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Wanted: Fantasy language translators

Jason Cato
| Friday, July 8, 2016, 11:30 p.m.

Batlh baS vengDaq yI'el.

Anyone fluent enough to understand that sentence — “Enter the City of Steel with honor,” in Klingon — should contact the Office of Public Art.


The office, part of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, hopes to offer tours in the fall in selected constructed languages, or conlangs.

That includes Klingon, created in 1979 for “Star Trek.” Others listed this week in a Craigslist gig posting are Dothraki, a fictitious tongue used in HBO's “Game of Thrones,” and Elvish languages created by J.R.R. Tolkien, author of “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings.”

The goal is to translate public art tours in these conlangs during the Wizard World conference Nov. 4 to 6 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

“We've done tours for other conventions in Pittsburgh, so we said why don't we develop a tour for this group,” said Renee Piechocki, the Office of Public Art's director. “We haven't even advertised the tour yet, and there's already interest.”

Piechocki's office received its first application Thursday from a man in the Washington, D.C., area who has translated literature into Klingon, including works of William Shakespeare.

He interviews Tuesday.

“If we find people who are willing to interpret for us, this might not be the last tour we do in these languages,” Piechocki said.

Shadyside-based technology company Duolingo offers online and app courses in two dozen languages, with more in the works.

That includes a new course in Klingon starting Aug. 1, according to the company's website. More than 83,000 people have signed up for information on the class.

In 2010, operators of Australia's Jenolan Caves National Park began offering a self-guided audio tour in Klingon.

Computational linguist Tracy Canfield flew to Australia to record the English-Klingon version.

She cited estimates that place the number of Klingon-fluent speakers worldwide at about 12, with another 300 to 400 being able to carry on a written conversation.

“The Jenolan management has told me that they've been very popular,” said Canfield of Indianapolis. “You obviously don't have to be one of those dozen conversationally fluent people to enjoy hearing Klingon!”

Productions of “Klingon Christmas Carol” in Chicago and “A Night of Shakespeare in Klingon” in Washington drew big crowds when she attended.

The same could be true for Pittsburgh, Canfield said.

“I don't think the Office of Public Art will have any trouble finding translators,” she said. “And, based on the Jenolan Caves' audio-tour popularity, I think they'll attract not only Klingons and conlangers, but other people who think, ‘Klingon? I have to see what they did with that.' ”

Piechocki certainly hopes so.

“We're looking for ways to increase public knowledge and awareness of public art in our region. This is just another way to do that,” she said. “I hope it's going to be fun and that it sparks more ideas.”

Jason Cato is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7936.

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