[tlhIngan Hol] action based language

Will Martin willmartin2 at mac.com
Mon Nov 9 08:17:55 PST 2020

Okay, okay, I’ll confess it. I am absolutely positive that *I* and *I* alone am undeniably the first person on this list to use the term “verb-centric”. I coined the phrase here. It’s got nothing to do with canon or Okrand. It was merely an observation.

Is it a valid observation?

Yes, and no. I don’t think it’s useful as a foundational principal for teaching new people the language. It’s a stepping stone, not a bridge. It’s a small point of insight, not THE KEY TO THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ENGLISH AND KLINGON.

It’s the thing that I noticed while beginning to use the language. Viewing English from Klingon, I became aware of how intensely English relies on nouns. It’s so common for us to use nouns as verbs, until the language finally admits, “okay, okay, you can use it as a verb, too.” 

Witness: phone, fax, telegraph, text, message, etc. These were nouns, and we replaced the action of using the noun with the noun word, treating it like a verb, until somebody decided the practice was common enough to update the dictionaries. I’ll phone you. I’ll message you. I’ll Skype you. Can you fax that? Don’t worry. I’ll MuseScore that tune for the band and PDF the lyrics.

This is all stuff you can’t do in Klingon.

It is true that Klingon has more nouns and that nouns do cool stuff grammatically, but the simple truth is that a lone verb in Klingon is a sentence, and a lone noun is not. Verbs have a prefix, nine types of suffix, plus Rovers, while nouns get five suffix types. Verbs provide the foundation of every Klingon sentence, while nouns have the role of adding levels of detail, decorating the theme of the action of the verb.

Nouns get their grammatical function in a sentence based upon the relationship to the verb, either positionally or by Type 5 suffix. Stative verbs do define whether they are being used as adjectives or verbs based on relative position to the noun, and Relative Clauses hinge on which noun is the “Head Noun”, linking the Relative Clause to the Main Clause, these are special cases. By contrast, EVERY noun defines its grammatical role based upon its relationship to a verb.

English uses relative pronouns, where Klingon uses a relative clause indicated by the suffix on the verb changing the mechanism from a noun to a verb, divorcing the relative pronoun from its identical question word in English. 

Klingon has more nouns than verbs in the vocabulary because each noun has a more narrow range of potential meaning than each verb, especially since so many of these nouns are Proper Nouns. Nouns are detail oriented, specifying the thing you are talking about, while verbs give you the general action, narrowed by the wide range of suffixes, with perhaps a few nouns tossed in, optionally, just to be clear.

The earlier vocabulary in Klingon was weighted heavily toward verbs. Most of the more recent vocabulary has been nouns. I made my observation back before all these language programs that Okrand has been asked to provide words for asked for new words, almost exclusively nouns.

Check out statistics, for those of you who like doing this. Starting at most recent new words and sifting back to the original vocabulary, look at how Okrand keeps coming up with new nouns to flesh out the vocabulary, and how rarely he sees need to come up with new verbs.

In order to very quickly build a vocabulary that could express a wide range of meaning, Okrand started with mostly verbs, and as new word needs came out, a remarkable number of the original verbs have been able to carry meaning beyond their original intent through the use of suffixes, while most interest in new nouns… well… gosh, we better make up a new noun for that. The ones we’ve got won’t stretch that far.

So, yeah, I think that Klingon is verb-centric compared to English.

Okrand didn’t say that. I did.

I don’t say it as an authority with any special platform from which to Preach The Truth. I’m a guy who has used the language for a longer time than most of you, and waay back in the past, I noticed this thing about the language, and I don’t think I was far off the mark.

In Klingon, verbs are first, nouns are second, and everything else is chuvmey.

In English, nouns are first. Verbs glue the nouns together, assisted by a wide, floral variety of helper words that are critical in determining the meaning of the sentence. Witness the example in a message years ago where we move the word “only” around among the words in the sentence “I hit the baby in the head.” Word order in English is like American salads: Tossed. Helper words can stitch together almost any order of nouns and verbs you like in English.

Klingon has much more strict rules for word order, based on the positions of nouns and chuvmey relative to the verb at the core of each clause.

It’s weird being the anonymous source of something argued about decades after I said it.

charghwI’ vaghnerya’ngan

rInpa’ bomnIS be’’a’ pI’.

> On Nov 9, 2020, at 10:16 AM, Steven Boozer <sboozer at uchicago.edu> wrote:
> I couldn't find any obiter dicta from Okrand about being "verb-centric" (though my search was a quick one).  
> I imagine the phrase comes from the early days of the tlhIngan-Hol list in the 1990's when the known vocabulary of Klingon was much more restricted than it is now, requiring us to be more imaginative in our translating.  Recasting a sentence to focus on a verb when a "necessary" noun was lacking was, and still is, good advice.
> Nowadays we have much more vocabulary and canonical examples to draw on.  So much so that I am still updating my notes with the seven and a half pages (!) of new words and expressions from qep'a' 2020.  And just last week I stumbled over the words provided or vetted by Okrand from the OZ and Hamletmachine translations.  (Remember the good old days when we were happy with only three or four new words revealed at a qep'a' which we analyzed and discussed to death?)
> Voragh
> ------------------------------Original Message------------------------------
> From: Lieven L. Litaer
> Sent: Monday, November 9, 2020 8:47 AM
> Am 09.11.2020 um 15:17 schrieb SuStel:
>> I don't tell people that Klingon is verb-centric. I focus more on  > strategies of translating prepositions, adjectives, and genitives into  > constructions that exist in Klingon.
> That's an interesting point, and I'm curious to see how others argue about this.
> What I have observed is that many newbies come with phrases based on nouns like "My love for you is strong" and then we suggest them to rephrase it like "I love you very much".
> And then I recently started to wonder why we do that. Is it really the case that there are more verb-centric expressions or constructions than nouns? Or did we really just make that up many years ago, when we were missing so many words?
> (I actually noticed that after a detailed word count showed that we have about twice as many nouns than verbs; although 10% of them are names and transliterations.)
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