SAND PEOPLE

Languages in Star Wars

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

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 Iridonian Zabrak and Humans.

In the films, Spoken Galactic Basic is identical to spoken English. Imperial officers, some Jedi (including Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn), and other characters (such as droid C-3PO) speak with a Received Pronunciation accent (an accent form of British English). It is often referred to as a Coruscanti accent. The majority of the Rebels and most other humans, however, have American accents, or "Rim accents". Non-humans speaking Basic often also have distinctive accents, sometimes reminiscent of others found on Earth. For example, some people have observed that Neimoidians (who comprise the Trade Federation's leadership) use a Thai-accented English, though this is very hard to justify on concrete linguistic grounds (depending on their country of origin, where they were raised, and/or dialect, speakers of Thai and other Oriental languages the world over have different accents when speaking English). Others have observed that the Toydarian Watto speaks with a Yiddish-, Italian- or perhaps New York-influenced accent, and Jar Jar Binks speaks with a Caribbean English-influenced accent.

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 ethnic groups, 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 usually follow an OSV order, rather than the more usual SVO. Frank Oz, who invented this mode of speech for this character, has said in interviews that this way of speaking demonstrates and represents a certain prescience or awareness of the future that Yoda has. 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. In Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Master Vandar Tokare, a male of the same species as Yoda, is seen speaking Basic in standard SVO mode.

Another lingua franca in the Star Wars Universe that is spoken by many groups and species is Huttese, spoken on Tatooine and other worlds in and around Hutt space. The name Huttese suggests that it was originally spoken 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).

Bocce is quite common as a trade language, and is very common on the Outer Rim, but is far lesser known in the Coreward worlds.

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. According to Ben Burtt, in Bantha Tracks #17 August 1982: "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 the Nepali language are Mongolian or even Altaic languages] Huttese was created by the same process."

Many interspecies conversations in the Star Wars universe are multilingual, with the humans usually speaking Basic and the non-humans speaking their own or a regional language although many humans are generally familiar with non-human languages even if they do not speak it as goes the same for the non-humans. Code-switching is rare, but most notable among the clone commandos, Mandalorians, and Hutts.

There are many other minor languages mostly spoken by native species only. These languages include: Jawaese spoken by the Jawa of Tatooine, Vong spoken by the Yuuzhan Vong, Geonosian, Mando'a spoken by the Mandolorians, Gungan, Dosh spoken by Trandoshans, Mon Calamarian and many more.

Shyriiwook

Shyriiwook (also called Wookiee Speak, or contracted as "Wookieespeak" in the Extended Universe, and video games) is the native language of the Wookiee race of hairy bipeds in the Star Wars universe. The language consists of animalistic roars and growls. Although it can be understood by members of other species, it is extremely difficult 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 Star Wars episodes (Timothy Zahn's "Dark Force Rising"), 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. No tongue or lip movement is required to speak Shyriiwook; the jaw is typically locked open, with sound emanating from the throat and back of the mouth. In the online game Star Wars Galaxies if the player chooses to be a Wookiee then they will speak in Shyriiwook, but many people can understand them, unlike in the Star Wars films.

Another Wookiee language, Xaczik, is indigenous to Wartaki Island on Kashyyyk and several outlying coastal regions. While Shyriiwook remained the common language of Wookiee trade and travel, the much rarer Xaczik language became the secret language of the Wookiee underground when Imperial forces took over their planet.

Bandyaar

Bandyaar

Many consider Bandyaar to be originated in the Zabrak sector of the Star Wars Galaxy. Many Zabrakians, like Ghondak (from Return of the Jedi) and Zhondak (from A New Hope) speak Bandyaar. The history of the Bandyaar language is unknown. The fact that Queelok, a hutt from the Ploridian sector, complicates its history further. Bandyaar has been compared to a hybrid of the Earth languages Xhosa and Icelandic.

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 known as Binary; 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). 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. Simpler droids communicate only through sounds indicating affirmative/negative, or other simple replies. Nearly every droid, however, can communicate in some form of Binary. Binary can be understood by organics, but not easily spoken. Between droids, massive volumes of information can be exchanged in a matter of seconds, as the language is spoken with incredible rapidity; approximately 100 times as much information can be passed between droids as between organics. When a droid speaks Binary to an organic, they must voluntarily slow their speech to be understood. Binary, however, is virtually unable to express information about emotions, art, philosophy, the Force, or other abstract phenomena.

Non-humans

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 discernible 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; 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.

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, albeit jabbered at a fast rate. Their languages can be translated into Basic, though the translation often seems disjointed and broken. The Jawas speak two languages: Jawaese, among members of their own race; and the Jawa Trade Language, a simplified version of Jawa, when speaking to other races.

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, or head tails. Most Twi'leks in the galactic community are also able to speak Basic or Huttese and most speak these languages when not among their own kind. It also appears in a few sources that the Twi'lek language is fairly common on some of the edges of the Republic farthest from the Core Worlds.

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. Ithorese has been described as "beautiful", but, as it requires two mouths and four throats to speak, can only be spoken by Ithorians, though it can be understood by most races.

Selkath of Manaan speak in a slow, sloshing rasp that takes more time than other languages to express the same information. Their language can be learned by most other species, but, due to the unique nature of Selkath vocal cords, cannot be spoken by most other races.

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. This is because Rodese is rather more difficult than Basic or Huttese, even for Rodians.

The Ewoks speak a primitive language of their own.

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.

Hindu-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 the original version of Star Wars Episode IV: 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, suggesting that the Latin alphabet is no longer canonical in the Star Wars universe; however, the designation of such vehicles as AT-AT, AT-ST, and X-wing would seem to suggest that the Latin alphabet may be in less common or referential usage, perhaps archaic and replaced by Aurebesh. A mention in the New Jedi Order novel Traitor of words carved in Basic is ambiguous, as most previous mentions of written Basic language have referred to the style as "Aurebesh", although Vergere could be merely making a distinction between the sharp alien language of the Yuuzhan Vong and the most spoken language in the known regions of the galaxy that they invaded. At any rate, Latin letters are referenced in many instances in the Star Wars canon, so it seems wrong to completely discount the Latin alphabet from some degree of usage within the fictional Star Wars universe. It may have a role similar to that of the Greek alphabet in many real Roman-alphabet-using societies.

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. One of the languages not heard in Star Wars, but still popular, Mando'a, the language of the Mandalorians, is being developed into a working language by Star Wars author Karen Traviss.

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 (Star Wars Insider #67, 31). Nunb's voice was performed by a Tanzanian exchange student. A popular theory amongst fans of the series is that his lines translate roughly as "a thousand elephants are stomping on my foot". 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. The official story, according to the audio commentary of Return of the Jedi, is that a Tibetan woman was given a lot of vodka and recorded.

One can also hear some Finnish in the 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). Also, "Teräs Käsi", the name of a martial art in the Expanded Universe comes from Finnish and translates as "steel hand".

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, Bacce, Ewok, Shyriiwook, droid, Jawa, and Gungan.

Further reading

  • Ben Burtt, Star Wars: Galactic Phrase Book & Travel Guide, ISBN 0-345-44074-9.

References

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