Field of Science

Why Is Nobody Studying Klingon?

Doing research for the recent Scientific American Mind article, I found out that Klingon uses the incredibly rare object-verb-subject (OVS) word order. Even though some languages (like Russian) allow relatively free word-order, all languages seem to have a preferred order. There are 6 possible. The most common are SVO (English), SOV (Japanese), VSO (Classical Arabic). The 3 orders that put the object before the subject are relatively rare, with OVS nearly non-existent. It does appear occasionally in poetry or other marked uses (The drink drank I), and is claimed to be the dominant word order in at least two extremely rare languages: Guarijio and Hixkaryana. Given the degree of debate over how to correctly characterize syntax in well-studied languages like English, I'm always maintain some skepticism about rare, poorly-studied languages (and the sad truth is that all languages are poorly-studied when compared to English).

In any case, if one wanted to study the acquisition of Guarijio or Hixkaryana, one would need a decent travel budget and some infrastructure. Klingon is spoken closer to home. Yet I couldn't find any papers in Google Scholar looking at the acquisition of Klingon, even from a sociological perspective. This seems under-studied.


qurgh said...

I personally know dozens of people who study Klingon, including myself. So the name of your article is based on an incorrect assumption.

It would have been better called "Why do people consider Klingon difficult to learn?".

Jason M. Adams said...

Qurgh, there's a difference between studying klingon with the intent of learning how to speak the language, and studying klingon with the intent of learning how people acquire and use the language. The latter is the case here.