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common grammar questions and problems

The intricacies of Klingon have led to many hundreds of questions being discussed on the KLI's email mailing list, tlhIngan-Hol. Some of those questions seem to pop up many more times than others; this is a collection of the most common questions asked (and answered) on the mailing list.

The Cat In The Hat Problem

The so-called "Cat In The Hat" problem was first proposed by pabpo''a' quv Captain Krankor many years ago, and has been asked about many times since. In English, it's permissible to say the cat in the hat comes back, with the word in standing in for what one would assume to be a verb phrase. Captain Krankor wondered whether a construction like mIvDaq yIH the tribble in the helmet would be comprehensible, or even legal.

The solution to the problem: mIvDaq yIH the tribble in the helmet is illegal in Klingon. According to TKD, the first noun of a noun-noun construction cannot take a Type 5 suffix. On the Bird of Prey poster, the phrase telDaq wovmoHwI'mey wing lights appears, an apparent violation of this rule. This could be simply a canon error: a normal noun-noun construction tel wovmoHwI'mey would have been sufficient in this case. The problem goes away if one interprets telDaq as a compound "wing-location" rather than a noun with the -Daq suffix. The English fails to match the Klingon perfectly in either case. The phrase ghe''orDaq luSpet a black hole in Gre'thor (PK) is also sometimes cited as a counterexample, but this is actually part of the sentence ghe''orDaq luSpet 'oH DaqlIj'e' Your place is a black hole in Gre'thor, which is perfectly acceptable Klingon, although that's obscured by the translation. Here, ghe''orDaq is functioning as a normal header noun. Besides, in English the preposition in appears to be a substitute for a longer subordinate clause: really, what we are trying to say is the cat who is in the hat, or even the cat who wears the hat. So say the cat who wears the hat: mIv tuQbogh vIghro''e'

The Eternal QAO Debate

One of the most hotly debated topics in all of Klingonism, the argument over whether questions can appear as the S1 of constructions is one that has existed for more than ten years now. Two main schools of thought exist in the debate: one believes questions are just like ordinary sentences, and therefore we can say things like nuq vIjatlh 'e' Dachup; the other believes that questions are grammatically distinct, and cannot be used as part of this construct.

The solution to the problem: DloraH was informed by Marc Okrand that it is, in fact, impossible to use questions as the objects of such constructions. This means that DaqIp'a' 'e' vISovbe' I don't know whether you hit her or not is illegal. Since DaqIp'a' is not an indicative sentence (it is interrogative), this makes sense; imperative sentences appear to be under similar restriction. For example, yItIv 'e' vIchup is almost impossible to make sense of. However, for more complex sentences like nuq vIjatlh 'e' Dachup, there are two possible interpretations: As a statement, using the question word as a relative pronoun as in English: You suggest what I say. It's not yet known whether question words can act as relative pronouns in this way; Marc Okrand also says this in his conversation with DloraH. However, it's likely that question words are just that; there is already a relative marker in Klingon, the Type 9 suffix? -bogh. In addition, on KCD Okrand used a headless relative clause (see under Relative Clauses: What Possibilities?) rather than attempt this sort of QAO, which indicates that it is probably not legal.

As a question in its own right: What do you suggest I say? There is currently no evidence for or against this interpretation, but it is probably best avoided. At the moment, the best idea is to recast the sentence.

Some examples:

For the meaning You suggest what I say: mu'tlhegh'e' vIjatlhbogh Dachup You suggest the sentence that I say. For the meaning What do you suggest that I say?: mu'tlhegh vIjatlhnISbogh yIngu' Identify the sentence that I need to say!

The Elephant I Shot In My Pajamas Problem

Not so much a problem as an ambiguity, the Elephant I Shot In My Pajamas problem is an issue with the interpretation of sentences which contain elements marked with -Daq. The name of the problem comes from an old Groucho Marx joke that exploits this ambiguity, which also exists in English: Yesterday I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don't know.

The Klingon equivalent - wa'Hu' nIvnavwIjDaq mIl'oD vIHoHta'. qatlh nIvnavwIj tuQ? jISovbe'. - demonstrates the problem: We don't know whether the speaker or the sabre bear is wearing the pajamas until we have a disambiguating context.

The solution to the problem: If writing sentences where interpretation is a problem, disambiguate them, either by recasting or by context (unless this ambiguity is what you're looking for, as in the joke above). Disambiguation shouldn't normally be a problem, unless the unintended second meaning might insult someone. It makes very little sense for a sabre bear to be wearing pajamas, for instance. Try wa'Hu' nIvnavwIj vItuQtaHvIS mIl'oD vIHoHta' as a recast, or as an example of contextual disambiguation, wa'Hu' nIvnavwIjDaq mIl'oD vIHoHta' ghIq nIvnavwIj vItuQHa'. Normally, context should disambiguate the meanings fairly well. The problem tends to arise where people try to translate isolated sentences rather than connected text.

Relative Clauses: What Possibilities?

