Boldly Going Where Few Have Gone Before, Pittsburgh-Based Company Launches Klingon Course

Mar 15, 2018

One of the world’s most uncommonly mastered languages can now be introduced to learners in five minute daily increments.

Pittsburgh-based language learning company Duolingo launched its free Klingon language course Thursday. The constructed language is spoken on the television show Star Trek and by a fictional species of the same name. It was popularized by one of the series' longest-running characters, Worf.

The course’s lead creator, Felix Malmenbeck, said it should lower the barrier to entry to learning the Klingon language.

“I suspect that this will lead to an increased number of Star Trek fans continuing their studies of Klingon. It also helps that Star Trek: Discovery has taken the language very seriously, meaning that there is now a stronger connection between the show and the language,” he said in a statement.

Star Trek Discovery is a rebooted version of the original show. While the language is centered around spacecraft, warfare and weaponry, creators said it also reflects the Klingon culture’s directness.

“For example, the closest word you can use to express 'hello' is 'nuqneH,' which actually means 'what do you want?' There are also plenty of insults in Klingon, as it is considered an art form,” according to the course description.

Credit Duolingo / Provided Photo

Development for the course began in 2015. It was created by a team of volunteer experts in the language led by Malmenbeck. Duolingo spokesperson Michaela Kron said there are an estimated 30-50 fluent Klingon speakers in the world.

Duolingo’s courses are not, however, designed to make a learner fluent. Kron said it's hard to know how long it would take someone to become fluent in Klingon. She said the course teaches the basics including insults and commonly heard phrases from the show.

“Felix and the other contributors wanted to have enough variety there where you could pick up on different concepts and learn some of the intricate grammar rules,” she said.

While the company prioritizes commonly spoken languages, Kron said the company also wants to bring fictional languages to life.

The company headquartered in East Liberty has courses in 30 languages. It also released a course in the fall on High Valyrian, a language spoken in the book series and HBO television show, Game of Thrones.