1. Forum
  2. >
  3. Topic: Klingon
  4. >
  5. "Can you swim in Romulan ale?"

"Can you swim in Romulan ale?"

Translation:romuluS HIqDaq SuQallaH'a'?

March 28, 2019



Some languages use a third-person construction for this kind of sentence rather than a second-person construction: German uses the 3rd person singular noun man, which would equate to English 'can one swim in Romulan ale?', while Russian uses the third person plural conjugation, outwardly avoiding a pronoun altogether, which translates sort of like 'can they [people in general] swim in Romulan ale?' So I find it interesting that Klingon apparently uses the second person, just like English does (and apparently either the singular or plural number is acceptable, as I wrote ... bIQallaH'a' and it was accepted).

It seems to me (without having any real data) that the second-person construction is actually an English-centric phenomenon, and a colloquial one at that, so it's actually a bit strange that Klingon would follow it as well. Does anyone have any thoughts on this, or know if it has ever been discussed, whether in print or at a Klingon meetup? Or, do we have canonical examples, where the subject "you" is known not to be the addressee the sentence is spoken to, but to mean people (or Klingons) in general?

(Fun sample sentence, by the way!)


There are two issues here. First is a simpler one than the one you bring up.

To say You can swim in Romulan ale, but meaning the impersonal you, you would say romuluS HIqDaq Qallu'. But because -lu' and -laH are both type 5 verb suffixes and cannot coexist on the same verb, you can't translate Can one swim in Romulan ale? in the same way. There are two type 5 slang suffixes, -luH and -la' that combine indefinite subject and ability, so the slang sentences romuluS HIqDaq QalluH'a' and romuluS HIqDaq Qalla''a' are possible. But slang.

The other issue is whether Klingon has an impersonal you. It probably does. The Klingon Way is filled with proverbs pitched at you that aren't necessarily really meant to be said to the person who is you. An example: bISovbejbe'DI' tImer. Worf said this to Riker in "Where Silence Has Lease," and it was both he and Riker who didn't know something, not just Riker.

When is it appropriate to use an impersonal you instead of an indefinite subject? I have no idea. It may be that the TKW proverbs are aimed at you because they're phrased as commands, and you can't command an indefinite subject. Sovlu'bejbe'DI' tImer When one doesn't know, surprise them seems odd.

In any case, I don't think this Duolingo sentence can be interpreted as impersonal you. It's plural. There's no indication anywhere that Klingon ever uses plural second person for an impersonal you. This sentence is literally talking to multiple yous. Can you, the people I'm talking too right now, swim in Romulan ale?


I came here to ask about this exact thing. To be honest, I think the final verdict just makes this sentence funnier. It almost sounds like a challenge.

Learn Klingon in just 5 minutes a day. For free.