Wednesday, 02 November 2016 14:19

From Klingon to Public Art


Star Trek movie poster featuring a Klingon
Office of Public, a nationally-recognized organization dedicated to the education and technical support of public art in our region, hosts public art walking tours and special, insider studio tours each month – recently selling out tours to places like Thaddeus Mosley’s studio and the Homewood Cemetery. Rachel Klipa, Manager of Community Engagement for Office of Public Art, offers insights and comments on this weekend’s tours of public art in downtown and the Northside – bilingual tours in English and Klingon.

“We knew that Wizard World was coming, and we thought this was a great way to expand our audiences and reach new audiences. After all, public art is for everyone. At one of our staff meetings, someone threw out the idea, 'Hey, we should do this in Klingon!' and we thought, hey, that’s a good idea!” said Rachel Klipa.

She continued, “Kahmeela Friedson, one of our staff members who will participate on two panels at Wizard World, put out a national call for Klingon speakers and three or four people came forward. After interviewing, we determined that Andrew Shull Miller was the best fit – after all, he is a Klingon Language Institute Certified Speaker!”

Mr. Marc Okrand, who has a doctorate in linguistics, created the Klingon language and certifies the language’s speakers through his institute. Mr. Okrand began his linguistic career studying extinct Native American languages from the U.S. West Coast, helping develop the closed-captioning system for hearing impaired television viewers, and now exclusively champions and develops Klingon. 

Rachel comments: “I think it’s great that Marc and others can manipulate real concepts and linguistics to make an artificial language, but at the same time I wonder how this fits in with studying and valuing languages that emerged from native cultures. There are, though, people who speak Klingon to one another and the language is validated by this network of people, so perhaps one of the issues this public art tour is raising - as all art raises social issues on some level - is really what native language can be and how people communicate. After I met Andrew, my mind opened to new ideas about the study of language and what they are doing.”

Andrew took the script for the public art tour to Marc, who then created 40 new words to accommodate terms that are in the script for the tour. For example, there is now a Klingon word for the following: monument, art space, Pittsburgh, Allegheny.

Marc is an expert in indigenous languages and is able to incorporate sounds from languages that other people speak. Shares Klipa, “For me, fluent in Spanish, Serbian and English, and a Spanish teacher, I found this to be fascinating. Andrew shared with me that sound combinations from the language the Aztecs (Nahuatl) once spoke are incorporated into Klingon. This public art tour brings a lot into question – regional dialects and accents are disappearing, too, for example. Seeing how much English is influencing Spanish in recent years is amazing. Languages are fluid, and must be able to breathe and adapt to cultural changes or they will disappear – they have to.”

Public Art Tours in Klingon language will be offered this Friday and Saturday. Reserve your tour tickets, here
Each participant with receive a new book: Pittsburgh Art in Public Places, and will receive free admission to the Toonseum's Star Trek exhibit!

Tour information:

  • Friday, November 4, or Saturday, November 5: meet at noon meet in the east lobby of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, then continue the public art walk through town.
  • Friday, November 4, or Saturday, November 5: meet at the entrance of the New Hazlett Theater on the North Side and continue the public art walk through the Northside.


Published in The Arts Blog