Okrand worked with Native American languages. He earned a bachelor's degree from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1972. His 1977 doctoral dissertation from the University of California, Berkeley, was on the grammar of Mutsun, a dialect of Ohlone (a.k.a. Southern Costanoan), which is an extinct Utian language formerly spoken in the north central Californian coastal areas from Northern Costanoan down to 30 miles south of Salinas. He taught linguistics at the University of California, Santa Barbara before taking a post doctoral fellowship at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., in 1978.
Okrand took a job at the National Captioning Institute, where he worked on the first closed-captioning system for hearing impaired television viewers. While coordinating closed captioning for the Oscars award show in 1982, Mr. Okrand met the producer for the movie Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan. He was hired by Paramount Pictures to develop the Klingon language and coach the actors using it in Star Trek 3: The Search For Spock, Star Trek 5: The Final Frontier, Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country and Star Trek: The Next Generation. His first work was dubbing in Vulcan language dialogue for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, since the actors had already been filmed talking in English. He has since consulted for the 2009 Star Trek film in their use of the Romulan and Vulcan languages.Template:Citation needed
Okrand is the author of The Klingon Dictionary, first published in 1985, and all its addenda.
The tlh sound that he incorporated into Klingon, unusual to English speakers, is common in North and Central American indigenous languages, in which it is usually transcribed as tl, tł or ƛ (a voiceless alveolar affricate with lateral release); this is the sound at the end of the word "Nahuatl".
Okrand taught undergraduate linguistics courses at the University of California, Santa Barbara, from 1975 to 1978.
More recently, Okrand created the Atlantean language for the The Walt Disney Company film Atlantis: The Lost Empire'.
Okrand currently serves as one of the directors for Live Captioning at the National Captioning Institute and as President of the board of directors of the Washington Shakespeare Company in Arlington, Virginia.
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