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Klingon for the Galactic Traveler
Marc Okrand
Pocket Books, $12 US
Original trade paperback, 224 pages
Publication date: September 1997

Klingon for the Galactic Traveler
Marc Okrand
Marc Okrand has done a number of audio works for Simon & Schuster Audio. They include Conversational Klingon, The Klingon Way - A Warrior's Guide and Power Klingon. His books include The Klingon Dictionary and The Klingon Way.

ISFDB Bibliography
Dragon Systems Klingon Speech Recognition
The Klingon Language Institute

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Alexander von Thorn

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It may seem strange to think of etiquette in the context of Klingons, but the fact is that Klingons are a touchy race who one would not want to inadvertently offend. As Klingons become more commonplace (one often sees them at science fiction conventions), and the Klingon language and Klingon culture becomes more widespread in human societies, some people may be tempted to strike up a conversation with them. While this book goes into great detail about the arts, rituals, and everyday life of Klingons, it makes the point over and over that it's best to be cautious when speaking to them.

Klingon for the Galactic Traveler builds on Marc Okrand's earlier work The Klingon Dictionary. The new book doesn't include a general pronunciation guide, grammar, or basic vocabulary -- it assumes the reader has already mastered those. Instead it focuses on variations, dialects, jargon, and other specialized uses of the Klingon language. The standard dialect, the ta' Hol, is really the language of the imperial court and the First City; this has become standard because, in this highly stratified culture, imitating the speech of the court indicates respect for and proximity to the ruling elite. In fact in pre-spacefaring times, Klingons spoke many languages. Many of these have become extinct, as Klingons do not have a concept of "minority rights" among conquered peoples, but strong regional dialects remain. Alien terms, from races the Klingons have conquered, have also entered the language. In this status-conscious culture, a merchant will not speak the same way as a general even if they are from the same area.

Of the section of specialized vocabularies, fully half pertains to warriors, warfare, and weapons. There are different words for each blade which is part of the Daqtagh, the three-bladed warrior's knife. The section on food will make many humans look to a vegetarian diet; the word "blood" is mentioned ten times and "alive", "live", or "living" six times. There's a whole page just on the subject of qagh, and there is an idiom literally meaning "to kill gagh" which means to do something counter-productive. And there are sections on Klingon table manners; don't ask someone to pass something, and if you tell the server he got your order wrong, have a knife handy.

The section on idioms, aside from having intrinsic value in aiding communication, also has a lot to say about Klingon culture and ordinary assumptions, especially the pages about similes. The phrase which translates "the cup contains water" has the meaning "this is completely wrong", because water symbolizes weakness and should never be found in a drinking cup. There is a section on generational differences, a lot about slang, and a bit about "intentional ungrammaticality" which is definitely best practised only by native speakers.

One of the most important chapters of the book is titled "Avoiding Gaffes". One might comment sympathetically "Huch DaHulth" ("you lack money"), but to mispronounce it as "Quch DaHulth" ("you lack a forehead") is a deadly insult likely to result in immediate combat, probably without weapons. And there are pet names that are appropriate for pets or children, but were you to refer to a potential mate with one of these diminutives, you would find yourself in the market for a new mate, and perhaps a new limb; Klingon terms of endearment (bang pong) have a different source. The last fifth of the book is a Klingon-English English-Klingon glossary listing many of the terms from the book; this can be used as an addendum to The Klingon Dictionary.

It would be disrespectful to say that this book is an amusing read; "engaging" is a more polite (and thus much safer) description. The author does a great job of tying together all the little inconsistencies that have arisen in a setting with hundreds of screenwriters and novelists, making them seem the natural diversities of a complex culture. Klingon for the Galactic Traveler is an essential reference for students of Klingon culture and philosophy (and we all know a few), a good read for all fans of Star Trek shows and books, and, of course, a practical guide for galactic travelers as well.

Copyright © 1998 by Alexander von Thorn

Alexander von Thorn works two jobs, at The Worldhouse (Toronto's oldest game store) and in the network control centre of UUNET Canada. In his spare time, he is active in several fan and community organizations, including the Toronto in 2003 Worldcon bid. He is also a game designer, novelist-in-training (with the Ink*Specs, the Downsview speculative fiction writing circle), feeder of one dog and two cats, and avid watcher of bad television. He rarely sleeps.


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