this you will see:

    Klaa
Enterprise? That's Kirk's ship.
{'en-tep-ray'-'a'. qIrq Duj 'oH}

qIrq is Kirk, in Klingon (pronounce it out - it is a phonetic translation). And again, we se Duj and 'oH.

I will point out:

Scene 146
    Klaa
Track her course!
{He-Daj yI-qIm}

Which can be seen in

He is «course»
-Daj is a possessive suffix that has no gender. While the text is indeed referring to the ship, and it was shown to the viewer as 'her', the suffix is genderless (and doesn't care about language either).

yI- is the imperative prefix.
qIm is the verb for «pay attention»


The canonicity of the the Klingon Dictionary has been pondered about. The first thing to realize is that when dealing with Klingon speaking fanbase, canonicity is a very important subject - you just can't make up words. There is a section about it on Wikipedia - Klingon language - Canon about what works are considered canon. The Klingon Dictionary was actually tweaked because of some publishing delays to agree with movie canon. This is described in an interview with Marc Okrand

Okrand: The book was originally supposed to come out at the same time Star Trek III came out, but it was delayed for reasons that are actually interesting and that I should have written down, but now I mostly forget. After I had finished it, and while nothing was happening with getting it published, the film went into postproduction. During postproduction, they changed some lines that were originally in English into Klingon, so we did something like we did with the Vulcan for Star Trek II, except I had to make it sound like the Klingon in the rest of the film, both in terms of sounds and grammar. I didn’t have the relative freedom I’d had with Vulcan. They also changed a couple of subtitles, so a Klingon line that had originally meant one thing suddenly meant something else. This, of course, meant that, in some cases, the dictionary no longer matched the film or lacked some words that were in the film. Because of the delay in publication, however, I was able to make changes to the dictionary so that all of the changes made in postproduction were incorporated into the book.

The published works match the movie canon. Furthermore, the movie canon adhered to the book canon.

But by the time of Star Trek V, the book had been published, so I could no longer fudge. This made the creation of dialogue for Star Trek V actually harder than it was for Star Trek III. It’s harder to follow rules than to make them up. ...

And was adjusted to match the movie:

... Actually, one of the actors did misspeak a line in Star Trek V in a scene that was too complex to reshoot. After Star Trek VI came out, the dictionary was reissued with an addendum to incorporate material created after Star Trek III. I figured out a way for the muffed line to make sense and match the subtitle and included that in the revised book. So the line in Star Trek V is correct after all.

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Do the writers ever play around with this, i.e. have Klingons use the wrong pronoun in English? Or are we to presume that the Universal Translator is taking care of things, anyway? (My mother has lived in the US for almost 50 years, but she still occasionally uses the wrong pronoun, because Hungarian doesn't have gendered pronouns - it's either ő for "he/she" or a/az for "it".) – Martha Feb 4 at 3:19
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@Martha I suspect not. There's a level of culture they want to have, and they also want to have a complete language that is consistent with itself (taH pagh taHbe' was a problem because Klingon originally didn't have the verb 'to be'). Getting into the language parts of "oh, I called your ship an it because it is an it" probably doesn't work well with the viewership and takes time away from other things. They're just happy that Duj is always the ship. – user12183 Feb 4 at 3:26
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All of this is great, except that it conflicts with what we see in the show, where they clearly do use a gendered pronoun to describe a vessel. – Valorum Feb 4 at 7:18
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@Richard and in those cases, they are speaking in or being understood by and individual using the language of the listener. Klingons, when speaking Klingon, do not refer to their vessels as male or female, but rather an 'everything else'. The Klingon grammatical rules and lexicon is very clear on this matter. It might be interesting to head over to Russian.SE and ask what the transcript for the episode in Russian would be. – user12183 Feb 4 at 14:07
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@Richard that may be the case for issues of on the screen representation. However, there is a fairly significant corpus of material in Klingon that completely describes the language and its grammar along with fairly substantial written texts. As the question says "We know a good deal about the Klingon language, and about the Klingons." The answer can be given from canonical sources (again, there is a significant corpus of material to work from). All of the material about the Klingon language, as asked in the question, says that Duj has no gender - it is a thing incapable of language. – user12183 Feb 4 at 16:54

Yes

In the DS9 episode "Sons and Daughters", Martok uses "her" when referring to his Bird-of-Prey:

MARTOK: I am General Martok. Welcome to the Rotarran. May you prove worthy of this ship and bring honour to her name.

Also, in the episode "Soldiers of the Empire", we have:

MARTOK: Three days ago, the battle cruiser B'Moth began a patrol along the Cardassian border. They have not been heard from since. They are now reported as missing.

WORF: It is possible she was destroyed by the Dominion. The Jem'Hadar attacked a Federation starship near the border less than a week ago.

NOTE: In both of these scenes, there are only Klingons speaking to Klingons with no other species present. The dialogue should not be treated as passing through a Starfleet-issued universal translator, but rather as the exact intended meaning and sentiment conveyed by one Klingon to another.

Also, Klingon language guides and dictionaries, while canon to some extent, are a lesser canon than what we see and hear in the episodes and films.

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Not to nitpick - but Worf would likely be using the Starfleet / human idiom here since he was not fully a member of the Klingon armed-forces – NKCampbell Feb 3 at 23:39
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@NKCampbell : True, but Worf's concern for maintaining his identity means that he takes his Klingon culture very seriously --- perhaps more seriously than many Klingons living within the Empire. These are the kinds of small details he would pay attention to. Also, he served in the Empire under Gowron during the Klingon Civil War. – Praxis Feb 3 at 23:48
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@NKCampbell : I've found an example where Martok refers to his ship as "her". – Praxis Feb 3 at 23:51
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@NKCampbell has a good point. Thinking a little further, how do we know this isn't the universal translator in action, translating the pronoun to "she" for English listeners? – jpmc26 Feb 4 at 5:38
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@ypercube: I've seen it in the original Klingon. – Praxis Feb 4 at 12:14

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