NEW YORK—According to a report released Monday by the Modern Language Association, speakers of the Star Trek-based Klingon language outnumber individuals fluent in Navajo by a margin of more than seven-to-one.
"Navajo, a 3,000-year-old Native American tonal language belonging to the Athabaskan/Na-Dené group of tongues, is clearly dying and will likely be extinct by 2010," MLA president Frederick Toback said. "Fortunately, though, the sad, steady decline of this once-proud Native American tongue has been more than offset by a rising interest in Klingon culture."
Klingon speakers said they are pleased with the report. "Every day, more and more people are discovering the excitement and challenge of Klingon, or, as it's called by native speakers, tlhIngan-Hol," said Doug "HoD trI'Qal" Petersen, an official grammarian at the Klingon Language Institute. "After just a few weeks of studying Klingon, you, too will be saying 'qo' mey poSmoH Hol!'"
"For those new to the language," Petersen continued, "a terrific place to start is Marc Okrand's The Klingon Dictionary, published by Pocket Books. After that, I'd suggest The Klingon Way, also by Okrand. A marvelous guide to all things Klingon, it contains everything from recipes for Durani lizard skins to the proper way to address a B'rel Scout to the complete lyrics to The Warrior's Anthem."
As membership in the KLI continues to swell, the Navajo population, whose lands occupy approximately 25,000 square miles in the four corners of Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico, has dwindled to 150,000.
"Our people are chained to the terrible suffering of our past like a falcon without wings," said Daniel Littlefoot, president of the Navajo Nation. "We consume alcohol and it, in turn, consumes us."
With the surge of interest in Klingon has come a corresponding surge in publishing. Klingon-language editions of The Iliad, Hamlet and The Bible are now available, as well as the classic Klingon tale The Eyes Of Kahless.
"More than 200 titles are currently available, with more on the way all the time," said Bob "nIteb'Ha" Janowitz, editor of HolQeD, a quarterly Klingon literary journal. "It truly is a booming industry."
Though the basics of Navajo are still taught in some reservation schools, and the language is spoken ceremonially at tribal council meetings, most Navajos do not bother to retain their knowledge after leaving school.
"The number of truly fluent Navajo speakers stands at less than a thousand," Littlefoot said. "And of these thousand, only a handful are less than 60 years old. Within a generation, our 4,000-year-old tongue will be dust."
"We have people from all walks of life here," said Jennifer "pekaQ" Proehl, a member of the Klingon Language Institute's High Council. "Students, computer programmers, salespeople—all of them banding together in the proud Klingon tradition."
According to Proehl, the Klingon language is just one part of a thriving Klingon culture. KLI members practice Klingon martial arts, participate in Klingon singing and storytelling sessions, and even perform spiritual ceremonies derived from the various Star Trek television series and films.
"What's happening with the Klingon language is extremely exciting," MLA associate director Stephen Hogue said. "If its popularity continues to grow at the current rate, we may consider giving certain Klingon-speaking groups financial support in the form of grants and special-interest funding. Increasingly, the MLA is diverting funds from dying languages like Navajo to vibrant, emergent ones such as Klingon."
"I know this is my home, but there isn't anything here for me," said unemployed Navajo nation member Leonard Murphy, 22, who dropped out of school at 14 and remembers little of the Navajo he learned in elementary school. "Everyone's leaving, getting off the reservation. Now there's nothing to do here except drink beer and watch Star Trek."