'Star Trek' And Klingon: Learn The Language Of The Aliens!

Creator Marc Okrand opens up to MTV News about origins of the 'guttural' language, teaching the 'Into Darkness' cast and more.

A new language was added to the Bing Translator this week, but it's not one that's commonly spoken in any earthly region. It's Klingon, the language of that particular race of aliens that can be seen in the "Star Trek" films and TV series.

"There's a group of really good Klingon speakers working on this thing," linguist Marc Okrand told MTV News. And he should know: Dr. Okrand created Klingon and is the author of "The Klingon Dictionary."

Okrand first came to "Star Trek" to create a few lines of Vulcan for 1982's "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan." "It's 10 seconds worth of film, if that," he recalled. "Mr. Spock has two lines and the character Saavik has two lines, and that's it." Okrand figured that was the end of his "Trek" involvement. "That was fun," he thought. "I got to teach Mr. Spock how to speak Vulcan."

Check out the MTV.com homepage translated to Klingon below!

But about a year and a half later, producer Harve Bennett called Okrand to tell him that Paramount was making another "Star Trek" film and, in this one, the villains would be Klingons. "He said, 'I looked around and I found out that there's nobody in charge of the Klingon language — you did Vulcan, you want to do Klingon?' That's how that happened."

Dr. Okrand was quick to point out, however, that he wasn't the first to invent Klingon words, which were initially heard in the original 1979 film. "Those lines were actually made up by James Doohan, the actor who played Scotty," Okrand explained. "When I got involved, I went back and looked at that, and wrote down phonetically as best I could what I was hearing, and wrote down what the subtitles were."

There wasn't a lot to go on. "There were only like half a dozen lines," Okrand said. "The guttural nature of the language came partly from Jimmy Doohan's stuff and partly because the script for 'Star Trek III' [had a line that] says, 'So-and-so says in his guttural Klingon.' "

Okrand had two goals in mind when he was first developing the language. "I wanted to make it sound weird and not like any other language," he revealed. "And on the other hand, it had to be spoken and learned quickly by human actors. So there's no sound in it that you can't find in some human language or other ... but the collection of sounds is unique."

By necessity, Klingon evolved throughout the filmmaking process. It wasn't feasible to halt shooting every time an actor uttered alien dialogue the wrong way so when that happened, Okrand would just go ahead and change the words retroactively. "Then there was one scene where the actor left a couple of syllables out, so I changed the grammar."

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Things became more challenging when Dr. Okrand returned to work on subsequent "Star Trek" films, particularly in the wake of the first edition of his Klingon dictionary being published in 1985.

"If [the actors] said a new word that nobody had ever heard before, I didn't care," he said. But if they flubbed a word that was already in the dictionary, he insisted on a redo.

The Klingon dialogue in J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek Into Darkness" is largely the responsibility of Zoe Saldana, who plays communications officer Nyota Uhura. She told MTV News' Josh Horowitz that it was more challenging than Na'vi, the alien language she mastered for "Avatar."

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"The phonetic composition of [Klingon] was different," Saldana said. "You needed to use deeper tones in your voice that I didn't even know I had. And I asked for a lot of tea."

But in Okrand's expert opinion, Saldana handled the dialogue admirably. "She was very good," he said. "It just sounded like she knew what she was doing."

Back when he wrote "The Klingon Dictionary," Okrand didn't think it would be anything more than an entertaining tie-in for "Trek" fans. "It wasn't until years later that I met people who not only bought the book and read the book but they studied the book and analyzed it and dissected it and circled every error in it and that kind of stuff," he said.

And now, with the help of Bing, legions of new fans can embark on a journey to Klingon fluency. But the translator still has some learning of its own to do. "My role in that is to make it get better and better," Okrand admitted. "It doesn't know all the words yet, believe it or not. Because I haven't invented them."

Check out everything we've got on "Star Trek Into Darkness."