1. Forum
  2. >
  3. Topic: Klingon
  4. >
  5. Word order in relative clause…


Word order in relative clauses

I have a question about the placement of relative clauses using the suffix -bogh.

The suggested answer for the exercise My son reads books which are about targs is targhmey bopbogh paqmey laD puqloDwI'. On the other hand, the exercise He does not understand the book that he is reading suggests the answer paq laDtaHbogh yajbe' ghaH, and if I recall correctly does not accept a laDtaHbogh paq yajbe' ghaH.

Is the difference that the book he is reading contains a verb, while books about tags does not? Or in the first example is the word order designed to make it clear the the son is reading books and not targs? My apologies for the basic question, but I'm pretty sure I'm missing something here.

October 16, 2019



The relative clause is constructed exactly like a sentence (or "main clause"), and then you add a -bogh at the end of the verb.

targhmey bop paqmey the books are about targs
targhmey bopbogh paqmey the books which are about targs

(Notice that the verb bop be about is not a verb in English. The English grammar has no bearing on the Klingon grammar.)

Once you've constructed the relative clause, treat it as if the whole thing were a single noun, and put it in the sentence.

X laD puqloDwI' my son reads X
X = targhmey bopbogh paqmey
targhmey bopbogh paqmey laD puqloDwI' my son reads books (which are) about targs

The subject and object of a relative clause are in exactly the same positions as in a main clause. You wouldn't say laDtaH paq the book is reading, so you wouldn't say laDtaHbogh paq the book which is reading. Someone is reading the book, not the other way round. paq laDtaH he is reading the book; paq laDtaHbogh book which he is reading. (You know it's not he who is reading the book because you'd need to make the pronoun explicit: paq laDtaHbogh ghaH'e'.)


Thank you! I'm so grateful for everyone's time and effort in explaining these things. As usual I'm going to need to read this explanation a few times before all of it sinks in, but your point about thinking of a relative clause as X, where X is a well formed grammatical clause on its own that's being referred to, is very well taken.


There are occasionally exceptions to that, but it is usually the case.

(The exception is when you need to put a syntactic noun suffix on the relative clause. You add it to the head noun. So if I want to say I work in the building which you see, I'd start with the main sentence, I work jIvum. I'd construct the relative clause, the building which you see qach Daleghbogh. Then I'd put the -Daq on the head noun of the relative clause: qachDaq Daleghbogh jIvum. You would not say qach DaleghboghDaq jIvum.


Ah I see, that makes a lot of sense, and I appreciate the warning to not think of that as a universal rule, which I'm prone to doing. Thank you again!


bop is a verb.

In relative clauses, in both English and Klingon, there is someone/thing that is doing the action and someone/thing that the action is done to. Whether you say "the book which the mother reads" or "the mother who reads the book", the mother is doing the reading and the books are bing read. The basic (non-relative clause) sentence is "the mother reads the book." English makes it clear which we are talking about by "fronting" the head-noun. If we are talking about "the mother", she is already at the front, so we just add the relativizer after her: "the mother who reads the book". If we are talking about "the book", we move it to the front and add the relativizer: "the book which the mother reads". English sometimes even leaves the relativizer off and relies on the unusual position to indicate the relative clause: "the book the mother reads".

Klingon does not do this kind of movement and the subject and object stay in place regardless of which is the head-noun. This means that sometimes the sentence can be ambiguous. In the Klingon relative clause paq laDbogh SoS, are we talking about "the book which the mother reads" or "the mother who reads the book"? Sometimes the context makes it clear. In the sentence targhmey bopbogh paqmey laD puqloDwI' you wouldn't read a targ, but you would read a book, so it's pretty easy to tell the paqmey are meant to be the head-noun. And in the sentence paq laDtaHbogh yajbe' only the book is actually listed in the sentence so it must be the head-noun. Though, if you add in the optional ghaH on the relative clause, it would be less clear. paq laDtaHbogh ghaH yajbe' could be interpreted as either "He does not understand the book which he is reading," or, "He does not understand the he which reads the book." That last translation is still really unlikely since, pronouns don't work well as a head-nouns and the original sentence is intended that both "he" refer to the same person. A specific noun is better: paq laDtaHbogh HoD yajbe'. Now, does that mean, "He doesn't understand the book which the captain is reading," or, "He doesn't understand the captain who is reading the book," or both?

Klingon does have a way to clarify and remove the ambiguity. This is another optional use of the Noun Type 5 syntactic suffixes like -'e'. In this use -'e' would not be acting as a topicalizer or focus mark in the overall sentence, but it just lets us know which noun is the focus (or the head-noun) of the relative clause. Thus paq'e' laDtaHbogh HoD yajbe' is specifically "He does not understand the book which the captain is reading." And paq laDtaHbogh HoD'e' yajbe' is specifically "He does not understand the captain who is reading the book."

Note that if the "he" we are talking about doesn't understand either the book or the captain, we can do a neat trick of leaving the -'e' off and imply both at the same time. Also note, that when you are trying to say something that defies expectations, you will probably need the -'e' to make your intent clear: targhmey'e' bopbogh paqmey laD puqloDwI' "My son reads the targs which the books are about."


{bop} boqawlaHmeH {bop} bopbogh lut vImuch. (Here's a story about bop to help you remember it). One of the qep'a' (Klingon Language Institute conference) traditions is a round of Hokey-Pokey, and since qep'a' wejDIch Marc Okrand has attended, and when it's his turn to say which part we'll put in, he typically gives us the name of a new body part, one that we didn't know yet. One year his contribution was 'e' bop which it took us a moment to figure out means that's what it's all about. And that's how we learned the word bop.


I seem to remember that while the Hokey-Pokey was getting started, Krankor was grumbling that we needed a word for "be all about" so he could sing it in Klingon, and Marc offered bop. So Krankor sang it for the first time, and ended with an abrupt 'e' bop, and everyone laughed.


Thank you as always for being so generous with your time. This is very helpful, and I'd never have thought of the benefits to omitting -'e' when ambiguity is helpful. I'll need to think longer on your and DavidTrimb3's explanations for everything to sink in, but I appreciate the guide.

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