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TorgoX (1933)

TorgoX
  sburkeNO@SPAMcpan.org
http://search.cpan.org/~sburke/

"Il est beau comme la retractilité des serres des oiseaux rapaces [...] et surtout, comme la rencontre fortuite sur une table de dissection d'une machine à coudre et d'un parapluie !" -- Lautréamont

Journal of TorgoX (1933)

Saturday June 15, 2002
10:59 PM

Among the Klingonistas

[ #5689 ]
Dear Log,

Earlier this year I decided it'd be a fun diversion to go learn some Klingon. I read the grammar sketch and decided I needed some practice, so I tried my hand at translating The Oblique Strategies into "the original Klingon". This was a wonderful exercise in oracular stylistics. For example, I got to produce some clear Klingon "originals" with some interesting semantic relationships to Eno and Schmidt's English "translations". For example, for Eno and Schmidt's oblique strategy "Slow preparation, fast execution", I produced the Klingon original QIt yIqeq, vaj nom yImuH, which means "Prepare slowly, then kill him quickly!".

Now, the Klingon grammar sketch is a hilarious book -- it's a deliberate parody of bad prose, specifically of badly written grammars (written by someone who, like me, has been driven to the edge of sanity by having to make sense of grammars with muddled prose). So I assumed that anyone interested in fiddling around with Klingon would have somewhat of a sense of humor and irony toward the whole endeavor, and so would appreciate my off-kilter translation of the Oblique Strategies.

I prepared a Klingon draft translation of the compendium of Oblique Strategies (which you can get in slashbox form on the use.perl.org mainpage -- in English, that is), and announced on the Klingon email list that I had a quite tentative draft at a certain URL. Quite surprisingly, there was no respose. After some days, I asked whether I should post the document to the list, in whole or in parts. It was suggested that I post it in parts, a few every week. People who had apparently missed my explanation of it the first time (and who couldn't be bothered to look for it) loudly complained -- "What's all this weird stuff? It's all weird jibberish sentences!" I (re)explained, to no avail. Hate and vitriol ensued, largely because I am a linguist, which I was surprised to learn is the very worst thing that one can be when among people (specifically, middle-aged American men) who spend years and years learning Klingon and memorizing vast tracts of the corpus of text that exists in the language.

Eventually the list owner was called in to tell them to stop trying to use me as a chew toy. (Harmful if swallowed!) They grudgingly returned to their usual endless screaming matches over vital topics like whether one can use a passivizer suffix with a semantically subjectless verb ("it gets rained", etc.). Incidentally, the absolute worst thing to do in those situations (passivizers, verbs, etc) is to say anything like "well, since the grammar is unclear, you might like to know that the tidy way that they've solved this in Hopi is...", because this invariably prompts the attacks of the sort "so what? If we were meant to have to know anything (like that), which is outside the grammar, it would be in the grammar! Darest thou suggest that the grammar is imperfect and fallible, thou heathen linguist?". I came to refer to that as the "Bible-school approach" to reading. Reading is fundamental(ist)!

Most notable in that temporary (month-long?) tussle was that many people felt it necessary to explain to me, in detail, how "execution" in "Slow preparation, fast execution" probably shouldn't be translated as "kill", because you see, in English, "execution" has several meanings, one of... (and so on). So I learned that the only thing more tedious than a detailed explanation of a joke, is a detailed rebuttal to the joke from someone who doesn't understand that it's a joke, can't understand that it's a joke, and (when told that it is a joke, really it is) insists that it CANNOT be a joke, it must be some sort of WICKED RUSE! Ad nauseam.
(Although one outpatient said that no, hearing me talk about it is even more tedious still -- although I think he may have been referring to hearing the voices in his head talk about me talking about it, which is an understandably uncomfortable remove from things.)

I persisted with the translation, and over time, a very few people managed to wrap bits of their mind around bits of what I was doing, and were able, occasionally, on a good day, to say things like "a better suffix to put on 'kill' here is...". I found that helpful as well as engaging.

But when my book got to the busy final parts (galley proofs and all that), I had to break off my semi-daily habit of redacting and posting a new section of the translated Oblique Strategies. Now that the book is done (due in stores at about the end of the month!), I find that I have no desire to get back into the swing of the (about 80% done) process of posting bits of the translation to the Klingon list, and revising based on the few resulting coherent suggestions, since I as far as I could tell, most of the people on the list just didn't get it, as they loudly said over and over and over, shrilly and hatefully.

So I think I'll just drop it.

I am tempted to say "Well, on the whole, it was fun while it lasted" -- but really it wasn't.

The moral is: When someone says "Knock knock!" (starting a knock-knock joke), if people say "Oh GOOD GOD, someone's at the door!!" and start arguing over which door to run to -- that's when you know it's time to find any door, and leave, before it all turns to gunplay.

A corollary (if not a moral) is that while I had thought that p5p was the rock bottom of human communication, it is (in relative terms) actually very intelligent and civil. At least while Tom is away.

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  • ...has made me almost want to learn Klingon.

    Note that I said almost. :\

    --

    ------------------------------
    You are what you think.
    • Lately I'm telling people: if you have an itch to learn a language, go learn American Sign Language. It's good and good for you! Really, it switches on whole new parts of your brain.

      Or if you want vocal languages, learn Haitian. Or Hopi! Or Hawai'ian! Or Maori! Or Malay! Or Swahili! Or Tagalog! Or hell, Nahuatl, or Korean, or Hindi, or Tamil, or Vietnamese! Each of these is as interestingly non-European as Klingon is, each in its own way. Each of these languages has a real, huge, imaginative literature -- whether as music or in prose. For each of those languages, there are texts, but you'll have a fun time calling around to track down Viet/Malay/Haitian/etc music or books or dictionaries or videos. You can start at Amazon and Yahoo.

      And unlike Klingon, those languages are 1) not copyrighted by Paramount Studios, and 2) not a joke that fell flat, leaving people with nothing more interesting to talk about other than whether you can use a passivizer affix on a semantically subjectless verb.


      • Lately I'm telling people: if you have an itch to learn a language, go learn American Sign Language. It's good and good for you! Really, it switches on whole new parts of your brain.

        Or if you want vocal languages, learn Haitian. Or Hopi! Or Hawai'ian! Or Maori! Or Malay! Or Swahili! Or Tagalog! Or hell, Nahuatl, or Korean, or Hindi, or Tamil, or Vietnamese! Each of these is as interestingly non-European as Klingon is, each in its own way.


        The best of these languages, and the worst about Klingon, is that
      • I was always disappointed that there was no Vulcan language invented. The few samples we have (Star Trek: The Motion Picture) are quite obviously just garbled gibberish based on English (same sounds, etc.) I bought the original Klingon dictionary and still have it, but I could just never get the urge to devote the time to the Klingon language when I was always much more interested in Vulcans. (Practically memorized Spock's World in Junior High School. I was pretty serious.)

        --
        J. David works really hard, has a passion for writing good software, and knows many of the world's best Perl programmers