Minnesotta Daily reports on the story of linguist d’Armond Speers who spoke to his son only in Klingon, the language of the eponymous alien race in Star Trek, for the first three years of his life. Speers wanted to learn if language acquisition would process using a constructed language in the same manner as natural language. The control was the child’s mother, who spoke to him in English. Speers said, “I was interested in the question of whether my son, going through his first language acquisition process, would acquire it like any human language. He was definitely starting to learn it.”
As for Speers, who still gets nostalgic when he recalls singing the Klingon lullaby “May the Empire Endure” with his son at bedtime, the experiment was a dud. His son is now in high school and doesn’t speak a word of Klingon.
Although some of the things he’s done lead people to believe he’s a “Star Trek” fanatic, Speers said it’s actually a passion for language that attracts him to Klingon.
“I don’t go to ‘Star Trek’ conventions, I don’t wear the fake forehead,” he said. “I’m a linguist.”
Constructed language does suffer shortcomings when it comes to language acquisition. Natural languages have the benefit of generations of use and seem far better suited for easier acquisition, but the jury is still out. It’s difficult to dismiss constructed language all together. There are plenty of stories of children acquiring Esperanto, another constructed language, and maintaining fluency into adulthood. It isn’t so much constructed versus natural language, but the content of the language. Compare studies of language acquisition across different natural languages.
It would have been interesting to see the results if Speers had continued to speak to his son in Klingon after three years.