Is the Bible Better in the Original Klingon?

IO9′s article on dramatic works that should be performed in sci-fi languages reminded me of an activity I did once in a class on religion and sci-fi, getting students to “translate” (in actual fact, imagine they are explaining) a passage from the Bible or other Scriptures to someone from another planet. It provides an interesting opportunity to consider whether there could be concepts so foreign that no translation would be possible, or that any translation either would not make sense or would be misunderstood.

The Bible has in fact been translated into Klingon. Not only is there discussion of the subject on the Bible Works software web site, but the Tyndale House web site links to a place where you can view the Klingon side by side with the Greek text. There is also a Sword module and one for Palm Bible, The Klingon Language Version of the World English Bible Psalms for Kindle and a blog A Klingon Word from The Word. There is even a creationist web site with an introduction in Klingon! And lest you consider this purely sectarian, there is also a site that has made some efforts to translate the Book of Mormon into Klingon too.

On YouTube, you can hear it read to you (although not pronounced particularly well):

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What serious things do you think can be learned from an exercise like this? What other fictional languages has the Bible been translated into? What humorous scenarios can you imagine if certain translations were made into Klingon, or Wookie, or the musical language from Close Encounters?

  • pvtillman71

    If you really want to understand Christus Victor read the commentary to the Klingon Bible translation.

  • Charles

    I bet “Klingon Jesus” would thoroughly crush the “Tattooed Cage-Fighter Jesus” I’ve been hearing so much about.

  • http://www.facebook.com/thatjeffcarter Jeff Carter

    has the bible (or have portions of the bible) been translated into any of the languages Tolkien created for his writings? The Sermon on the Mount in Elvish or Nahum in Orcan?  

    • Anonymous

      Hey Jeff,
      http://folk.uib.no/hnohf/ has a few things from the Bible. Mostly Neo-Quenya though. Personally, I want to learn how to pray my Rosary in Quenya :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/kulibali Gordon Tisher

    Note that the “Klingon Language Version of the World English Bible” is not a translation at all, it just replaces some English words with Klingon words with out attempting to make it at all grammatical.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kulibali Gordon Tisher

    There are actual translations of a few books at http://www.kli.org/wiki/index.php?Klingon%20Bible%20Translation%20Project

  • Pseudonym

    (Disclaimer: I did some translation for the LOLcat Bible.)

    One of the advantages of a project like this is that it provides a useful outlet for amateurs who are fascinated by Biblical languages and literature, but aren’t good enough to be let loose on a “real” translation.

    I know that I first got interested in this when I was teaching myself Esperanto at the age of something-teen, and my parents got me an Esperanto Bible. It wasn’t long before I realised that a bunch of assumptions that I had about the Bible were untrue by virtue of only ever having read English versions.

    Apart from a deep engagement with the text, you also learn to appreciate the work of “real” translators and some of the decisions they have to make.

    A friend of mine who was working on Klingon translations in the early 90s commented that one issue they had was with translating “loaves” and “fish”. Klingon does not have native words for most Earth cuisine and animals. Opinion was split on what to do. A formalist camp wanted to translate as “grain food” and “sea animal”, where a dynamicist camp suggested using something more familiar to Klingon culture (i.e. blood pies and water serpents).

    Similarly, when restoring Shakespeare’s As You Like It back into the original Klingon, there was the problem that Klingon had no word for jealousy. The solution: “I feel acid”. It even fit in Iambic pentameter.

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