The Sounds of Klingon

The sounds of Klingon individually occur in existing Terran languages, but no single language uses the entire collection. Paramount wanted the language to be gutteral and harsh, and Okrand wanted it to be unusual, so he selected sounds that combined in ways not typically found in other languages (e.g. a retroflex D and a dental t, but no retroflex T or dental d). Here's a description of the sounds of Klingon, and the way they're written in the standard Okrand writing-system (see another page for a discussion of another writing system). You can also find out about some everyday phrases in Klingon.

Note that some of the sounds of Klingon are represented by more than one letter of English. You should think of these combinations as single letters, since they represent single, simple sounds in Klingon. So a Klingon ng is not an n followed by g (Klingon has no g anyway!); it's a simple sound on its own.

You'll also find that the orthography of Klingon uses capital and lowercase letters a little differently from the way you're used to. Mostly, capital letters are used to help remind you that a letter sounds different in Klingon than it does in English. Be careful when writing Klingon to use the correct capitalization (i.e., the capitalization appropriate for the sound; do not capitalize the first letter of your sentences in Klingon), since otherwise it's hard for people used to the language to read it. Be especially careful with q and Q, since these represent different sounds in Klingon (confusing them would be like confusing "f" and "g" and English). Also be careful with the letter ', the apostrophe. It may not look like much to English-accustomed eyes, but in Klingon it's a full-fledged letter. Omitting it would be like deciding it's not important to type "t"'s in English anymore.

When speaking Klingon, be sure to speak forcefully. Some of the sounds may make the person you're talking to a little wet. This is correct and to be expected.

If your machine can produce sounds, select the letters showing how the sound is written to hear a sample pronunciation (by Mark Shoulson). Vowels are demonstrated with the consonant "b" on either side of them, so the example for the Klingon a will sound like someone saying bab. Consonants are demonstrated at the beginning of a syllable, between syllables, and at the end of a syllable, using the vowel a. So the example for the Klingon ch will sound like someone saying chachach (see? The sound ch at the beginning, between two vowels, and at the end).


a
[a] Like the "a" sound in English "father." Never like in "acid" (American pronunciation).
b
[b] Like in English "bob" or "playbill."
ch
[ʧ] Like in English "chew" or "chocolate."
D
[ɖ] Not quite like the English "d" sound. Touch the tip of your tongue to the very top of your mouth, the highest point on your palate, instead of near the teeth like for an English "d." Then do the same thing you'd do to make a "d."
e
[ɛ] Like the "e" in English "bed."
gh
[ɣ] A gargled sound, at the back of the throat. Like the Klingon H, only voiced. It's very much like the French gargled "r."
H
[x] A harsh sound in the throat, found in German (as in "Bach") or the Hebrew toast "l'chayim." Make sure you pronounce this harshly and unvoiced.
I
[ɪ] Like the "i" sound in English "bit."
j
[ʤ] Like the "j" in English "junk." Never like in French "jour."
l
[l] Like in English "lunch."
m
[m] Like in English "mother."
n
[n] Like in English "nose" or "any."
ng
[ŋ] The same sound as occurs at the end of English "thing," only in Klingon it can also come at the beginnings of words. Be careful when starting a word or syllable with this sound. It's against the rules of English, and it may take some practice.
o
[o] Like in English "note" or "mosaic." As with other letters, don't get distracted by English words spelled with the same letters. The Klingon word not sounds like English "note," not like "not" (which in Klingon lettering would be spelled nat).
p
[pʰ] Like in English "pipe" or "pop." Pronounce it with a puff of air.
q
[q] A little like English "k," but not really. This sound is to be made as far back in your mouth as possible, with the back of your tongue actually touching your uvula (the fleshy blob that hangs down over your throat). It sounds a little like you're choking.
Q
[qχ] A little like a Klingon q immediately followed by a Klingon H. Close off your mouth as far back as you can, like with q, and force air up, like you're trying to dislodge food stuck in your throat. It sounds a lot like you're choking.
r
[r] A lightly trilled or rolled "r." If you can't trill with the tip of your tongue, just do a flap (or even a regular English r will be understood), but don't gargle the "r," or it'll sound like a gh. Note that your friendly sound-pronouncer for these pages does a rotten job of rolling r's. Don't let that stop you from doing it right, nor should you worry about not doing it perfectly. Notably, Marc Okrand, the creator of the language, doesn't roll his r's consistently on the audio tapes he made. Also, be careful not to let the r "overshadow" nearby vowels. Klingon syllables mIr, mer, mur sound approximately like English "mere, mare, moor"; none of them rhyme with English "fur".
S
[ʂ] A sound somewhat like an English "sh," but made farther back. Put your tongue where you did for the Klingon D, but don't quite touch the roof of your mouth. Make an "s" sound with your tongue up there.
t
[tʰ] Like English "t" in "tip." Pronounce it powerfully, with a puff of air.
tlh
[tˡɬ] This is a tough one to describe. Put your tongue in position to say a "t," but instead of pulling the tip of your tongue away from your palate, drop the sides, sort of like what happens near the end of the word "waddle" in English. This should leave you in position to say an "l," but make sure you don't use your voice: whisper the "l"; hiss it out between your teeth. The dropping of the sides of your tongue should be done forcefully; this is another spitter.
u
[u] Like in English "prune" or "fool."
v
[v] Like in English "vicious."
w
[w] Like in English "wisdom." Sometimes this sound will follow an a, an e, or an I, yielding:
y
[j] Like in English "yet." This sound, like w, forms diphthongs:
'
[ʔ] A sound we use in English, but don't consider a sound. It's the catch in the throat we put in the beginnings of words that start with vowels, or in phrases like "uh-oh." In Klingon, it can also come at the ends of syllables, where it has to be pronounced carefully (e.g. the words tI and tI' have very different meanings). This one takes practice to get right in all positions.

* Back to KLI Home Page