Languages in Star Wars

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The fictional universe of Star Wars contains many languages. The languages have a role in the story lines. Because of the various languages characters speak in Star Wars they often cannot understand each other. The character C-3PO is a translator fluent in over six million forms of communication[1] who acts as a go-between for other characters in the stories.

"Aurebesh" alphabet

Basic - the common galactic language[edit]

The spoken language most often heard, a lingua franca, in the Star Wars films and stories is Galactic Basic (shortened to Basic), although this name itself is never explicitly mentioned in the films.[2] Basic is heard or printed in the vernacular of the audience (English in English versions, Spanish in Spanish translations, etc.) and most often written in "Aurebesh", an alphabet which has letters corresponding to each of the 26 letters of the basic Latin alphabet, as well as letters representing Latin digraphs (letter combinations) such as "th", "sh", "ng", etc.

Other Languages[edit]

Bocce[edit]

Bocce is a language of trade within the Star Wars Universe. Developed by a merchant fleet, it combines multiple languages to provide trade communication between different species.

Huttese[edit]

Another lingua franca in the Star Wars Universe that is spoken by many groups and species is Huttese, spoken on Nal Hutta, Nar_Shaddaa, Tatooine and other worlds in and around Hutt space. It is spoken in the films by both non-humans (Jabba the Hutt, Watto, Sebulba and others) and humans. In fact, the whole Max Rebo Band communicates and sings in Huttese. Its phonology is said to be based on the Quechua language.[3]

Tribal tongue of the Ewoks[edit]

The Ewoks of the forest moon of Endor speak a "primitive dialect" of one of the more than six million other forms of communication that C-3PO is familiar with. Ben Burtt, Return of the Jedi’s sound designer, created the Ewok language.[4] Burtt has told rather differing stories about how he developed the language. In Bantha Tracks #17 August 1982, he states

"For the Ewoks, I was inspired by a recording on a BBC documentary of an elderly woman speaking Tibetan. It was very high-pitched and sounded like a good basis for Ewokese to me. Eventually then, what evolved was a pidgin, or double talk version of words from Tibetan, Nepali and other Mongolian languages [sic, neither Tibetan nor Nepali are Mongolian languages]."

Several years later, on the commentary track for the DVD of Return of the Jedi, Burtt identified the language that he heard in the BBC documentary as Kalmyk, a tongue spoken by the isolated nomadic Kalmyk people. He describes how, after some research, he identified an 80-year old Kalmyk refugee. He recorded her telling folk stories in her native language, and then used the recordings as a basis for sounds that became the Ewok language and were performed by voice actors who imitated the old woman's voice in different styles. For the scene in which C-3PO speaks Ewokese, actor Anthony Daniels worked with Burtt and invented words, based on the Kalmyk recordings.[5]

Marcia Calkovsky of Lethbridge University maintains that Tibetan language contributed to Ewok speech along with Kalmyk, starting the story from attempts to use language samples of Native Americans and later turning to 9 Tibetan women living in San Francisco area, as well as one Kalmyk woman. The story of the choice of these languages is referenced to Burtt's 1989 telephone interview, and many of the used Tibetan phrases translated. The initial prayer Ewoks address to C-3PO is actually the beginning part of Tibetan Buddhist prayer for the benefit of all sentient beings, or so called four immeasurables, but also there is a second (out of four) part of refuge prayer. Tibetan diaspora was puzzled as many of the phrases they could make out did not corellate to events on screen.[6]

Wookiee language of Shyriiwook[edit]

Shyriiwook (also called Wookiee Speak, or contracted as "Wookieespeak" in the Expanded Universe, and video games) is the native language of the Wookiee race. The language consists of roars and growls.[7] Although it can be understood by members of other species, it is extremely difficult for those with non-Wookiee physiology to speak. Conversely, Wookiee mouthparts physically cannot create the sounds of Galactic Basic, thus while Wookiees such as Chewbacca can understand characters speaking Basic, he cannot speak it. In Timothy Zahn's "Heir to the Empire", Leia Organa Solo encounters a Wookiee with a speech impediment which conveniently renders his Shyriiwook pronunciation much easier to understand by Leia. Another Wookiee language, Xaczik, is indigenous to Wartaki Island on Kashyyyk and several outlying coastal regions.

Ithorians[edit]

Ithorians have two mouths, one on each side of their head. As a result, their native language is extremely complicated and essentially impossible for non-Ithorians to speak. Despite the stereophonic quality of their voices, Ithorians are able to speak Basic, and be understood by others, with ease.

Geonosians[edit]

Geonosians, insectoid species seen in Episode II whose language includes click consonants.

Tusken Raiders[edit]

The Tusken Raiders of Tatooine, according to the video game Knights of the Old Republic, speak a language of their own; it is, however, difficult for non-Tuskens to understand this language. In the game, a droid named HK-47 assists the player in communicating with the Tusken Raiders. In the novelizations Junior Jedi Knights and New Jedi Order series, it is revealed that Jedi Knight Tahiri Veila was raised by the Tusken Raiders after they captured her in a raid. Generally, they utter roars and battle cries when seen in public.

Jawaese and Jawa Trade Language[edit]

The Jawas, also found on Tatooine, speak in a high-pitched, squeaky voice. To speak to others of their species along with the voice they emit a smell showing their emotions. However when trading droids and dealing with non-Jawas they speak without the smell because many consider the smell "Foul."

