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I've been thinking recently about the development of the Klingon language, and how it started off as a few small phrases developed by James Doohan (Scotty) and was developed into a full language over the years. Here is what I now so far, gleaned from wikipedia:

Though mentioned in the original Star Trek series episode "The Trouble With Tribbles", the Klingon language first appeared on-screen in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). For Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) director Leonard Nimoy and writer-producer Harve Bennett wanted the Klingons to speak a proper language instead of made-up gibberish and so commissioned Okrand to develop the phrases Doohan had come up with into a full language. Okrand enlarged the lexicon and developed grammar around the original dozen words Doohan had created. The language appeared intermittently in later films featuring the original cast - for example, in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), where translation difficulties served as a plot device.

With the advent of the series Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987)— in which one of the main characters, Worf, was a Klingon— and successors, the language and various cultural aspects for the fictional species were expanded.

Why has the Klingon language been so fully developed that it could be used to produce plays and operas? I understand there was the commissioning of the language, but was that the spark? If so, why not develop other languages as well as or instead of Klingon? What makes it special, and why is it carried on today?

  • This is really a question about SF fandom. Neither the FAQ nor meta seem to have anything to say on the matter. I haven't formulated an opinion yet, but perhaps it should be discussed. One vaguely relevant question on meta: meta.scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/592/… – dmckee May 16 '12 at 21:36
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    When I actually, you know, read my link above I find that it points at meta.scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/350/…, which suggests a consensus in favor. Carry on. – dmckee May 16 '12 at 21:41
  • Also, if you get a chance, don't miss /A Klingon Christmas Carol/, a successful effort to translate the Dickens story not only lingustically but culturally! It's hysterical and brilliant! – Michael Scott Shappe May 17 '12 at 14:16
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Somewhere fairly early on, someone at Pocket Books realized that if Marc Okrand really had developed an entire conlang for Klingon, they could probably sell a dictionary based on it. The Klingon Dictionary was first published in 1985 - before TNG and many of the films - and the reissued in 1992 - five years after TNG started, one year after The Undiscovered Country and two years before Generations. That, I think was the real catalyst -- the development and publication of the language beyond just what we saw in Star Trek III into something where one could actually look words and grammar rules up and construct one's own utterances.

The fact that future writers made some attempt to continue to adhere to those rules, and occasionally consult with Mark Okrand about ways to expand the language for concepts not yet covered, helped keep it growing. Finally, the idea expressed in Star Trek VI that Klingons not only adopted Shakespeare but have (at least jokingly) retconned him to be a Klingon captured fannish imagination to the point where people wanted to actually try it.

For reasons best known to themselves, the various writers and show-runners of future Trek series never asked Okrand or other linguists to develop any of the other alien languages the same way. Maybe it was the expense of the consultation, maybe they just didn't want to burden writers with too many dictionaries. So really, the only thing that makes it "special" in that regard is that there is no consistent body of grammar or vocabulary for any of the others.

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    A very good answer! One thing that I think is worth adding is that Klingon fandom, or "klindom", used to be a very big thing. A lot of excellent Klingon-centric novels were produced (including the unsurpassable "The Final Reflection" by John M. Ford), and the FASA role-playing game really helped flesh out the Klingon culture (and even though they used a different Klingon language, it still generated a lot of itnerest in tlhIngan Hol). There's also the fact that tlh appeared at a time when conlangs in fiction wasn't as widespread as today, and it was more accessible than most are even today. – loghaD Jan 12 '13 at 21:19
  • The Final Reflection remains one of my all-time favorites, and for all my respect for what Marc Okrand achieved, I still sort of wish more of what JMF created had been used... – Michael Scott Shappe Apr 2 '13 at 18:56
  • There's also the fact that the Klingons are perhaps the most recognizable alien species from Star Trek. Sure there's Vulcans and Romulans, but can you even recall a single spoken word of Vulcan anywhere in the series ever? – Zibbobz Apr 15 '14 at 16:17
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    @Zibbobz pon farr ;) But actually, yeah, there's a fair amount of full phrases – Izkata Apr 15 '14 at 22:46
  • @Izkata I stand corrected. – Zibbobz Apr 16 '14 at 0:08

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