I was never a fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation (I’m a Deep Space Nine man myself), so I hadn’t heard of the invented language that was used in the episode “Darmok” until now; you can find out what little there is to know about it here. The salient aspect is that it seems to be made up entirely of allusions, and while this may be impractical, it’s original and thought-provoking. As Kathleen Van Horn says on the Possible Precedents page, “there is a similarity between Tamarian and the highly allusive speech of the characters in Lady Murasaki’s Tale of Genji,” but this takes allusiveness to an entirely new level. Too bad they didn’t do more with it after putting all that work into it. (The linked site has an exiguous appendix on “Other unusual languages in science fiction” that would be extremely useful if expanded.)

Via MonkeyFilter.


  1. Mike Kaplan had a post on Darmok last month.
    I made a comment that maybe the author was familiar with Giambattista Vico, who wrote about the metaphorical origins of language. Then I researched and found that Joe Menosky, the author of the Darmok episode went on to do a miniseries on Renaissance Italy. I would love to know if he was, in fact, familiar with Vico.

  2. Speaking of DS9, I always found the “Babel” episode interesting. A Cardassian virus makes everyone speak gibberish as their synaptic connections are mixed up and aphasia ensues…

  3. Going Dotty in Kansas says

    …maybe the Darmoks (are there such things?) read and write in Rotor.

  4. kukkurovaca says

    Hey, DS9. DS9 gets not nearly enough respect.

  5. There’s also speculation that the alien character’s speech is based on that of the character Loyal to the Group of Seventeen in Gene Wolfe’s “Book of the New Sun”, an inhabitant of a totalitarian regime whose language consists only of citations from the party manual.

  6. Richard Hershberger says

    Amazing! Just yesterday in the “THE X OF WHICH YOU SPEAK” comments I mention people who have reasoned opinions on the various Trek versions (a group in which I myself am included) and here we are. I agree that DS9 deserves more respect. It faded the last season or two, but at its height it was the most thoughtful of the Treks. Jadzia Dax was cute, too.

  7. This is entirely off-topic, and I apologize if that’s a breach of blogging etiquette, but this seemed like a good place for my question. Do any of you know of blogs that take bilingual families as a special concern? My daughter’s Japanese is running well ahead of her English and I’m a bit unhappy about it.

  8. aldiboronti says

    Try this site, Matt.
    Bilingual Families Web Page

  9. I can’t answer for other blogs, but I have no problem with off-topic comments as long as they’re not trying to sell me anything, and I’m glad you got an answer so quickly.

  10. Thanks very much. The suggested site looks like an excellent place to begin.

  11. Darmok, is indeed an interesting subject. But it was so long ago! are you really just getting around to this now?

  12. Nary a mention of Klingon, which was fully fleshed out by 1985, and people actually speak.
    (For the neophytes, Klingon is from the original Star Trek series/movies.)

  13. I was never a fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation (I’m a Deep Space Nine man myself) …

    Well, so am I, but it surprises me that anyone who didn’t even watch TNG would get into DS9.

  14. I had a friend who watched both; tried TNG and wasn’t enthralled, but DS9 hooked me right away. My favorite, though, was Babylon 5. Now, there was a show with some meat to it.

  15. somewhat related is the ancient art of making CENTOS–poems built up of juxtaposed lines taken from other poems. there’s quite a lot on the internet now (though sadly, much of the evidence from Classical times has not been judged worthy of translation), including one hardy soul who has written centos of Leonard Nimoy poems. the infamous Nuptial Cento of Ausonius was translated using lines of Shakespeare, i believe (who is to English centos as Virgil was to those in Latin); & so there is yet a living trandition which functions like this imaginary language…

  16. Chris Holmes says

    I remember that when the Darmok episode first aired a friend speculated that the concept came from a similar story from ancient Greece.

  17. oh, it was David Slavitt who indeed translated the Nuptial Cento using Shakespearean tags:

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