[tlhIngan Hol] Code vs. Language revisited

SuStel 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 
> languages.

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.
> Why?

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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