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  5. "A robot must not injure a hu…

"A robot must not injure a human. A robot must not permit a human to be injured."

Translation:Human rIQbe'nISmoH qoq. Human rIQmoHlu' 'e' chaw'be'nIS qoq.

June 12, 2018



I understand that the suffix -be is a rover and should go after what it negates.

So if the -be goes after the -nIS, does it mean more "doesn't have to"? In other words: if Human rIQbe'nISmoH qoq means "A robot must not injure a human" (ie, a prohibition), does Human rIQnISbe'moH qoq means "A robot does not have to injure a human" (ie, a lack of an obligation)?

And if so, query what Human rIQnISmoHbe' qoq might mean? Given that rIQmoH literally means "cause to be injured", I wonder whether "A robot must not injure a human" might more accurately be translated as Human rIQnISmoHbe' instead of Human rIQbe'nISmoH.


The difference between rIQbe'moH and rIQmoHbe' is the difference between cause not to be injured and not cause to be injured. The former sounds like the subject proactively creates a state of non-injury, whereas the point is supposed to be that the subject does not cause a state of injury. Therefore, I agree with your assessment: the -be' is better after the -moH.


Since -nIS and -moH are invariable in order, how do you negate the -moH without also negating the -nIS?


The usual way: by putting it after the -moH.


I'm sure I've seen you argue that -be' doesn't negate only the morpheme directly before it, but the word as a whole up to that point. So how, then, does rIQnISmoHbe' not mean "not needing to cause injury"? I don't disagree with your answer, I just thought I would use this opportunity to explore concepts I've heard you mention and didn't quite fully comprehend.


I don't say it doesn't negate only the morpheme before it; I say it CAN negate larger groups of morphemes. One of the early examples of this is from Power Klingon, wherein we get batlh bIHeghbe' You will die without honor. Obviously, this doesn't mean You will honorably not die. The -be' is negating all of batlh bIHegh.

Another example is from The Klingon Dictionary: vIta'pu'be' I didn't do it. Clearly this doesn't mean I did it incompletely. At least, that's not what the given English translation suggests. The -be' is negating all of vIta'pu'.

There are lots of examples of this in canonical Klingon.

But, as TKD itself shows, -be' can also be applied only to a single morpheme.

The important lesson to take away here is that because of the ordering of Klingon suffixes, there may be multiple ways to interpret a combination of them. The correct interpretation must be deduced through, as with so much else, context. How do you know whether -be' applies only to a single morpheme or to everything before it? By picking up on clues given by the speaker or writer, who will leave them precisely because it can be confusing without them.

The reason we know one ordering of this sentence is better than another is because we know the source of this sentence: we know its context. It comes from Asimov's Laws of Robotics, wherein a robot may not harm a human being, or by inaction allow a human being to come to harm. The Laws do not say that a robot must cause a human being to be not injured. Therefore, we have our context, and can determine the correct way to say this.


Could be. But much of the time the difference between applying negation to a single suffix and applying it to a whole word is negligible (e.g., jISuvvIpbe' I am not-afraid to fight vs. I am not afraid-to-fight; there's no difference in meaning). It's only when you've got a lot of suffixes and the meaning is not already clear that such negation will become confusing.

Basically, we fall back onto the admonition that language is not mathematical or like computer code. You don't input some words and get a meaning out of it; it's a dance between the speaker and the listener, where the one has to get the other to understand using the rules and vocabulary they share. Language is art.

Besides, why worry about the scope of the negation when you have a perfectly good -nISmoH combination to debate? Is it need to cause or cause to need? (It's whatever the speaker needs it to be, so the speaker had better make it clear somehow which it is.)


I think I'm understanding how you view it. Do you believe it is correct to say that using -be' on a suffix almost always results in two possible interpretations, either negating the immediately preceding suffix or negating the whole word/phrase up to that point, but that one of the interpretations would not be applicable if contradicted by semantics (like -lu'be') or by context?


I'd say, as these are rules which are decreed, the robot needs nothing. The phrases should demand/not-allow/forbid. e.g.:
{Human rIQmoHbe' qoq net poQ.}
{Human rIQmoH qoq net tuch.}
{rIQchoH Human 'e' chaw'be' qoq net poQ.}

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