Klingon is the most popular fictional language in the world (and maybe the galaxy), but why did Star Trek decide to create it in the first place?
Klingon is officially the most popular fictional language in the world, but it only became part of Star Trek through a chain of coincidences. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is often seen as a breakthrough moment in the franchise's evolution, in part because it was more action-oriented than Gene Roddenberry's vision of Star Trek as social commentary. But it's also important because of the involvement of Marc Okrand, a linguist who specializes in closed captioning.
According to Okrand, he was flown to Los Angeles in 1982 to do closed captioning for the Oscars. Over lunch with a friend from Paramount, he mentioned his background in linguistics and was immediately hired to create some Vulcan vocabulary for a scene in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The actors actually spoke English, but during post-production it was decided that the scene would be better if they spoke Vulcan instead of a human language. Okrand's task was to create some words in Vulcan that matched the movement of the lips. It turned out to be the start of an astonishing career change.
How The Klingons Got Their Language In Star Trek
Klingons appear in Star Trek: The Originals series, but there they speak mostly English — with some guttural-sounding words coined by James Doohan (the actor who plays Chief Engineer Scotty). The Klingons got a visual makeover in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and this time around the production team wanted them to speak a "real" alien language. Star Trek turns to Oakland again.
Okrand's mission is complex. To maintain consistency, he had to create an entirely new fictional language from scratch, based on the few voices heard in Star Trek: The Original. Okrand grabs the sounds of different languages from around the world and starts translating them. He used his Neo-Klingon language to combine disparate voices from Earth to create something audiences had never heard before. He also established an unusual sentence structure that Klingon prefers object-verb-subject.
The Klingon Language Expanded After Star Trek III: The Search For Spock
Okrand taught the actors how to speak Klingon using tape and the writing system he created. He found the experience of making the film so enjoyable that he later decided to write a Klingon dictionary because he thought fans might be interested. Auckland no Thought how right he would be.
In a 2018 interview (via CNN), Oakland recalled that creating new words for a dictionary was more difficult than explaining grammar. "I decided not to make up any words related to Klingon geography or Klingon culture," he explained. "I know it sounds weird that there is a dictionary of Klingon that doesn't cover this, but the reason is that I'm not a writer, I don't write stories or movies, and I don't want to do something, but because of TV episodes or movies , the result turns out to be wrong." This turned out to be a heuristic, as it meant that Klingon words would not contradict plot points—so a Klingon dictionary could be a useful tool for future writers, directors , showrunners and actors.
Klingon has changed a lot over the years, but the language itself persists—thriving enough to be recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's most popular fictional language. The Klingon language continues to expand with each new Star Trek movie or TV series, but everything is Builds on what Okrand built. No other science fiction franchise has gone to this degree before, and it's unlikely that any of the others will prove successful in creating an entire alien language from scratch.