Klingons are probably the most famous alien race from the Star Trek franchise, renowned for their militaristic culture and ferocity in battle.
And their sensuous, walnutty skulls.
During the initial series, Klingons only spoke in English, but when someone was tricked into giving the creators money for an actual Star Trek movie, they realized that that wouldn't do anymore. They'd have to put a little more effort into it and invent an actual language. So they got the actor who played Scotty to record some gibberish into a microphone and used that. No shit.
"I'm an engineer, Captain, not a philologist!"
By the time they got around to making a third Star Trek movie, Leonard Nimoy, who was directing this one, hired Marc Orkand, an actual linguist, to take the gibberish Scotty invented and turn it into a proper language. With one condition: Whatever was invented had to match up with the lips of actors who had already recorded a scene in English.
Michel Boutefeu/Getty Images Entertainment
"So I said, 'Let's try, but there's no need to take this lightsaber stuff too seriously, fellas.'"
But the linguist did a fairly credible job of it, and by the time later movies and Star Trek: The Next Generation rolled around, Klingon had become a complete, coherent language with its own dictionary and grammar and everything. At this point, it was still solely for the benefit of the show and movie's writers. They published a dictionary containing the language, almost as a lark, but no one expected that their audience composed entirely of power-nerds would try speaking it for themselves.
Michel Boutefeu/Getty Images Entertainment
"The conventions? Oh man. They all have just the hammiest handshakes. Ham-like, you know?"
But oh yes, the power-nerds did. Although most only know a few words or phrases, there are definitely a few who are actually fluent in it. The main problem is that Klingon was purposefully designed to be alien sounding and as unlike English as possible, filled with a crazy stew of grammatical features from a variety of other, mostly Eastern languages. And the vocabulary itself is fairly limited, with rather a large part of it having to do with space combat, and not, for example, grocery shopping. That didn't stop one dad from trying to raise one of his kids as a native Klingon speaker. That slightly weird story has a happy ending, at least: The kid doesn't remember a thing.
"jISaHbe' vav." ("Whatever, Dad.")
Cracked has talked about the Voynich manuscript before, but no one's figured it out since then, so we're going to keep talking about it until one of you lazy bastards cracks it. Because it's certainly one of the most famous invented languages ever observed, unless it's gibberish, which it still might be.
This could be nothing, or hilarious, or really, really racist. We just don't know.
If you aren't familiar with it, the Voynich manuscript turned up in the collection of a literary collector in the early 20th century, but it's been carbon dated to sometime in the early 15th century. It's written in a completely unknown language using a completely unknown alphabet, and, just for fun, it's filled with strange drawings of completely unknown biological things and plants. "Bigfoot" is as good an explanation for its origin as any. "Bigfoot wrote this and read it back to himself while jerking off" is even better.
"Yessssss. All Bigfoot's shorties up in the green soup, getting all soupy."
All sorts of cryptographers and linguists have tried to crack the language, revealing a grand total of jack zilch. It's a little like existing languages, but not a lot, and it's full of strange features that don't show up anywhere else in the world. The best guess right now is that it's either a cypher of some kind, which is sort of plausible but for the fact that people back then weren't that good with codes, or a hoax, which is sort of plausible but for the fact that it really, really looks like an actual language, and people weren't that good at creating fake languages back then.
Edward Kelley was suspected of creating it as a hoax, primarily because of his
reputation as a schemer who always kept fake manuscripts hidden in his hat.
So we don't know. Do you know? You should tell someone.
For more from Bucholz, check out 5 Facts About Colors That Will Change How You See the World and So You're Now a Mech Warrior.
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