University of Calgary

Qapla’! Speaking Star Trek

Submitted by tmagee on Thu, 04/20/2017 - 15:17.

Qapla’! Speaking Star Trek

From Star Trek to Game of Thrones, conlanging puts new words in our mouths.
By Alex Frazer-Harrison

When he was a kid, Joseph Windsor, MA’12, fell in love with the Klingon language. Since then, not only has he gone on to become an expert speaker of it, he’s built his academic career around linguistics.

First heard in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Klingon has grown from a few phrases into a bona fide language with thousands of speakers around the world. There’s an official dictionary, a translated edition of Hamlet and even a Klingon Language Institute.

Windsor, a PhD candidate in the School of Languages, Linguistics, Literatures & Cultures, started studying the language four years ago and has presented on Klingon linguistics at the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo.

“I don’t think anyone expected (Klingon) to take off,” says Windsor. “(Stories) become more believable when you get the aliens speaking their own language.”

Windsor was quick to offer his Klingon-language services to Telus Spark for its new Star Trek: The Starfleet Academy Experience exhibition and hopes to help out with promotions for the event. He didn’t wait long to visit after it opened in February.

“We had so much fun,” he says. “It’s really interactive — you get to try your luck shooting phasers and scanning Klingons with a tricorder.” The exhibit also includes props and costumes from the franchise, as well as models used for filming.

Windsor’s Klingon expertise will also come in handy when UCalgary hosts the Language Creation Conference on July 22 and 23.

“We’ll be looking at what does studying an artificial language teach us about the learning process and learning biases in natural languages,” says Windsor, who is a local co-host of the event dedicated to “conlanging” — the craft of language creation. “It’s the first time the conference has been held in Canada.”

Klingon is an example of conlanging. The concept is not new, Windsor says; the idea goes back to the 12th century, Esperanto being a famous “real-world” example, and other constructed languages such as Dothraki from Game of Thrones have taken on lives of their own.

But Windsor’s love for language includes more-traditional ones, too. “I tried to teach myself German when I was seven or nine years old,” he says. “I’ve always been a language nerd.” He completed undergrad degrees in English and Gaelic at St. Francis Xavier before coming to UCalgary in 2008 for his master’s and PhD. Aside from Klingon, Windsor’s interests include Irish and Blackfoot, and his postdoctoral proposal is a study of the Métis language, Michif.

As for his choice to call UCalgary home, Windsor says, “The University of Calgary motto is in Gaelic, so I figured this was the place to be!”

Star Trek: The Starfleet Academy Experience runs to June 4.

For more information on the Language Creation Conference, visit U

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