Star Trek & Linguistics


Although it would later be eclipsed by Klingon, the Star Trek franchise’s first conlang was actually Vulcan: the Star Trek: The Original Series episode “Amok Time” (1967)  by ‘Golden Age‘ science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon introduced many concepts which would become central to Star Trek’s representation of Vulcan culture, each with their own Vulcan term: Pon farr, for instance, is the Vulcan condition during which the Vulcan male must either mate or die.

In Robert Wise‘  Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) we see Spock undergo the Vulcan ritual of

The dialogue for this sequence was actually performed in English and dubbed into Vulcan at a later stage. The Vulcan dialogue was created by actor James Doohan (Enterprise Chief Engineer James Montgomery Scott – “Scotty” to his friends – in the film and TV series), an amateur linguist as well as a talented voice artist (as well as playing Scotty, Doohan provided the voices for Sargon in “Return to Tomorrow“, the M-5 in “The Ultimate Computer“, the voice of Mission Control in “Assignment: Earth” and the Oracle in “For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky“; for Star Trek: The Animated Series he recreated Scotty, played the voice of the three-armed, tripedal navigator Arex, and voiced the bulk of the male ‘guest’ characters). Doohan’s Vulcan was created entirely to sound alien but under the restraint that it would have to lipsync with the footage which had already been shot – so it would be interesting to hear what deaf viewers thought of this sequence!

Dakh orfikkel aushfamaluhr shaukaush fi’aifa mazhiv
Our ancestors cast out their animal passions on these very sands
Sha’koshtri korseivel bai’elkhrul-akteibuhl t’Kolinahr
saving our race through the attainment of Kolinahr.
Nahp – hif-bi tu throks
Your thoughts… give them to me
Kashkau – Spohkh – wuhkuh eh teretuhr
Our minds are joined, Spock… together, and as one.
T’Ish hokni’es kwi’shoret
I sense the consciousness calling to you from space…
Estuhl terrupik khaf – Spohkh
Your human blood is touched by it, Spock.
vravshal srashiv t’Kolinahr
You have not yet attained Kolinahr.
T’I kilko-srashiv kitok-wilat
He must search elsewhere for his answer.
I’tah tehrai k’etwel
He shall not find it here.
Dif-tor heh smusma, Spohkh
Live long and prosper, Spock.

For Nicholas Meyer‘s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), actors Leonard Nimoy (Spock) and Kirstie Alley (Saavik), speek four lines of Vulcan dialogue: as with the Vulcan for the first movie this scene was originally shot in English and redubbed into Vulcan constructed to match the actors’ lip-movements. This time, however, the producers had approached a professional linguist to create the dialogue, and it’s here that Star Trek‘s conlangs really take off!

Marc Okrand is an American linguist who worked with Native American languages; his dissertation was on the grammar of Mutsun, a dialect of Ohlone, an extinct Utian language. He met Producer Harve Bennett while in LA working on the close-captioning system for the 1982 Oscars. His brief involvement with Star Trek II led to a far greater involvement with  Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) and subsequently with Star Trek V: The Final FrontierStar Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation and the 2009 Star Trek film reboot.


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