[tlhIngan Hol] Code vs. Language revisited
sustel at trimboli.name
Thu Aug 19 08:42:11 PDT 2021
On 8/17/2021 10:55 AM, Will Martin wrote:
> I’ve long argued that the Klingon is not encoded English, pushing
> people to avoid the common beginner-translation errors that people do
> in most languages, believing that translation is a process with
> specific rules, and if you follow those rules and do the process
> you’ve translated text from one language to the other, right?
I think calling this idea encoded English does a disservice to the
student. They're not trying to create a cipher for English; they
genuinely aren't familiar with idea that translation is not an exact
science. They tend to think that there is a "right way" to translate
something. Even the idea that the glosses in /The Klingon Dictionary/
are translations is a bit of an eye-opener when it comes.
When you berate a student that Klingon is not a code for English, you're
imputing intentions and thoughts to them that they're probably not
having. The understanding they lack is that translation is subjective,
not that it's not a cipher.
> That said, I’ve come to realize recently that most formal language
> learning goes through an academic filter that fails to teach anyone
> how to reliably translate any language to any other language. The best
> translators always have years of “native language” experience in both
Er... how did you determine this?
I mean, I imagine that most formal language learning these days is aimed
at producing conversational speakers, not translators. My guess is that
translation has its own formal educational departments, and the "best
translators" you mention above have an education that includes these things.
The difference in Klingon is that the /only/ learning materials we have
are explicitly geared toward producing conversational speakers, and
those only have "brutish" ability. Why would we expect to see expert
translators of Klingon appear out of the blue?
> Most American Sign Language interpreters, for instance, are CODAs
> (Children of Deaf Adults) or otherwise have been raised in a family
> that included a Deaf person with whom the interpreter actively
> communicated with from childhood.
My first guess would be that the best way to learn American Sign
Language fluently is to practice it with people who use it.
> Consider that if a native Basque speaker with no experience with
> English outside of their education had spent years in both early and
> higher education learning English took a vacation to Georgia and heard
> somebody say, “[It] don’t make me no nevah mind.” I bracket the “It”
> because it is optional in this common dialectic sentence. They also
> might have difficulty figuring out the verbal tone and facial
> expression that goes with it. They’d get the sense that it was a
> negative response, perhaps, but the rest might be mysterious.
Native speakers of English from places outside Georgia can go to Georgia
and be just as confused as your native Basque speaker. Your Basque
speaker simply hasn't learned the local dialect.
> Meanwhile, unless it becomes one of the random idioms that Maltz
> shares with us, we’ll never have that native experience of
> encountering “Don’t make me no nevah mind.” Lacking a deeper cultural
> experience with the race, we’ll never speak like natives.
> So, given that I live in a household that can’t completely agree on
> the “proper” way to say things in English, it’s interesting how
> vehemently this list argues about The Right Way to say things in
> Klingon, myself, in the past, among the most extreme in this opinion,
> though I’ve softened over the years.
The list doesn't argue about The Right Way to say things in Klingon; it
argues about what Klingons would find acceptable.
If I say point to a muffin and say /I eated that car,/ what I said is
just flat wrong. One might say that /eated/ is an overapplication of the
rules that typically shows up in children, so that if you hear a child
say it you might accept it, but it clearly isn't a car and I clearly
haven't eaten it yet. The sentence is The Wrong Way to say what I want
to say. But I have a native understanding of English /and/ a studied
one, and I can explain exactly what rules I'm breaking. I can tell
exactly where the line between acceptable and unacceptable is, or, if
the line is fuzzy, how acceptable it might be.
Klingon has no native speakers. No one has that sense of right and
wrong. We can't ask a native speaker to give us the answer. Klingon, as
presented to us by Okrand, is a dead language. You've got to accept this
or go home.
Some people want to make Klingon into a living language, and this is
kind of like rehabilitating ancient Hebrew into modern Hebrew: you can't
ask any native speakers of ancient Hebrew to explain their native sense
of the language. If Klingon goes down this road, then there is
absolutely no reason to care about what is "canonical": Klingon becomes
divorced from its Star Trek context and becomes something else.
Personally, I would lose interest at that point. Not because I'm
role-playing being in the Star Trek universe, but because Klingon itself
is an act of Subcreation (to use a term from Tolkien), and my ability to
sustain Secondary Belief in it depends on the author's skill at his
Subcreation. If Klingon were to pass out of its Star Trek context and
become a "real" language, the Subcreation would fail and I would be left
with trying to suspend my disbelief in it, making it completely
And that, to me, has always been the only real point to this ridiculous
language. It's like a story or song, well told, that you feel perfectly
comfortable believing in, even when you know it's fiction. It's like the
Muppets: we all know they're just puppets, but we also believe that
Kermit is a real "person" (frog). It's why when people visit the set of
Sesame Street and one off the puppeteers meets them with Cookie Monster
or Oscar and they're standing right there with a Muppet on their hand,
these people start crying: they're meeting /people/ they've loved all
their lives, never mind the puppeteer standing right there. That's what
Klingon is. It's a Subcreation that you can believe in /because/ of its
Star Trek backstory. Abandon that, and it's like meeting Kermit the
Frog, only they've decided to "improve" him by making him blue and
having him talk with a Brooklyn accent. You don't do that, because you
destroy the Subcreation.
So no, the arguments aren't about The Right Way to speak Klingon.
They're about How Klingons Speak Klingon.
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