Posts Tagged ‘ Star Trek ’

Klingons and Kafka?

Once, long ago, I promised to do a bit on my forays into Klingon language. Here it is! In preparation for a presentation on Klingon that I will be doing next week, I figured I better brush up on the syntactical structures. And what better way than to translate a classic text into Klingon? I pondered the books readily available to me (i.e. the one’s sitting next to me at my desk) and I made a decision. Kafka — The Metamorphosis. The work is slow, so I only have one sentence done. But I picked a doozy! The opening line: “As Gregor Samsa awoke from unsettling dreams one morning, he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.”

In my best Klingon:

wa’ po Qongvo’ vempu’ ghe’ghor SamSa najmeymo’ SujmoHpu’, tu”eghpu’ QongDajDaqDaq DolHom’e’ choHlu’pu’.

A literal, non-grammatically corrected, reading of my Klingon approximates:

One morning from sleep awoke Gregor Samsa because dreams caused him to become disturbed, he discovered himself in his bed into a diminutive entity something indefinite had changed him.

When corrected:

One morning, when Gregor Samsa awoke from sleep because dreams caused him to become disturbed, he discovered himself in his bed, changed into a diminutive entity by something indefinite.

A few notes:

1) I picked the word DolHom’e’ (diminutive entity) as the equivalent of monstrous vermin. Klingon does have a word for cockroach (vetlh) and bug (ghew), but I felt that neither of these words could live up to the hype of Kafka’s “ungeheueren Ungeziefer.” I know ungeheueren is supposed to be more like “huge,” but in terms of Klingon mentality, diminutive seemed more appropriate. I use the word “entity” because I want Gregor’s Being to be shrouded. I’ve italicized the retranslated phrase because of a wonderful Klingon construct. The ‘e’ at the end of the word signifies an added importance; thus I make that word the most important in the sentence even though it cannot grammatically have the most prominent part.

2) Something indefinite: this phrase is added purely because Klingon must designate the subject of each verb.

3) Klingon has no adjectives, so many English constructs present huge difficulties! This is the reason “his dreams disturbed him.” “Unsettling dreams” is impossible to convey as such.

4) Bed: I’ve cheated a bit in my literal translation… QongDajDaqDaq actually translates to “In his place of sleep.”

5) The name: The letters of “Gregor Samsa” just don’t work in Klingon. Therefore, I’ve approximated the sounds with “ghe’ghor SamSa.”

Visit the Klingon Language Institute for pronunciation and other stuff!


Linguistic Analysis No.2 — Star Trek

Astute readers of this blog will note I have some form of affinity for Star Trek. To me, Star Trek is like a particularly stupid animal. Cute, but incompetent. My attitude towards the show ultimately stems from the gorgeous mythos of sci-fi and political/philosophical exploration. It is these qualities that render Star Trek lopsided. The sheer wonder of the universe is remarkable, and I love that. But the elements of political and philosophical exploration that the show meddles with are stupid. Or in any case the show does so in a manner that is stupid.

This leads us to a discussion of linguistics. Specifically, we must look at phonology, the production of sound. Indeed, we must literally look at phonology. We must pay attention to the way we shape our mouths as we speak. From this we gain the art of lip-synching and lip-reading. Combining these two, in a simply brilliant, comedic manner, is the following video (with some naughty language).

In my thinking, the creators of this video have hit nonsense language right on the head. Nonsense at its best forms a kind of quasi-narrative. This, however, is merely the effect of our brains trying to make a narrative where there isn’t one. Perhaps one of the best used techniques in the video is the repetition of one key phrase: apple juice. No explanation of “apple juice” is provided. It is merely there and we must try to fit it into our interior narrative for the scene. “Apple juice” is the call of the Other.

I am currently engaged in reading Emmanuel Levinas’ Totality and Infinity. It is painful. However, Levinas describes the scenario the Other puts us into in exactly the same terms I have described “apple juice.” It is a “signification without context.” There is content, but nothing to tell us what it means. The Other simply calls out to us. We must re-evaluate the way we see things to fit the call of the Other. Or we can ignore it.

And in the case of the “Happy in Paraguay” video, ignore it and laugh.

The Final Frontier

Star Trek (I’m talking the original series here) was positively ridiculous. It wasn’t the shoddy special effects. It wasn’t the shameless moralizing tone. It certainly wasn’t the concept. The problem with Star Trek is Shatner.

William Shatner simply cannot act. He is merely capable of being Shatner, which is all well and good. Shatner is irritating, though somewhat funny. But casting Shatner as Kirk doomed Star Trek to life as a cult thing. Even the craziest of fans know that Shatner sucked — if you watch footage of a trekkie convention (apparently historical enough for the History Channel) you can see plenty of people settling to dress up as redshirts before donning the James T. Kirk ensemble.

Despite Shatner’s lack of ability, the man is still around, still on TV! Priceline decided that he’s good enough for their advertisements. And I believe he is on the show, Boston Legal (?). Isn’t it strange to think that Shatner still has space in spite of, or perhaps because of, his terrible acting?

I think that Shatner’s inability is what has opened the market for him. Now that he no longer needs to pretend to play a serious character, he can just give in to whatever comes out of his mouth — and I’m pretty certain that’s how Shatner operates. I see a similarity here with Bob Dylan. Love him or hate him, his voice is wretched. Yet his voice is part of his success as a musician! If Bob Dylan could hit more than six notes, and hit them with accuracy, nobody would care about his songs. It really isn’t rare to meet people who like Dylan’s singing because it is so “unorthodox.”

Essentially what I’m trying to get at here is one of the oddities of space. When Shatner tries to be a real actor, like in Star Trek, he just makes a mockery of the whole operation. When Shatner just acts as himself it’s still a mockery, but it works. Bob Dylan sounds good because he sounds so bad. Maybe the lesson in it is that we shouldn’t try to force things, but go with the flow of our inner nature. But I’m not writing an episode of Star Trek, so ignore the moralization overtones; I’m just trying to get this blog finished.