As far as I can tell, throughout all previous Star Trek installations, the Klingon "national hero" Kahless was always pronounced "kay-less", with a stress on the first syllable.

In Discovery, however, his name is suddenly pronounced "kay-lesh", with a stress on the second syllable.

Was this a deliberate change, or is it an artifact of the new thick makeup that audibly gives various of the actors playing Klingons an hard time to pronounce pretty much anything at all?

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    This might help; trekmovie.com/2017/10/01/…. I'm not sure how to write an answer without causing offence, but the people who run the Klingon Language Institute were apparently responsible for the translations and pronunciations and their views on Klingon are a little.... odd and at variance with the Klingon previously seen on screen (which they refer to, derisively, as "Paramount Klingon" rather than their own "proper Klingon").
    – Valorum
    Commented Apr 7, 2019 at 20:20
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    I'm a member of the KLI, so you may consider what I say to be biased. First, I'm not offended that you think the KLI's views on Klingon are a little odd. It takes a certain kind of person to learn an artificial language invented for a fictional series. Second, it's not true that the KLI's ideas about Klingon is at variance with what's previously seen on screen. The TOS movies had higher budgets so that they took the time to write proper Klingon and had voice coaching. The TV series mostly just made things up on the fly. The KLI promotes the high-quality Klingon spoken in the TOS movies. Commented Apr 19, 2019 at 4:59
  • @dlyongemallo - I think there's a fairly good example of what I'm talking about in what you've said. "...proper Klingon". I remain unconvinced that the Klingon spoken by Klingons is the wrong version and the Klingon spoken by humans is the right version.
    – Valorum
    Commented Apr 21, 2019 at 20:39
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    AFAIK, nobody claims that the Klingon spoken by Klingons on-screen isn't real or proper Klingon in-universe. Okrand even explains this: the Klingon Empire speaks multiple languages and dialects. But when a scriptwriter lazily translates "Mother, I honor you" word-for-word as SoS jIH batlh SoH, people who know (Okrandian) Klingon rightly point out that this is bad quality Klingon "in real life" (out of universe). They're claims about different domains. Commented Apr 22, 2019 at 1:27
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    Maybe this analogy will clarify things. Imagine that there's a Federation Prop Society. Members of the FPS promote the use of Federation props as ideally imagined by the production staff. The show itself often fails to meet the idea due to budget constraints, etc. If I say that the phasers in the movies are higher-quality than on the shows, I am not making a claim about phasers in-unverse. Somebody who says "I remain unconvinced that the phasers used on the show is the wrong version and the phasers made by fans are proper phasers" has misunderstood what's being claimed. Commented Apr 22, 2019 at 2:44

1 Answer 1


It was not changed deliberately, but rather through a series of what might be called accidents. In some ways, this change resembles the evolution of how words are pronounced in natural languages, and in other ways, it's quite different.

When Marc Okrand decided on the sounds of the Klingon language, he had only the sounds used in Star Trek: The Motion Picture to go by. He also went back and watched the episodes of TOS with Klingons in them. He decided that Klingon names were really pronounced a certain way natively, but that what we heard was a sort of Anglicised version of them. So, for example, "Krell" was really Qel (where the Q is what linguists call the voiceless uvular affricate).

The name "Kahless" was spoken only in the TOS episode The Savage Curtain, and Okrand decided that the closest pronunciation in his language was qeylIS. Since he didn't expect the name to be spoken very often again, he wasn't going for consistency. However, TNG expanded on the story of Kahless greatly. The writers and actors on TNG didn't take particular care to be consistent with TOS, and in fact, the name was pronounced in several different ways before it settled on "kay-less". This is the pronunciation which stuck.

Star Trek: Discovery took much better care to be consistent with Okrand's Klingon. The actors actually received voice coaching, so that even when Klingon characters spoke English, they spoke with an accent as if English was not their native language. As a consequence, the name of Kahless sounds the way that it does.

This one video may give a general taste of how the Klingon in Discovery returns to Okrand's design:

  • The Savage Curtain aired in 1969. The Klingon Dictionary (which has the entry qeylIS for "Kahless") was first published in 1985. Rightful Heir first aired in 1993. I guess those citations establish the chronology: the qeylIS pronunciation came first, but was effectively ignored by TNG/DS9. As for how Okrand decided on the pronunciation of Klingon, he's spoken about it in various interviews. The fact that Discovery decided to be true to Okrand's original design for Klingon is also discussed in various articles one can easily find. Commented Apr 19, 2019 at 5:09
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    I guess I should disclose that I know Okrand personally and am friends with Robyn Stewart, the Klingon language expert who works on Discovery. Not that that means anyone should believe what I say if they can't verify it independently from reliable published sources. I'm just making clear where my biases are, namely, that I consider TOS/DSC Klingon to be higher quality than that spoken in TNG/DS9. Commented Apr 19, 2019 at 5:18
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    all good info that I'm not arguing with (because I'm aware of some of it as well) - but generally, in terms of what is looked for on this site - its better to include the references in the answer - with links if possible, rather than saying "go google it" - are they required? No - scifi.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/2706/… - are they good? Yes: scifi.stackexchange.com/help/how-to-answer
    – NKCampbell
    Commented Apr 19, 2019 at 13:32
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    Okrand tells the story of the creative process behind the invention of Klingon so many times that I don't know what to cite. However, this one video may give a general taste of how the Klingon in Discovery returns to Okrand's design: youtube.com/watch?v=nBgW0YNHSfw Commented Apr 21, 2019 at 14:36
  • The hazard of TOS is that the Excalibans are using the memories of Kirk and Spock who may not be expert Klingon speakers. But Worf pronounces it kay-less so I'll defer to him and assume klingons have some variation much like earthers have Jesus and hey-sus. That said it will be a cold day in hell before anything in discovery counts. Commented Jul 21, 2021 at 6:05

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