Klingon (tlhIngan Hol)


/t͡ɬɪŋɑn xol/ (Help:IPA)


Created by – James Doohan,
Marc Okrand
Homeworld – Qo'noS (Kronos),
Klingon Empire


at least eighty; special – Clipped Klingon, Ritualized Speech


OVS, agglutinative

Writing system

pIqaD, Klinzhai

Official Status

Official language in

Klingon Empire

Regulated by

Klingon Language Institute

Codes and Resources

ISO code(s)

tlh (ISO 639-2, 639-3)

SLI registry




Learning resources

Klingon Language Institute
Klingonska Akademien

The Klingon language (native tlhIngan Hol) is the primary language of the Klingon Empire. By on-screen accounts, it is the second most common language in local space with at least eighty dialects. Outside the Star Trek universe, Klingon is an established foreign language, with a number of fully fluent speakers once estimated to be between 20 and 30 people.


wIy cha' ("Display tactical")
- Mark Lenard (Klingon captain), Star Trek: The Motion Picture. First instance of Klingon heard on screen.

The first words in the Klingon language were invented by actor James Doohan, for the script of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

The language was further developed for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, by professional linguist Marc Okrand. This film established Klingon as a forceful and guttural language. Okrand further expanded the language with the publication of The Klingon Dictionary, which provided fans with a more complete lexicon to work from, as well as a set of grammar rules. Television and film featuring Klingon speech on screen have since employed this lexicon.

Klingon Language InstituteEdit

In 1992, Klingon language enthusiasts founded the Klingon Language Institute to further advance the development of the language. Through the work of the KLI, the vocabulary was extended and several non-fiction publications were produced, including Klingon renditions of Shakespeare and other Terran literature. Current information indicates the KLI is still active as a nonprofit corporation; their website has been updated since at least 2015.

Known dialectsEdit

General Klingon (ta' Hol), sometimes called the "dialect of the First City," is the universal standard dialect of the Klingon language. This term can also encompass the dialects of different regions of the Klingon homeworld and of various territories of the Empire. Some of the feudal Houses of the empire are known to have dialects of their own, and speaking to a Klingon in the dialect of a rival House can be a serious offense.

Clipped Klingon (Hol poD), also known as "battle language" (may' Hol), is useful in situations where time is of the essence, and is commonly heard aboard Klingon warships both in and out of combat. This dialect foregoes all unnecessary phrasing to convey information quickly and efficiently; often a sentence will only be one or two short words. Clipped Klingon is not exclusive to the military, and can be heard in everyday speech.

Ritualized Speech (no' Hol), or "ancestors' language," is reserved for the rituals of Klingon culture. This form is used for retelling classic stories, speaking oaths, in rites of passage, and in formalized ceremonies such as weddings. The rules for Ritualized Speech are very strict; the correct form of sentences is permanently set, and they must be recited as they are written without variation. A number of phrases in no' Hol are never heard outside of their ritual context. (Okrand, Traveler)



Klingon phonology is constructed of 21 consonants and five vowels. Since several of these phonemes have no English equivalent, they are romanized in a specific fashion which ignores conventional rules of English; for instance, an uppercase 'Q' does not represent the same sound as a lowercase 'q', nor do 'D,' 'H,' or 'S' represent the sounds in Klingon that they would in English.

Romanized Klingon and its IPA counterparts
a /ɑ/ I /ɪ/ p /pʰ/ u /u/
b /b/* j /d͡ʒ/ q /qʰ/ v /v/
ch /t͡ʃ/ l /l/ Q /q͡χ/ w /w/
D /ɖ/ m /m/ r /ɹ/ y /j/
e /ɛ/ n /n/ S /ʂ/ ' /ʔ/
gh /ɣ/ ng /ŋ/ t /tʰ/
H /x/ o /o/ tlh /t͡ɬ/

* - In certain dialects 'b' is pronounced like 'm'.


A particularly difficult phoneme for beginners to master is 'tlh'. This is often approximated in English with the digram 'kl', as in "Klingon;" this is close, but not technically correct. The proper pronunciation is as a 't' sound, but with the tongue in the 'l' position, thus producing both sounds at the same time.

'Q' and 'q' can also present difficulties. The uppercase 'Q' (sometimes approximated as 'kr' in English) is more forceful, like pronouncing 'q' and 'H' together. It can also be helpful to think of lowercase 'q' as less forceful.

The apostrophe represents a glottal stop, and is considered a consonant in its own right.


