mI' pIqaD

Or in English, "number-writing." The Klingons call their own writing system plain "pIqaD," but mine is just one of several competing approaches, so I've called it mI'pIqaD for convenience. I've summarised it in a table and provided a handy for printing-out PDF version:

α β γ
j 11 41 71 I αα
v 12 42 72 a αβ
tlh 13 43 73 o βα
m 14 44 74 u ββ
b 15 45 75 e αγ
gh 16 46 76 [consonant] βγ
ng 17 47 77 [vowel] γβ
S 18 48 78
t 19 49 79 , 39
l 21 51 81 . 69
w 22 52 82 ! 99
r 23 53 83
n 24 54 84
H 25 55 85
D 26 56 86
27 57 87
q 28 58 88
ch 29 59 89
p 31 61 91
Q 32 62 92
y 33 63 93
[null] 34 64 94

The way it works is surprisingly simple (I hope). Let's write the Klingon word "pagh". From the table, the consonant "p" is represented by the numbers 31, 61 and 91 (that might seem elaborate, but the numbers in the columns just go up by 30 each time), "gh" is 16, 46 and 76 and the vowel "a" is probably a bit confusingly labelled "αβ". To get "pagh", you select the value of "p" indicated in the "α" column and the value of "gh" from the "β" column: 3146. By doing so, you've defined the two consonants (and remember, "gh" is two letters in the English transcription, and only a single consonant in Klingon) but also indicated the precise vowel between them. It's sort of an alphabet, it's sort of syllabic, and it's not like any other writing system that I know of. It uses only 9 symbols (I'm saving 0 for later), and it keeps the number of symbols needed to write a word as small as possible. In this case, four digits replace four letters, although the need to keep to 9 symbols means that usually the word is longer when it's transcribed into mI'pIqaD.

Some Features

The precise order of the Klingon alphabet never seems to have been established. Mark Okrand does place the letters in order, but it seems to be the conventional alphabetic order or its closest equivalent, doubtless to make it nice and easy for English-speakers. I suppose it might be possible to work out a plausible "native Klingon" order for the letters from first principles, but that's quite beyond me. I've just randomised the order of the consonants and vowels (with a bit of tweaking). The end result's as likely as anything else I might come up with.

Why it works

Klingon is a very regular language. The dictionary part of the Klingon Dictionary lists not a single word that begins with a vowel. Indeed, nearly all the words in the language follow a very simple structure, two consonants with a vowel between. The shortest words are just one of these units, like "pagh," but many of the longer words are strings of them, like "Qo'noS" (62275418). This means that the vast majority of Klingon words can be easily and accurately written using my system.

When it doesn't

Not all Klingon words are quite so obliging. Take "paq'batlh" ("Book of Honour") as an example. Yes, there are two groups of consonant-vowel-consonant, but with an extra "'" in the middle. Although it's not a letter in our alphabet, it is for the Klingons. So, how would I write it? "paq" is simple: 3158, and so is "batlh" 1543. How would I get "'"? The simplest possibility is to just use the α column number representing it: 27. That would be 3158271543, and although there is some scope for confusion, I don't think it would be insurmountable, especially to a native Klingon speaker.
What about the word "pIqaD" itself? "pIq" is nice and easy: 3128, but then there's just a vowel and consonant pair. But, in this particular case, it happens that "qaD" is 2856. "31282856" would technically spell "pIqqaD," but it doesn't seem too confusing that "pIqaD" might be conveyed as 312856. Of course, if there isn't that happy synchronicity, then the solution will be more complicated. Let's take the Klingon word "qelI'qam": "qel" is 2881, and "qam" is 2844. But what about "I'"? I think it might still be possible to get the spelling by using "lI'", 2127, allowing the "spelling" 288121272844. However, I'm sure that lurking somewhere in the Klingon language, there is a word that this trick won't work on. I've therefore included the "null" option on my table. This is a kind of "silent consonant" that simply helps to indicate the vowel in a vowel-consonant or consonant-vowel pair. "I'" would be 3427. I'm guessing that some words will have several different, equally valid spellings. Which one gets used will depend on tradition and convenience as much as anything. Occasionally, something will have to be spelled out letter by letter, as with an alien word being transliterated into Klingon. For that purpose, I've not only included the null letters, but combinations of the various colums which will indicate a specific vowel or consonant with a given string of four numbers. It's unwieldy, but it works.


The table also lists three "punctuation" numbers, to which I've rather arbitrarily assigned the values of a comma (39), a full stop (69) and an exclamation mark (99). In practice, they simply mark the start of a Klingon sentence, and provide an indication to the reader (who is assumed to be reading aloud) of what size breath to take before carrying on. Punctuation is also where the zero symbol comes in. Since it doesn't feature anywhere else, it can be used to indicate the gaps between words, allowing the continuous strings of symbols that are often seen in Klingon writing. Of course, the words can also be (and have been in on-screen examples) separated by conventional spaces.

Does it fit the bill?

I hope so, but it's not entirely my decision. Looking back to Marc Okrand's comments, what I've suggested isn't a conventional alphabet. The symbols don't map directly onto sounds. There is an element of guesswork and creativity involved in working out the spelling of a word, and there's scope for the kind of variation and dialect oddities (the vowel mapping may only apply to "standard Klingon", with other dialects using different sounds, or "flavours" of the same vowel) and no reason why it shouldn't have been around in its present form for a very long time. Although I've given the game away in the PDF version of the table, it's time to look at how the actual "canonical 10" Klingon glyphs come into all this, Written in Klingon.

Klingon Writing
Written in Klingon

by StrauchiusStrauchius on 28 Aug 2012 11:06, last updated on 04 Sep 2012 14:16