The Klingon Language Institute

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The Klingon Language Institute (KLI) might be the most interesting institute for languages ever. At least for Star Trek fans. Founded 1992 in Flourtown, Pennsylvania, by Lawrence M. Schoen Ph.D., the KLI’s goal is to promote the Klingon language and culture. By now the KLI counts around 2500 members from all over the world.

Klingon
Klingon alphabet

Klingon is a completely artificial language, created for the third Star Trek movie (The Search for Mr. Spock) by Dr. Mark Okrand, a trained linguist. The language’s basic sound, along with a few words, was first devised by James Doohan (Scotty). Klingon is classified as a constructed fictional language with its very own vocabulary and grammar. It’s is an agglutinating language, where sentences are structured in the order “object – predicate – subject”.

But back to the KLI. It’s an institution for people actually wanting to speak Klingon. It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner, an intermediate or a fluent speaker already – the KLI welcomes all stages of learners. The quarterly published HolQeD (until 2005 as a printed journal, ever since in an online version) actually is an academic journal registered with the Library of Congress and catalogued by the Modern Language Association.

Members meet up during the large annual meetings of the KLI (qep’a’), but there are also smaller ones(literally translating “qepHom“) practically everywhere around the world, with the largest of those taking place in Saarbrücken, Germany. In 2003 a documentary about the qep’a’ titled “Earthlings – Ugly bags of mostly water” was filmed, hitting the movie theaters in 2006. In Star Trek VI, Klingon chancellor Gorkon remarks that Shakespeare is best in it’s original, Klingon version… and bam! Of course the KLI supported the translation of Hamlet into Klingon. To me that really is “filling a world with life” at its best!

Lawrence M. Schoen
Lawrence M. Schoen

I had the chance to speak with Lawrence M. Schoen, about the KLI and SciFI literature, and I can honestly say that Lawrence is an amazing guy with a lot of talents. I am seriously in awe that somebody actually had the idea and the energy to devote an entire institute to a completely fictional language, and I asked Lawrence how it all started. The story of the institute actually started a while ago, when Lawrence was 13. He was very interested in J. R. R. Tolkien back then and started to learn Sindarin. Later on, when he had already started his academic career, he was introduced to the Klingon dictionary during his linguistic fellowship year and found it so interesting that the idea to found an academic institute for that language was born. Back then the world wide web wasn’t accessible to everybody, just to the military and academics. And with him being an academic the KLI was born among the select few that had access to the internet back in 1992 and were interested in the Klingon language. The KLI is still growing today.

By now the KLI is the institute for Klingon language and is the go-to place for translations, as well as being consulted for movies and films featuring Klingon sentences – like the Big Bang Theory, for example. I just had to ask Lawrence about the most exciting project he was ever part of.

In Star Trek VI: The undiscovered Country, Klingon Chancellor Gorkon says the famous line: “You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon.” Lawrence told me that translating Hamlet happened after a lot of famous phrases and quotes from Shakespeare had already been translated. Actually Hamlet was more of a practice for translating Much ado about Nothing. Another large project had been the translation of Gilgamesh. So the interested reader is currently able to enjoy a variety of “Klingon literature” and there really have been too many exciting projects to pick one as being “extra special”.

Having tried to learn Klingon a few years ago, I really didn’t manage to get pronunciation right, and asked Lawrence about tips for aspiring speakers. He referred me to the annual meeting of the KLI and told me that there is a smaller meeting right here in Germany. He strongly advised talking to Klingon speakers to learn Klingon, and that there is definitely no need to be shy. It doesn’t matter if you speak only a few phrases or are fluent already, the meetings are very welcoming to all. And maybe Klingon learners in Germany will be able to meet Dr. Okrand himself at this year’s meeting. I am really excited and definitely will try to attend the qepHom.

Now, Lawrence doesn’t only hold a Ph. D. degree in linguistics, he is the founder of the KLI, a hypnotherapist, a small-press publisher and a science fiction author.  I personally wonder how many hours Lawrence’s day has – he says he just doesn’t need much sleep and keeps on juggling things a lot. He has been nominated for the Nebula Award for the third time in a row this year. The Nebula Awards are celebrating their 50th anniversary and while Lawrence says he doesn’t see a chance of winning the Award, it is of course a great honor to be nominated. His shortlisted novella Calendrical Regression, is set in the Conroyverse. The hero in this universe (the amazing Conroy) is a near future, down-on-his-luck stage hypnotist and experienced a lot of adventures over two novels, dozens of short stories and three novellas. And by the way – you can read a lot of the stories from the Conroyverse for free. Visit Lawrence’s website for more information and free reading material and indulge yourself in the rather funny Conroyverse. Until now Lawrence has always worked together with small publishers, but with his latest project, Barsk: The Elephant’s graveyard, he has taken the step  of working together with Tor Books, one of the biggest names for sci-fi and fantasy literature in the United States. In contrast to the stories from the Conroyverse, Barsk is not funny. It is serious, philosophical, abstract and covers topics like racism, death and discrimination. And it does it all with science fiction and metaphors. It’s an exciting new project and will be introduced at Frankfurt Book Fair this year.

As an aspiring author myself I just had to ask Lawrence – the head behind Paper Golem, a small press for speculative fiction – for a tip from a publisher and author to an aspiring writer. Lawrence’ number one rule is to read the guidelines of your prospective publisher and of course stick to them. Never deviate from the guidelines set for manuscripts. He says those guidelines, rules and requirements might seem arbitrary, but they are important, making the editor’s jobs easier. Paper Golem for example only has three rules, and if you cannot manage to follow three simple rules, the publisher knows you will be a pain in the butt to work with. So while you might have the feeling your potential publisher is not interested, following those rules really is essential to find the success you are looking for.

I had so much fun talking to Lawrence and there still are a lot of questions that I want to ask this amazing author. Hopefully ,I will have the chance to speak to him about Barsk and his new projects when the book is out.

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Dani Gutsch
Dani studied human biologies and majored in biochemistry, microbiology and tumor pharmacology. In 2008 she started working as a scientific assistant for Marburg University as well as starting her then "secret" career as an artist. Since 2012 she is fully working as an self-employed medieval bathing maiden, firedancer, stilts-walker, musician and writer.