[tlhIngan Hol] some thoughts about canonicity

De'vID de.vid.jonpin at gmail.com
Sat Jun 25 23:00:00 PDT 2022

When the first edition of the paq'batlh came out, two points would often
come up when something from it was cited as evidence for or against a
particular opinion. The first was that it had questionable "canon" status
because it wasn't "purely" from Dr. Okrand, due to lines having been
changed on the advice of KLI members. The second was that it was poetry
(being something like the text of an opera) and not prose, and it wasn't
always clear whether a grammatical construct or particular phrasing was
standard or poetic. I think neither has really changed with the 2ed.

I know that the original edition of the paq'batlh was revised during two
qep'a' based on comments from members of the KLI. I don't know whether the
contribution was evenly distributed or heavily weighted towards one or a
few people. (Maybe someone who took part can comment on this.) But for the
2nd edition, I have definitely had much more input into the Klingon text
than anyone other than Dr. Okrand. Maybe in some people's minds that makes
its "canon" status more questionable. What I would say in defense of the
"canonicity" position is that Dr. Okrand certainly had editors for his
other books and publications, and we don't know what inputs they had which
resulted in changes to the Klingon text. For the movies, the editors even
changed the meanings of lines he'd already written, forcing him to
retroactively reinterpret them. In all of his previous projects, he was not
composing his own Klingon sentences freely, but translating ideas first
written by other people, to various degrees, and the paq'batlh is no
exception. AFAIK, these writers and editors didn't know Klingon, and thus
couldn't catch errors or point out things which might contradict (or at
least raise questions about) things Dr. Okrand had previously written
(which is how these issues survived until the paq'batlh). He'd worked with
a Klingonist collaborator on Talk Now! Klingon, and some of his
pronouncements in HolQeD or the qepHom'a' booklets are the results of
interviews or exchanges with Klingonists. All of these things are normally
considered "canon", and I think it's a fair argument that the paq'batlh 2ed
is no less so canonical by the same criteria. It's also likely to be the
longest Klingon text produced by him that we're ever going to get.

But not everything in "canon" is necessarily an example of correct normal
prose. There are, for example, "canon errors", like {nuqDaq So'taH yaS}.
That brings us to the prose vs. poetry question. In-universe, as explained
in the introduction, the paq'batlh was translated into modern Klingon from
textual fragments in various stages of the Klingon language, and it is
related to the libretto of the Klingon opera {'u'}. So it largely follows
the rules of standard Klingon in the sense of Dr. Okrand's description of
{ta' Hol} in his various works, but the fact that it is an opera also means
that some rules are broken. For example, {jach} would normally be used with
{jatlh}, like {jach veqlargh jatlh <blah>}. But there are three places
where the Master of the Scream (MOS) narrates that someone shouts to Kortar
to alert him that someone is bound for the Underworld, and the shouted
words by that someone immediately follow (without {jatlh}). In addition,
there's a chapter that ends with {jach qeylIS}, and the next chapter is
just the words shouted by Kahless at Molor, followed by Molor's shouted
reply. {jatlh} was deemed unnecessary in these cases because it's just the
format of this particular operatic text. I hope it's mostly obvious when
something is standard Klingon and when the rules are bent due to poetry,
but it may sometimes be ambiguous.

I think there's a mistake that many people often make when looking at
"canon", and that is to consider every sentence written by Dr. Okrand
(excepting known errors) as if it were an example of grammatical, normal,
standard prose that one would find in a textbook, for the purpose of
illustrating some point of grammar. What working with Dr. Okrand to edit
the paq'batlh has clarified for me is that he plays two very different
roles. Obviously, the first is that he's the creator of the Klingon
language. But equally, he's also a user of the Klingon language, and it's
important to keep that distinction in mind when evaluating his Klingon

Quite often, Dr. Okrand would agree that there are multiple ways of
expressing something, but that he preferred one option over the others.
Frequently, that preference was constrained by a very specific context,
such as the number of syllables, or having to roughly match up with the
English text, or alluding to another passage in the text. I don't think he
intends that everyone should have the same preferences he does, and in
particular I don't think he intends to imply that his preference in this
one context would carry over to other contexts. But when people read the
paq'batlh and they see how he's translated something, they might make the
mistake of thinking that that's the "one true way" of expressing that idea.
But in translating the paq'batlh, he isn't acting in the role of creator
but of user. He may be a particularly privileged user in the sense that he
can create new grammar and declare apparent errors to be actually correct,
but he's still a user of the language, and in translating the paq'batlh he
was subject to (almost) the same constraints as anyone else would be in
that position.

So I think that one has to be very careful in treating the paq'batlh as
canon in that being a canonical text doesn't mean that everything in it is
the only way to express something, or even the right way to do so in
another context. I realise that viewing the paq'batlh in this way makes it
less useful in settling debates or deriving grammatical rules, but the text
is meant to be read and enjoyed as an epic story, and not as a guide to
grammar. But I understand the motivation to treat it as one, given our
paucity of Klingon sentences composed by Dr. Okrand.

p.s. I know a lot of people will want to ask him for clarifications. While
working with him, he acknowledged that he's sometimes contradicted himself
and doesn't remember everything that he's ever written about a subject. In
the job of editor, I basically researched and presented him with all of the
relevant material I could find on a topic before asking him for
clarifications, and that really allowed him to clarify and reconcile
different things he's said written at different time (as I hope was evident
in my previous posts about verbs of speech, {meQ}, {tuQmoH}, {Hoch}/{ngIq},
{-lu'}, and so on). If anyone wants him to clarify anything, it would be
really helpful if you do the background research for him first.

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