Qapla' (i.)(n.) - Exploring how the success of Klingon.

Qapla' (i.)(n.) - Exploring how the success of Klingon.

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Good Luck, or a wish for a successful venture.

Success. (Primarily in Klingon)

History & Etymology

I’m a pretty big trekkie. When I just want to relax I’ll throw on Deep Space Nine for a while, and years ago I even attempted to learn Klingon. I didn’t get much further than Nuq neH, and Nuq Doq oh’ Puch pa eh’ Hello and where is the bathroom. With return of Star Trek to the small screen I thought it might be fun to discuss a word from the language invented for the show.

The word Qapla’ by itself doesn’t have a very interesting origin, but the language I think has a very interesting story. That story began with Scotty, James Doohan, who created the sounds that the actors spoke at the beginning of Star Trek the Motion Picture.

At the time Doohan didn’t create any grammer or ever words with particular definition. He only created sounds that sounded alien for the actors to say, and in the post production process subtitles were simply add over the scene. This method worked well for a film with only a small smattering of words in the language.

When Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Kahn came around the production team found themselves in a bit of a tighter bind than need some sounds for actors to say. They had already filmed a scene between Spock and Saavik, two Vulcan characters, speaking their lines in english, but they decided they wanted the characters speaking Vulcan. That’s where a Marc Okrand came in.  At the time Marc was working on closed captioning for networks and local tv stations, but with his experience in linguistics he was approach to create the lines of Vulcan for the scene. With the actors already filmed speaking in English, Marc had to find sounds that matched the lip movements that were already on film.

Star Trek 3: The Search for Spock offered a whole new opportunity for Leonard Nimoy and the Star Trek production team to expand the universe further and they brought Marc back for the challenge of creating a new language. This time with vocabulary and grammar.  To begin this massive project he returned to the work of James Doohan in first film.

He took the sounds that James Doohan created and separate them into words and connected them with grammar to match the subtitles over the scene. The sounds and words in this scene gave him a starting point for creating the Klingon language.

In a feature on the Star Trek 3 DVD Marc describes the process of creating the language and coaching the actors on the set, and he made a great observation about how languages change.


This finally brings me to Qapla’ the word featured in this video. When the Klingon language was originally envisioned it only had one greeting. nuq’neH this greeting has a very terse and to many terran sensibilities rude meaning of What do you want? But over time as the franchise grew a new word seemed to take its place in many interaction on the TV series. Qapla’ Success. At least in formal environments Qapla’ has become a second greeting. Even in an invented language words shift meaning and usage. Qapla’ has shifted so much that even in the show it only partially maintains its original meaning.

It’s even come so far that it’s been borrowed into english. Wiktionary even includes it, and sights it’s source language as Klingon. This came as a surprise when I first read it. I was going to cover this word as a joke initially, but decided I’ve used it enough in everyday life that it’s become a part of my vocabulary.

Klingon isn’t the first invented language to leave its mark on english. Tolkien's quenya and sindarin, esperonto, Na'vi, and others have all left their mark on our language even if it is just in the small subcultures surrounding them.

English is a language that loves to borrow from other languages and isn’t afraid to learn new things and explore.

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