For some reason, relative clauses appear in some of the more bizarre constructions in canon Klingon. Two canon examples of apparently illegal relative clauses are frequently pointed out in list discussions: Dajatlhbogh vIyajbe' I do not understand what you just said (KCD) yoHbogh matlhbogh je SuvwI' the warrior brave and true (The Warriors' Anthem)

While the first sentence was not actually used in the KCD program, the sentence was recorded and spoken by Okrand, so is assumed by most to be canon. The second sentence is part of the Warriors' Anthem, translated into Klingon by Okrand, and is thus also canon. The problem here lies with the lack of head nouns on both relative clauses. In the first case, the main verb - vIyajbe' - appears to agree in object with a noun that, quite simply, does not exist; in the second case, the conjunction je appears to link two relative clauses in a manner normally reserved for nouns.

The solution to the problem: yoHbogh matlhbogh je SuvwI': While somewhat of a sneaky way out, we can say that this construct probably is either an older form of Klingon - much that is ritual about battle is also associated with no' Hol - or artistic licence, since the stress of yoHbogh matlhbogh je SuvwI' (stress: HLHLHLH) scans better than yoHbogh SuvwI' 'ej matlhbogh (stress: HLLHHHL). Dajatlhbogh vIyajbe': This is more difficult to deal with. It is the only example of a so-called headless relative clause anywhere in canon Klingon. vIyajbe' appears to agree with a verb, impossible in normal Klingon. In the canon sentence SuDbogh Dargh 'ej wovbogh tea which is SuD and light, wovbogh appears at first glance to be another headless relative. But this construct may occur because both clauses refer to one head, which by definition must occur either as part of the first clause (as in SuDbogh Dargh 'ej wovbogh) or the second (as in another phrase from KCD, romuluSngan Sambogh 'ej HoHbogh nejwI' Romulan hunter-killer probe). Both constructs should probably be recast until more is understood about the phenomenon of relative clauses as nominals. It may be prudent to know how these types of sentences are interpreted; however, even if they are both taken as canon, they are both sufficiently rare to at least raise eyebrows, and thus should probably be avoided. These are some possible recasts: yoHbogh matlhbogh je SuvwI' becomes yoHbogh SuvwI' 'ej matlhbogh; Dajatlhbogh vIyajbe' could become mu'tlhegh Dajatlhbogh vIyajbe' or even nuqjatlh? qayajbe'.

I Need To Create - vIchenmoHnIS

The order of verb suffixes in Klingon is a source of frustration to many Klingon beginner speakers who want to say things like "I need to create it", but cannot directly translate them due to the restrictions on verb suffix ordering. Often, this leads to questions about the possibility of, for instance, ??vIchenmoHnIS.

The solution to the problem: Since -nIS is Type 2 and -moH is Type 4, saying vIchenmoHnIS is illegal in Klingon grammar, period. You can't do it. It'd be like saying walkser for the plural of walker in English: -er must come before -s, not after it. That being said, Okrand has noted in a newsgroup message (it can be viewed here) that the word quvmoH'egh he/she honours him/herself has been found, as though -moH were part of the root, or even a rover. However, he goes on to say that this is a knowing violation of the rules?, often done for rhetorical effect. Excepting the rover?s, it appears that most Klingon suffixes can be interpreted in any order: vIqIpchoHlaH I begin being able to hit him, I am able to begin hitting him. This causes problems when one uses a construct like maleghchuqqangqa'moHlaHbejtaHvIS, but context can usually disambiguate the order, and shorter words may only have two or three sensible readings even when context is not present. In light of this, I need to create it is translated as vIchennISmoH.

Multiple Adjectives

A common beginner's error is to stack multiple adjectival verbs onto the same noun, theorising that since we can say "Bear in the Big Blue House" in English, we should be able to say ??qach tIn SuD Dabbogh mIl'oD in Klingon.

The solution to the problem:

Multiple adjectives are believed to be illegal in Klingon grammar; qach tIn SuD is impossible, as shown in KGT by the usage of SuD 'ej wov for a light yellowish colour, rather than SuD wov: SuDbogh Dargh 'ej wovbogh, yellow tea (literally tea that is SuD and which is light).

One way to cheat somewhat, and basically use two adjectives on one noun, could be to use a noun with an adjectival verb as the head of a relative clause: Doqbogh HIvje' tIn, the big red cup (literally the big cup that is red). Canon provides an analogue using a non-stative verb in the relative clause: yIntaHbogh Soj tlhol _raw food which is still alive (SkyBoxCards card 21). So there are two possibilities for translating big blue house: The first method, which is canon and sanctioned by KGT, yields SuDbogh qach 'ej tInbogh (or SuDbogh 'ej tInbogh qach), building which is SuD and which is big. The second method, which is not strictly canon but appears to violate no rules, yields SuDbogh qach tIn, big building which is SuD.

Many other questions about grammar can be answered at Terence Donnelly's (ter'eS) Grammar Addendum website, which can be found here. Also, many issues of translation and idiosyncratic usages can be found at d'Armond Speers' (Holtej) tlhIngan-Hol FAQ site (here).

Please add other problems and issues you think should be here.
Category: Grammar    Latest edit: 14 Aug 2014, by KlingonTeacher    Created: 05 Mar 2014 by LieVen
History: r7 < r6 < r5 < r4 - View wiki text



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