What do you say to parents who teach their child Klingon but not English? I’m of two minds. As the Fannish mother of two Mundane offspring, my first reaction is to say “cool!” As a teacher, I must consider this at least borderline child neglect. It’s part of a parent’s responsibility to prepare their children to not only survive nut thrive as useful members of their society. Communication is a major part of this responsibility, which is why teachers emphasize vocabulary development. Vocabulary development is why Disney bought Baby Einstein and Schoolhouse Rock, and why they want you to buy DVDs’ and Blu-rays.
The Mirror, a British newspaper reported the complaint of a California nursery worker that one of her children, whom she thought was speaking Portuguese or some other foreign language, was actually speaking Klingon; that the parents had quite deliberately only exposed the child to KLingon, and not to English or Spanish nor any other Terran languages. If true – and many of the claims in the Reddit subgroup in which the report was found are not true – the ramifications could be profound.
However, Klingon does have a vocabulary of over 3,000 words and its own grammatical rules. It’s not just gibberish, so the child in question has learned consistent grammatical and pronunciation skills – just not in English. The child has purportedly managed to pick up some English words and phrases from his classmates at daycare, for example, yes, no, and juice. He probably understands more, whether or not he is willing to speak it. Any teacher who works with ESL students (English as a second language), knows that children learn to understand vocabulary in their second language before they’re comfortable speaking it in public. Klingon was developed by Mark Okrand, a linguist specializing in Native American languages. to provide coherent Klingon dialogue for Star Trek II: Search for Spock to avoid the usual science fiction trick of babbling gobbledegook for an alien language or the infamous incident in Robin of Sherwood, where Nasir the Saracen stated in Arabic: “someone is stealing my rowboat,” a line which made no sense in context.
Science fiction and fantasy fans have a long history of playing with languages. Many SF/F authors like Suzette Haden Elgin and Janet Kagan are or were linguists. Professor J. R. R. Tolkien, it is said developed Elvish so he’d have an excuse to write The Lord of the Rings, rather than, as is commonly assumed, writing Lord of the Rings so he had an excuse to play with Sindaran and Quenya. Lawrence M. Schoen, author of the Nebula Award nominated Barsk: The Elephant’s Graveyard, founded the Klingon Language Institute, which acts as a worldwide central repository of information on Klingon, as well as providing classes and certifications on the language.
Linguistic experiments using innocent children as guinea pigs are centuries old. Herodutus told of the Egyptian pharaoh who tried to determine Mankind’s original language by having two orphans raised in complete linguistic isolation. King James IV of Scotland repeated the experiment in the 14th century CE. He reported the children “spak very guid Ebrew” despite being raised ny a mute nursemaid on a remote island. In the last century, the case of Genie, a feral child whose family kept her imprisoned and ignorant has fascinated linguists and psychologists by shattering theories on language acquisition and child development. Earlier in the 20th century, Kamala and Amala, who were found in a wolf’s den in Midnapore, India, never managed to acquire human speech.