Indiana native is expert on the 'Star Trek' language Klingon

 
 
Posted8/3/2019 7:00 AM

KOKOMO, Ind. -- "DopDaq qul yIchenmoH QobDI' ghu.'"

There aren't many people in the world who can read or pronounce that sentence.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Kokomo native Alan Anderson is one of the few who can.

The language is Klingon. Like the made-up language spoken by the ruthless, warlike humanoid species in the science fiction franchise "Star Trek."

The sentence literally translates to "Set fire to the side when there is danger," which is a Klingon proverb for when someone creates an embarrassing distraction to get out of a sticky situation.

That's right. Anderson speaks, reads and writes fluent Klingon.

It's a harsh, guttural language that only has been in existence since "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock" came out in 1984. That's when linguist Marc Okrand was contracted by the movie's producers to create a full-blown language for the Spartan-like race distinguished by their large, lumpy foreheads.

Now, Anderson has joined an even more elite group. Today, he not only speaks and reads Klingon. He's getting paid to do it as one of no more than five professional Klingon translators in existence.

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Anderson is an assistant translator for the newest installment of the franchise called "Star Trek: Discovery." The show was released in 2017 on CBS All Access and has now been renewed for a third season.

The job gives Anderson special access to an online drop box of all the episode scripts. When he's called upon, he translates the dialogue into perfect Klingon, which is then passed along to the actors and their Klingon language coach.

It all begs the question: How did a 57-year-old computer programmer who worked for decades at Delphi and graduated from Taylor High School in 1979 become one of the world's preeminent Klingon experts?

It all started with a Secret Santa party in 1994.

That's when Anderson received a copy of the "Klingon Dictionary," first published in 1985, as a kind of gag gift.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I guess I had been pegged as a Trekkie," he said. "When I got the dictionary, I first thought, 'Oh, this is cute.' Then I thought, 'Oh, this is really interesting. Too bad I don't have any use for it.'"

But that changed when Anderson came across an online group in 1995 dedicated to the study of Klingon. It was at the dawn of the internet, and the group was part of an emailing list in which diehard "Star Trek" fans discussed and wrote in Klingon.

"I discovered people are actually using this language in order to communicate with each other," Anderson said. "I thought, 'That is too cool. I've got to do this.'"

So he did.

Soon, Anderson had read through the entire dictionary, which included a complete explanation of the grammar and semantics of Klingon. Within a year, he was able to read what people were writing in the language without using the dictionary.

"I was like, 'Hey, I just read that sentence without having to look anything up,'" Anderson said. "That's a pretty great feeling."

It didn't take long for Anderson to become a dedicated student. He said there was just something about Klingon that felt right.

"It's unusual. It's alien. It's absolutely nothing like English," Anderson said. "Some languages, I just like the feel of the sound in my mouth. . With Klingon, each syllable is so packed with meaning, so you have to speak it slowly. I like that."

Anderson grew to love the language so much he decided to go to the third annual "qep'a'" - the Klingon word for "great meeting" - which is a conference put on by the Klingon Language Institute.

It was 1996, and it was at that conference where he first met Klingon-creator Okrand for the first time. For Anderson, a bright-eyed Klingon initiate at the time, the experience was surreal.

"It was a really interesting moment when we all met this guy who created the language that we were learning," he said. "Later that day, we were all literally sitting in a circle at his feet as he's telling us about the language. We were at the feet of the master."

Anderson hasn't stopped going to the annual conference of the Klingon Language Institute, which was created on a lark in 1992 by a college professor, but quickly caught on as a legitimate organization. Meetings have been held in locations all over the country, and was once even held in Belgium.

Today, Anderson serves as an assistant director of the group and was instrumental in bringing it to downtown Indianapolis for the last two years. The three-day conference wrapped up last week in Indy, and Okrand was there once again to teach his disciples.

Now, after speaking and studying the language for nearly 25 years, Anderson has gained a reputation as one of the leading Klingon experts in the world. He's one of only a handful of people who can flawlessly speak it as a second language. During conferences, he and other experts will speak nothing but Klingon for hours.

"We can speak Klingon all day - and we do whenever we're together," Anderson said. "We're good at it. We've got a solid grasp of the vocabulary and perfect grasp of the grammar."

And it was that skill that led to a phone call from the producers of "Star Trek: Discovery," asking him to be an assistant translator on the show. He got the job after the head translator, Robyn Stewart, dropped his name as a fill-in in case she was unavailable to translate a script.

Today, Anderson not only translates Klingon. He also teaches it to others on a Facebook study group and been known to translate songs into Klingon such as the "Circle Song" from "Sesame Street."

Anderson said some people question the use of speaking Klingon. After all, why not learn a real, actual language like Spanish? But Anderson said Klingon is as real as any other language.

"It's as real as Disneyland. That's a real place," he said. "The Mona Lisa is a real painting. The language may come from a fictional race and culture. They don't really exist, but the language does. Real people speak it and use it for conversation in everyday context."

And that's happening more and more as America's once-underground nerd culture has gone mainstream. Anderson said that's made Klingon more popular today than it's ever been.

Last year, the prominent language-learning app Duolingo released a long-awaited Klingon course. Klingon translations of "The Little Prince" and Sun Tzu's "Art of War" have recently been published. And the annual conference last year had the largest attendance in its 25-year history.

That popularity has given Klingon experts like Anderson a larger platform than they've ever had to show off their mastery of the language.

Anderson said Klingon is a fascinating language, and it's exciting to see it grow, but the real joy doesn't come from speaking it. It comes from meeting all the interesting people who do.

Just at this year's conference, there were pilots, playwrights, farmers, computer programmers, postal workers, military members and IT experts all meeting up to speak and study Klingon.

"It's a wonderful cross-section of people," Anderson said.

And that's the real reason why he'll never stop speaking the language of the most warlike race on "Star Trek".

"Come for the alien language, stay for the wonderful friendships," Anderson said. "For me, it's been all about knowing the amazing people I've met through speaking Klingon. That's what it is. It's the people."

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Source: Kokomo Tribune

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Information from: Kokomo Tribune, http://www.ktonline.com

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