Thursday, July 19, 2012

Typesetting Klingon in blackletter

Klingon has a famously terrible-looking Romanization. The language has sounds that are very difficult to represent in the Latin script, developed at a time before Unicode became ubiquitous. It uses the
Latin alphabet idiosyncratically, using capital letters to help remind readers that the sound the letter represents is probably not what they expect from the conventional English reading. So we get this, here set in Arial Unicode MS.

I'm also very suspicious of the pIqad scripts, which look like something created by a graphic designer who never had to actually write the language down. The graphemes for <q> and <Q> in particular look awfully similar.

However, the banner for Qo'noS QonoS, looks really good in a blackletter face. Perhaps Klingon
just has a font problem: isn't this better, in Unifraktur Cook?

It may be as affected as the heavy-metal umlaut, but I think there's more to it. Klingon uses both capital and lower-case H, although the latter is only used in the digraphs and . In many blackletter typefaces, the lower-case and capital H have the same basic shape, so the capital letter is less aberrant and jarring at the end or middle of a word. Blackletter faces often have a high x-height relative to the cap height, so the odd capital letters stand out a little less. Lastly, this typeface makes a very clear distinction between lower-case L and capital I, making more legible the last phrase, lIghoH "He disputes y'all". It can be a subtle distinction in many sans-serif or even serif faces. Besides, it certainly seems like Klingons would make free use of heavy-metal umlauts.

Libre blackletter fonts are not in great supply; Dieter Steffman made some gratis ones, but for Web typography the likeliest choice is the Unifraktur faces, available in Google Web Fonts.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

How hard is learning Klingon? which I mean not "how hard it is to pronounce" (challenging) or "how hard/complex the grammar is" (varies, for a conlang), but something more on the order of "how much language there is to learn"?

So I did a quick analysis of The Klingon Dictionary. The heart of the Klingon language is in the morphology, the system of affixes that derive and inflect the root words of the language. As for the affixes, there are 21 noun suffixes that fit into five slots, 32-35 pronominal verb prefixes, and 31 verb suffixes that fit into nine slots. Almost half of the total suffixes mark person in some way. Additionally, the grammatical sketch introduces seven dozen or so roots, almost a dozen stand-alone pronouns, a dozen or so numbers (as well as two suffixes for numbers), almost a dozen conjunctions, a half-dozen question words, and three dozen or so adverbials and exclamations. So you could probably fit a very solid working knowledge of Klingon onto about 230 flash cards. That's large but manageable.

As for the dictionary, I estimate that there are about 1,460 words in the Klingon-English section. With the morphology, that's a lot of expressive power, although the vocabulary intentionally doesn't cover a lot of semantic space.