ZURICH — "Savan!"
That's how teacher André Muller greets students in his class. If the word (pronounced “Sha-vaan”), sounds a bit alien, that's because it is. Muller is teaching Klingon — the language of about 3,000 words spoken in the Star Trek universe.
Even though the Klingon race is fictional, the spoken language – invented in 1984 by American linguist Marc Okrand — is now being taught at Migros Club School, Switzerland’s largest adult education institution.
Muller leads one of the rare in-person classes in the world to teach Klingon, as opposed to online courses.
The classes, which started in May in several Swiss cities, have been very popular – or as the Klingons would say, "Quapla."
“We are overwhelmed by the interest in these courses. It exceeded all our expectations,” said Mirjam Jaeger, who coordinates foreign language projects at the school.
The Zurich course on May 31, for instance, was at full capacity with 30 students, and 18 more on the waiting list. The previous course given earlier in May in the Swiss capital city of Bern had 35 participants.
While there has been a lingering interest in Klingon classes for several years, Jaeger said the demand increased dramatically since the school had a stand promoting the courses at Fantasy Basel, Switzerland’s comic convention held at the end of April and attended by nearly 50,000 visitors.
Since the lessons started last month, “it’s nice to see that the students are very mixed, from 14 to 61-year-olds, from Trekkies to IT professors,” she added. “Being a nerd has become hip.”
A fan of Star Trek and other sci-fi films, Tanya Rothenburg, 46, said she signed up for the Zurich course “because I always wanted to learn Klingon.” Being able to talk with others who speak this language, “makes me feel like I belong to a very select group,” she said.
Muller, 32, is one of a small group — estimated at between 30 and 200 worldwide — of fluent Klingon speakers. He is also the only instructor for the entire country, giving classes in whatever city Migros organizes them. He teaches his courses attired in a dark yellow shirt like the one Captain Kirk wears on the intergalactic journey.
A self-avowed trekkie who is studying for his Ph.D. in linguistics at Zurich University, Muller speaks a dozen languages and learned Klingon at 13 by reading Okrand’s Klingon dictionary. Later, he started “putting more effort into it and participating in various online Klingon forums,” he said.
The three-hour crash courses currently offered by Migros for $80 cover Klingon history, as well as grammar, pronunciation and basic sentence structure.
“The grammar is quite complex and exotic but it's still easier than most natural languages,” Muller said. “However, the vocabulary is hard to memorize, because we can't relate to it to any other language.”
Those who attended previous courses have left glowing feedback. “It’s exciting to see how a fictional language can be spoken,” Lukas Haltmeier, who recently attended the course in the city of St. Gallen, told his local newspaper, 20 Minuten.
More Klingon classes are already scheduled for the fall — including a 20-lesson intensive course that will be held, appropriately enough, on Zurich’s Vulkanplatz.
With this and other Klingon classes Migros is organizing, more students will be able to boldly go where few have gone before.
And in the Star Trek lingo, that’s "buy' ngop" (good news)!