Syllables follow an onset-rime structure, the rime composed of a nucleus and coda; each element of the structure is monophonetic. Syllables may sometimes omit the coda, but never the onset. For example, the English pronunciation of "Klingon" breaks into "[kling][-on]," with the onset dropped from the second syllable; properly spoken, however, the 'ng' phoneme onsets the second syllable, as in: [tlhI-][ngan].

Syntax and morphologyEdit

Klingon has been described on screen as having an adaptive syntax, which basically means it can bend or break its own rules. However, there is a traditional set of guidelines which should be observed.

Basic Klingon syntax follows an object-verb-subject order. This is the reverse of English; for instance, the phrase "we are Klingons!" would be said, "Klingons are we!"

Klingon is an agglutinative language, which means most elements of its syntax have a morphological equivalent. In other words, instead of using separate descriptive words, elements take the form of prefixes and suffixes which are added to corresponding root words.

In English: “Brute strength is not the most important asset in a fight.” (The Klingon Way, p.21)
Transcribed: “Fight[indefinite subject][continuous][while] be-enough[not] strength only”
In Klingon: Suvlu'taHvIS yapbe' HoS neHSuv[-lu'][-taH][-vIS] yap[-be'] HoS neH – each syllable is its own term

Prefixes and suffixes are classified into various types; the type determines where and when a given affix is placed. In the above example, the suffixes to the root word Suv are type-5, type-7, and type-9 verb suffixes respectively. The negation suffix -be' is a roving suffix, which immediately follows whatever part of speech it is negating. No more than one of a given type of affix may be in any given word.

While suffixes can be applied to verbs or nouns, prefixes are exclusive to verbs. Prefixes are typically pronouns, whose exact forms depend on the subject and object of the sentence; for example, the command "Kill them!" uses the imperative prefix tI-, whereas "I will kill them!" would use the prefix vI-.

There are no adjectives in Klingon; verb suffixes are used instead. The phrase for "deck two, red sector" would roughly translate as "deck two, sector[is red]." Prepositions are also absent; two type-5 noun suffixes indicate direction either toward/at a location or away from it. The phrase "over the hill and through the woods" would translate as "hill[to] and woods[to]."

Writing systemsEdit

"Damage control is easy. Reading Klingon, that's hard."
- James Doohan (Montgomery Scott), Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Klingon writing runs horizontally, usually presumed to move from left to right in descending lines. Lines of text are centered relative to one another in some examples.


pIqaD is the writing system most commonly used by Klingon speakers (apart from romanized Klingon), and is the on-screen standard in Star Trek. The original symbols, ten in all, were developed by the Astra Image Corporation for The Motion Picture, based on Matt Jeffries' symbols from the original series and influenced by Tibetan and Devanagari. These symbols were expanded upon and assigned phonetic values by an anonymous source at Paramount Studios, who submitted his/her system to the Klingon Language Institute. (Wikipedia)

KLI pIqaD, as it has become known, has a twenty-six letter alphabet and ten numbers; its phonemes are based on Okrand's dictionary. It is commonly believed that this alphabet has never been seen on screen, but it has appeared in at least one episode.

Another interpretation of pIqaD, using only the symbols designed by Astra Image, was used by the trading card company Skybox as an English cipher for one of its card sets; each symbol represents several different letters. Skybox pIqaD also features punctuation, which is notably absent from all other known examples of Klingon writing.

Theory: pIqaD as an abjadEdit

The Sato Institute offers its own theory that the Astra Image symbol set represents an abjad, a writing system consisting of only consonants. The name Kahless, for example, is spelt qeylIS alphabetically, but would be written qylS in an abjad.

The Institute is currently working on an orthography for abjad pIqaD. Like in Skybox pIqaD, a given symbol can represent more than one sound, but the sounds are grouped by phonetic similarity rather than at random. It also incorporates the 'stop' symbol which has been seen on screen since the Skybox card set was published. The symbols can also represent numbers or convey symbolic meanings.

The Sato Institute is pursuing this due to an on-screen instance of Klingon which, according to Memory Alpha, is confirmed to say "deck two, red sector." Neither existing system of pIqaD is able to explain this instance, thus requiring an alternate resolution.


Klinzhai, an alternate Klingon script developed in 1980, more closely models Matt Jeffries' symbols from the original series than pIqaD and has a different set of phonemes. The Motion Picture debuted with pIqaD in 1979, so Klinzhai has mostly fallen out of use; however, it has been suggested that the script is used to write an alternate dialect known as Klingonaase.


See alsoEdit


External links and resourcesEdit

Books by Marc Okrand:

  • The Klingon Dictionary
  • The Klingon Way: A Warrior's Guide
  • Klingon for the Galactic Traveler