Readings — From the July 2016 issue

Set Phrases to Stun

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From an amicus brief filed in April by the Language Creation Society, a nonprofit organization, in support of the producers of a crowd-funded Star Trek fan film. Last year, the producers were sued for copyright infringement by CBS and Paramount Pictures, which own the rights to the franchise. The case is ongoing in a California district court.

Before 1984, when actors played Klingons in Star Trek television programs or movies, they simply uttered guttural sounds or spoke in English. Paramount hired Marc Okrand to create dialogue for Klingon characters in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. The version of Klingon created for the film was not a functioning language, however, and Okrand added more grammatical features and vocabulary before publishing the first Klingon dictionary.

Plaintiffs claim copyright over the entire Klingon language. The notion is meqHutlh (“lacking reason”). If this court commits this qab qech (“bad idea”), an entire body of thought will be extinguished. Hoch jaghpu’Daj HoHbogh SuvwI’ yIvup. (“Pity the warrior who kills all his enemies.”) By Plaintiffs’ account, everyone who translates something into Klingon, writes a poem in Klingon, gives a speech or presentation at a Klingon Language Institute meeting or Star Trek convention, or gives lessons on how to speak Klingon is a copyright infringer. Qam ghu’vam, loD! (“This will not stand, man!”) Plaintiffs’ argument that “a language is only useful if it can be used to communicate with people, and there are no Klingons with whom to communicate” is an insulting assertion. Many humans speak Klingon. People get married in Klingon. Linguist d’Armond Speers spent three years teaching his infant son to speak Klingon. Speaking and writing in Klingon is not simply a matter of transposing words from a different language, either. The Sesame Street theme-song lyric “Sunny day, chasing the clouds away” translates into Klingon as jaj pem puQmo’, chaw’nIS je Haj ’ej Haw’ raDchen, or “Day of the daytime star, the clouds are filled with dread and forced to flee.” Klingon is not just a language, but a state of mind.

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