Tag Archives: language

The Klingon Language

The Klingon are a fictional extraterrestrial race from the American TV Franchise Star Trek, and have been given their own formal language (rather than speaking nonsense on screen) by linguist Marc Okrand. Although the Klingon language has its own writing system, words are commonly written in the Latin alphabet (which is used extensively by most Germanic and Romance languages including English and French). In Latin script different sounds are represented by varying capitalization (q has a different pronunciation from Q), so beginnings of sentences are, unlike English, not capitalized. A 2010 book by Arika Okrent suggests that there are about 20-30 fluent Klingon speakers, possibly since most of its known, or rather, invented, vocabulary refers to objects common in the Star Trek universe. There have been various works that have been translated into Klingon, including Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing, The Epic of Gilgamesh, a version of A Christmas Carol and the Tao Te Ching. Finally there’s ‘u’, an opera performed in the “Klingon style”, first performed in September of 2010 in the Hague.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, Film and Television, Language

Double Post Part 2: Places and Things With Long Names

So there are places with long names, there are people with long names and there are things with long names. Let’s start with some fun ones. The official name of the Thai city of Bangkok (Krung Thep Maha Nakhon) is actually a shortened version of its full ceremonial name: Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphimanawatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit. The full name of the UK is the United Kingdom of Great Britian and Northern Ireland. The Maori name of a New Zealand hill is Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch is a town in Wales, Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg is a lake in Massachusetts and the full name of the protein titin is just short of 190,000 letters long.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, Language

From the Archives: Lacuna (Matata) (August 24)

A lacuna is the untranslatability of a word from a given language to another, or the accidental absence of a word that is allowed by that languages grammatical rules. In the case of accidental absence, you can turn some verbs in English (recite, arrive, etc.) into nouns by dropping the “e” and adding “al” (recital, arrival). However, describe does not have it’s noun form (describal). Similarly, in English, there is no gender neutral form of “uncle” or “aunt”, and there are no male or female forms of “cousin”. In the case of untranslatability a concept that has a word in one language might not have a word in another. For example, English has no word for someone who is not a virgin (specifically no noun), Romanian has no word for shallow (as in shallow water) and Welsh has no word for 11 (really it’s something like tenty one, but that’s two words so it doesn’t count). Untranslatability is overcome by borrowing words from other languages, creating new words, or translating into a phrase in order to convey that missing concept.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, From the Archives, Language

Writing and Thinking

Between most and all of the information for this post comes from Orality & Literacy: The Technologizing of the World by Dr. Walter Ong, particularly a section in Chapter 3 on the findings of studies performed by A.R. Luria. Luria was studying differences in the ways of thinking between the illiterate and the literate. Ong, in his book, uses Luria’s findings to promote the idea that being able to write drastically changes a persons ways of thinking. Luria’s observations of the illiterate, or as Ong puts it, the oral thinkers, include describing shapes by using familiar objects, rather than names of geometrical figures. The oral thinker lacks some ability to grasp pure logic, that is, they can use logic, but not separate pure logical functions from practical life. They refuse to define what a mundane object, such as a tree or a car, is, and they have difficulty describing themselves without using external measures such as income, current events or the opinions of others. Generally speaking, people with no access, or limited access, to writing tend to be more practical and don’t do as well inĀ  non-practical functions as the literate do.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, Language, Neurology, Science


A demonym is a word, typically (but not always) a noun, used to describe where people are from. For instance, people from Canada are Canadian, people from England are English, people from China are Chinese, people from Peru are Peruvian, people from Moscow are Muscovites, people from Iceland are Icelanders, and so on. Those were all typical demonyms, made from slightly changing the name of the place of origin. Other demonyms are stranger and possibly less clear. For instance, New Zealanders are sometimes referred to as Kiwis, people from the Netherlands are Dutch, people from Sweden are Swedes, people from the Isle of Man are Manx and people from Indiana are Hoosiers. Science fiction writers have taken the liberty of making demonyms for people (or aliens) from other parts of the solar system. Jupiter is Jovian, Venus is Venusian, Mars is Martian. People from Earth have several demonyms, including Earthling, Terran, Tellurian, Earther or Earthican. Finally, some demonyms can cause cultural problems. For instance, people from North Korea and people from South Korea are both Koreans, people from Niger are Nigerien while people from Nigeria are Nigerian, and people from the Greek island of Lesbos are Lesbians.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture