[tlhIngan Hol] I've had it with the finger verbs !

Rhona Fenwick qeslagh at hotmail.com
Mon Aug 1 07:37:06 PDT 2016

ghItlhpu' naHQun, jatlh:

> The relationship words are very useful.

jang mayqel, jatlh:

> I respect your opinion, but I don't agree. They are confusing and useless.

With respect, you've almost certainly never seriously spoken a non-Indo-European language if you think the Klingon kinship terms are confusing and useless.

(My apologies - I'm going to dive into deep detail here.)

The way languages divide up kinship terms are as diverse as the way they divide up colours, and perhaps even moreso. I speak (among others) Turkish, and in Turkish there is not just one, but three words for "aunt": /teyze/ (your mother's sister), /hala/ (your father's sister), and /yenge/ (your mother's brother's wife). Conversely, there are no separate words for "nephew" and "niece": both are subsumed under /yeğen/. And you should see what's done in many Australian Aboriginal languages, where *every single person* in the society (and as though that weren't enough, virtually every type of animal known to them, as well as many plants and features of the landscape) is classified as a specific part of one immense kinship system, and this dictates not just your familial interactions, but who you can and can't talk to, what you can and can't hunt, where you can and can't go. It's shared across many language groups, too. My old anthropology lecturer, a fluent speaker of Yanyuwa, told us a story once about an Aboriginal man from the north of Australia who moved to Sydney (some 2700 kilometres) and when he was there met an Aboriginal woman and married her. And when he brought her home to the Top End and introduced her to his family, they chided him for marrying his daughter. Not his daughter in a blood sense, you understand, but within this kinship system it didn't matter. She had the same "skin name" as his own child would be, and so was supposed to be off-limits for marriage.

The reason different languages divide up kinship systems differently has a lot to do with the way societies are structured. Not every society depends on the nuclear family; some are built on much larger clans or kinship structures, and given the importance in Klingon society of the House, which is more like a clan or small tribe than a family as we would think of it, we shouldn't be surprised that there is such a complex array of kinship terms. When House relationships are so important, it becomes crucial to be able to accurately define your relationship with a particular person.

With the different terms for different types of cousins, often this arises because one set of cousins or another is considered an appropriate marriage partner within a given society. Marrying a cousin in some societies (particularly those that track kin through a single line of descent) is seen as a good way to consolidate a familial line and maintain kinship ties. Again, in Klingon society this would not be surprising, since the strength of a House is important and sometimes one might need to shore up the strength of one's House by marrying within it. If you're interested in learning more, I suggest you check this site out, which explains the six major ways in which Earth societies divide up family relations:


There are many variations on these systems, but this site explains the most common ones and the most common features of the societies that exhibit them. I'm in the middle of rewriting a paper I put together many years ago on the implications of the Klingon kinship system in particular (I'm an archaeologist and anthropologist by training, so this is an area of great interest to me), but I'm not yet finished with that paper. When I am, I'll let you know. But for now, suffice it to say that Klingon - as expected - doesn't quite fall neatly into any of these six major types, and bears elements from several.

QeS 'utlh
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