Learn Klingon: Duolingo launches course on Star Trek language
"Revenge is a dish best served cold."
This is one of several well-known Klingon proverbs for Star Trek — and Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill — fans. But for devout Trekkies, knowing the proverbs isn't enough; there's also a language to be learnt.
Duolingo, the popular language-learning app, has now developed its own Klingon course.
Felix Malmembeck, of Stockholm, is fluent in Klingon — the language spoken by Star Trek’s famed warrior species — and one of the minds behind the course.
Not just for Trekkies?
Malmembeck began learning the invented language in 2006 because of his long-dated interest in constructed language and MMORPGs, which stands for "massively multiplayer online role-playing game".
“I became interested when Star Trek Online was announced, back in 2005,” said Malmenbeck, who is a theoretical physics student at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.
But Malmenbeck had never seen the famous science-fiction show, he just knew Klingon “had its own conlang,” which is a constructed language with grammar and vocabulary devised for human or human-like communication — and that’s what got him hooked.
"It turned out that learning the language was a lot of fun and has a very vibrant — if small — community, which made me stick around," he said.
Many Klingon fans, like Malmenbeck, extend beyond the sci-fi series. It's very popular among linguists and academics.
Jeremy Cowan, a pediatric physician and amateur linguist based in Chicago, also worked on creating the Klingon course. He became gripped by the language when he saw the founder of the Klingon Language Institute, Lawrence M. Schoen, speak about the language at a sci-fi convention 26 years ago.
"Schoen was talking about the language at a panel at the convention. I went to the panel just to see what it was — but when he said there is a dictionary, [and that] you can go buy it in the dealer's room — after the panel I immediately went to the room and bought my dictionary and missed the rest of the convention," said Cowan.
Hard to learn?
Cowan is fascinated by languages. He's fluent in native English, Spanish and speaks some French — and has studied Polish, Japanese and Scottish Gaelic. So how does Klingon compare to other languages when gauging its difficulty?
"In general, Klingon is an easy language. Because it was created, it's fairly logical and has a limited number of exceptions to rule," he said, pointing out that the grammar is easier to learn than "natural", or non-invented, languages.
"On the other hand the vocabulary can be harder because it's designed not to have connections to words we know," said Cowan, such as when English speakers easily identify words in the Romantic or Germanic languages.
The Klingon community is big — but sparse. Klingon aficionados usually connect online or meet at one of the institute's annual meetings, which Cowan helps run.
He hopes the Duolingo course will be a "jumping point for people to get involved in the [Klingon] community."
Luckily for Malmenbeck, he can practice Klingon with a friend in a neighbouring city, which is quite rare: "Many people have to travel abroad to find another speaker."
But has Klingon been powerful enough to find Malmenbeck a love interest?
Malmenbeck says languages and their conlangs don't matter when it comes to romance.
"Can't say I've ever made note of what language I fall in love in."