Ryl language of the Twi'leks[edit]

Twi'leks speak their own language, Ryl, which incorporates spoken words and a form of sign language, using subtle manipulations of the tips of their lekku (head tails).

Rodian language[edit]

Rodians have their own language called Rodese.

Hapan language[edit]

Hapan was the language developed by residents of the Hapes Cluster due to their isolation from the rest of the galaxy. Due to their limited contact with residents outside the Cluster, Basic was not commonly known to the average Hapan.

Droids and computers[edit]

Droids (robots) and computers in Star Wars use either the natural languages or machine languages. C-3PO is "fluent in over six million forms of communication" and protocol droids are often employed as translators. Astromech droids such as R2-D2 communicate through an information-dense language of beeps and whistles known as Binary; devices exist that can translate this language into Basic. A few non-droids can also learn to understand it through working with the droids for long periods of time, and protocol droids are able to translate Binary into other languages.

Writing[edit]

Hindu-Arabic numerals appear throughout the films, mainly on computer displays counting down time or distance. At least one instance of the Latin alphabet crops up in the original version of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope ("POWER – TRACTOR BEAM 12 (SEC. N6)"). Text in the other films is either illegible, offscreen, or in fictional scripts. For the 2004 DVD release, this writing was changed to the Aurebesh alphabet. In the novel The Truce at Bakura, the Ssi-ruuk speak some sort of tonal language which involves whistles. A human prisoner devises an orthography for this language.

Language building[edit]

The languages of some fictional worlds have been worked out in great detail, with grammatical rules and large vocabularies, such as J. R. R. Tolkien's Elvish languages, and the Klingon language of Star Trek. The fictional languages of Star Wars, in contrast, are not systematically worked out. The Wookiee growls and the beeps of the astromechs mainly carry emotional indicators for the audience via intonation. The language most often heard in the films, Galactic Basic, is itself identical to modern English (or whatever language the film is shown in), with only a few changed idioms and additions of words related to the Star Wars setting. Mando'a, the language of the Mandalorians, is being developed into a working language by Star Wars author Karen Traviss.[8]

Other languages heard are also human languages, albeit ones likely unfamiliar to most of the audience. In A New Hope, for instance, the language spoken by the character Greedo in conversation with Han Solo (in the cantina) is actually a simplified version of Quechua, an indigenous language of the Andean region of South America. In Return of the Jedi, the voice of Lando Calrissian's copilot, Nien Nunb, was provided by a student speaking Haya, a language from the young man's native Tanzania (Star Wars Insider #67, 31). In Return of the Jedi, Oola, Jabba's (a name apparently inspired by a Russian word (жаба (zhaba/jaba)) meaning "toad") twi'lek dancer, can also be heard speaking in French language saying "Non, ne me tuez pas!" (meaning: "No, don't kill me!") as Jabba is about to kill her. One can also hear some Finnish in The Phantom Menace. Similarly, "Teräs Käsi", the name of a martial art in the Expanded Universe, comes from Finnish and translates as "steel hand."

The Star Wars: Galactic Phrase Book & Travel Guide summarizes book and movie information pertaining to Huttese, Bocce, Ewok, Shyriiwook, droid, Jawa, and Gungan.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Neil Frude, The Robot Heritage (Century Pub., 1984), 176.
  2. ^ Encyclopedia of Fictional and Fantastic p.173–178 previewed at http://books.google.com/books?id=cQhke8K9G60C&pg=PA176&dq=%22Star+Wars%22+languages&ei=kpkYSYPCDI-SMpaTrdQE
  3. ^ Crit Minster, Paula Newton, and Ricardo Segreda, Viva Travel Guide to Peru: Exploring Machu Picchu, Cusco, the Inca Trail, Arequipa, Lake Titicaca, Lima and Beyond (Viva Travel Guide to Peru: Exploring Machu Picchu, Cusco, the Inca Trail, Arequipa, Lake Titicaca, Lima and Beyond), 26.
  4. ^ Frank Northen Magill, Great Events from History II: 1897–1921 (Salem Pr Inc, 1993), 2393.
  5. ^ Ben Burtt, DVD commentary on The Return of the Jedi.
  6. ^ Marcia S. Calkovsky. Is There Authoritative Voice in Ewok Talk? On Postmodernism, Fieldwork, and the Recovery of Unintended Meaning, in: Culture, Canadian Anthropology Society, 1991. Vol. XI №1-2.
  7. ^ Daniel Amara, Prima Temp Authors Staff, Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided: Prima's Official Strategy Guide (Prima Games, 2003), 22.
  8. ^ On her official website, she claims, "Yes, it's true. There's now a Mandalorian language, Mando'a. I developed it for Lucasfilm and now it's a functioning language that you can learn and speak." See "Ke jorhaa'ir Mando'a!" at Karen Travis Science Fiction and Fantasy Author.

Further reading[edit]

  • Ben Burtt, Star Wars: Galactic Phrase Book & Travel Guide, ISBN 0-345-44074-9.
  • Stephen Cain, Tim Conley, and Ursula K. Le Guin, "Star Wars," Encyclopedia of Fictional and Fantastic Languages (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006), 173-176.

External links[edit]