Languages in Star Wars

From Academic Kids

The fictional universe of Star Wars is a multilingual one, in which it is common to have either a passive or active understanding of many multiple languages from numerous alien races and cultures.

Contents

Common languages

The spoken language most often heard in the Star Wars films is Galactic Basic (shortened to Basic) although this name itself is never explicitly mentioned in the films themselves. Basic is a universal language, used for communication between many different species in the Galactic community. According to role-playing game sources, the language is a constructed language that was created from a mixing of the various native languages of the founding members of the Galactic Republic, including the Duros, the Bothans and Humans.

Spoken Galactic Basic is almost identical to spoken American English, although some Imperial officers usually speak with Received Pronunciation-like upper-class British accents, as well as some of the Jedi, including Obi Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn, and the droid C-3PO. The majority of the Rebels and most other humans, however, have American accents. Non-humans speaking Basic often also have distinctive accents, sometimes reminiscent of others found on Earth. Neimoidians (who comprise the Trade Federation's leadership), for example, appear to speak Japanese or Chinese accented English, the Toydarian Watto speaks with a Yiddish accent, and Jar Jar Binks' accent and dialect is possibly derived from Caribbean English.

It is worth noting that languages in the Star Wars universe are not always tied to specific species, just as in the real world languages are not always tied to specific nations or races, but can become the native language of a separate population. Notable non-human dialects of Basic include the Gungans of Naboo's pidgin dialect of Galactic Basic (though they do also have a native tongue), and Yoda's unusual dialect of Basic in which sentences often follow an OSV order, rather than the more usual SVO. It is unknown if this is a dialect spoken by all members of Yoda's species, or whether it was a quirk only Yoda possessed - although in the Expanded Universe Yaddle, a female member of the same species as Yoda, is also shown speaking in an OSV order.

Another lingua franca in the Star Wars Universe that is spoken by many groups and species is Huttese, most notably spoken on Tatooine. The name Huttese suggests that it was created by the Hutt species and adopted by other races, most likely those involved in business with the Hutts such as the Rodians. It is spoken in the films by both non-humans (Jabba the Hutt, Watto, Sebulba and others) and humans (most notably Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones).

The Ewoks of the forest moon of Endor speak a "primitive dialect" of one of the six million other forms of communication that C-3PO is familiar with, although what this language was is unknown.

Many interspecies conversations in the Star Wars universe are bilingual, with the humans usually speaking Basic and the non-humans speaking their own or a regional language. Code-switching is rare.

Droids and computers

Droids (robots) and computers in Star Wars use either the natural languages that their masters use, usually Basic, or special machine languages. Protocol droids such as C-3PO are "fluent in over six million forms of communication" and are often employed as translators. Astromech droids such as R2-D2 are able to understand commands in Basic and perhaps other languages, but can only communicate through an information-dense language of beeps and whistles; although devices exist that can translate this language into Basic (such as the display in an X-Wing cockpit that allows the ship's astromech and pilot to communicate). Simpler droids communicate only through sounds indicating affirmative/negative, or other simple replies.

Non-humans

Wookiees, the most famous being Chewbacca and Tarffur, are physically unable to speak Galactic Basic. Their native language, Shyriiwook, consists of seemingly animalistic roars and growls that actually form quite a complex language. Although it can be understood by members of other species, it is extremely difficult (if not impossible) for most non-Wookiees to speak; presumably the word 'Shyriiwook' itself, as well as other Wookiee words or names, are transliterations of the original Wookiee sounds into a form more easily pronounced by others. In one of the novels, Leia Organa-Solo encounters a Wookiee with a speech impediment which conveniently renders his Shyriiwook pronunciation much easier to understand by Leia, who was learning the language at the time.

Another alien species with an unusual language are the insectoid Geonosians seen in Episode II, whose language seems to consist almost entirely of Click consonants.

The Tusken Raiders of Tatooine seem to have no discernable intelligent language in the films, but according to the video game Knights of the Old Republic the Sand People do speak a language of their own; although it is difficult for non-Tuskens to understand. In the game an assassin/translator droid named HK-47 assists the player in communicating with the Tusken Raiders.

The Jawas, also found on Tatooine, speak in a high-pitched, squeaky voice, but unlike the Tusken Raiders their languages do consist of vocalised words. Their language can be translated into Basic.

Twi'lek speak their own language, Ryl, which incorporates spoken words and a form of sign language, using subtle manipulations of the tips of their lekku, or head tails. Most Twi'lek in the galactic community are also able to speak Basic or Huttese and most speak these languages when not among their own kind.

Ithorians have two mouths, one on each side of their head. Despite the stereophonic quality of their voices, however, their native languages are not wildly different from standard spoken languages used by others; and Ithorians are able to speak Basic, and be understood by others, with ease.

Selkath of Manaan speak in a slow, sloshy voice that often takes time to pronounce the smallest of sentences. Their language cannot be learnt or spoken by most other species.

Rodians have their own language called Rodese, which seems to be easily understood by most people. Rodians also learn Basic and Huttese easily, some even prefer it over their native tongue.

Writing

There is relatively little writing in the Star Wars universe; most telecommunication is by audio or audio/visual transmission. Where there is writing, such as on display screens in vehicles or occasionally on the side of a building, it is often unclear how the writing relates to the languages being used, although the Aurebesh script is claimed to be the definitive method of writing Basic.


Arabic numerals do appear throughout the films, mainly on computer displays counting down time or distance. At least one instance of the Latin alphabet crops up in A New Hope ("POWER - TRACTOR BEAM 12 (SEC. N6)"), but this appears to be an anomaly; 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, confirming that the Latin alphabet is no longer canonical in the Star Wars universe.

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, combining musical notation with phonetic characters; however no details are shown in the book.

Language building

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, and Huttese is mainly a jumble of words taken from numerous real human languages. The language most often heard in the films, Galactic Basic, is itself identical to modern English, with only a few changed idioms and additions of words related to the Star Wars setting.

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, Lando Calrissian's copilot, Nien Nunb, speaks the real human language Haya, spoken in Tanzania (page 31, Star Wars Insider #67). Similarly, the Ewok language was based on Tibetan, although some fans claim that they also hear English being spoken by the Ewoks at some points during the film.

One can also hear some Finnish in the Phantom Menace. After the first lap of the pod race competition, Watto yells 'Kiitos!' ('Thank You!' in Finnish) to Sebulba, and Sebulba answers 'Ole hyvä!' ('You're Welcome!' in Finnish).

Despite these inconsistencies, the Star Wars: Galactic Phrase Book & Travel Guide has been published. The guide briefly summarizes official book and movie information pertaining to Huttese, Bocce, Ewok, Shyriiwook, droid, Jawa, and Gungan.

Reference

  • Ben Burtt, Star Wars: Galactic Phrase Book & Travel Guide, ISBN 0345440749.
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