Marc Okrand

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It all started when...

Marc Okrand is the linguist responsible for many of Star Trek’s alien languages -- most notably Klingon, but also Vulcan and Romulan. He’s consulted on most of the franchise’s movies, including on Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989), Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), Star Trek (2009), and Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013).

Born in 1948 in Los Angeles, CA, Marc studied Native American languages, getting his doctoral degree in 1977. He was an educator and took a post-doctoral fellowship with the Smithsonian before going to work for the National Captioning Institute, where he worked on the first closed-captioning system for hearing-impaired television viewers.

It was this work that eventually brought him into the Star Trek universe. He met a producer for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn while coordinating captioning for the Oscars in 1982 and was hired to produce the Vulcan language spoken by Spock and Saavik in the movie. To do so he turned off the sound and observed the actors' lip movements as they spoke their lines in English. From these movements, he developed new vocal "sounds" for the actors to dub over their original English.

He went on to consult on more movies where he was called on to create Klingon based on the few samples, made up by James Doohan, in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). As the need for Klingon grew so did the language. Marc went on to author three books on the Klingon language – The Klingon Dictionary (1985), The Klingon Way (1996), and Klingon for the Galactic Traveler (1997). There are also two audio courses and in 2010 he co-authored the libretto for ‘u[LDM1] ’, a Klingon opera that debuted at the Hague.

Native American languages, Marc’s specialty, have heavily influenced Klingon. He borrowed the unusual Klingon tlh [IPA: /t͡ɬ/] sound (common in North and Central American indigenous languages, in which it is usually transcribed as tl; this is the sound at the end of the word "Nahuatl" as the Aztecs pronounced it themselves).

Before Marc’s 2013 retirement, he also worked with producers of Disney's film Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001) to create the Atlantean language. Since retirement he has enjoyed traveling and speaking to audiences about his experiences as a linguist and as part of the Star Trek universe.