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The Languages of Star Wars

Jedi Jondee here on Coruscant, “H’chu apenkee”!,

Greedo-5   Greedo, “Oonta goota, Solo?”

The standard, common language in Star Wars, heard as English to our ears, is Basic. The written form is Aurebesh, the script that we first saw in Return of the Jedi; Aurek, Besh, Cresh, etc. It was put into workable language in the role-playing and miniature games. The accent that we hear is important; the informal, American accent to our ears, accent characterizes the Outer Rim. This is why many of the Rebels have the Outer Rim accent. I realized this when I heard the audio book of Heir to the Empire narrated by Dennis Lawson with his regular, British accent. Anakin, Padme, and Luke have the Outer Rim accent. Even though Alderaan and Corellia are Core Worlds both Han and Leia have Outer Rim accents. Emperor Palpatine has an Outer Rim accent. The formal accent, which sounds British to us, originates on Coruscant. This was a point made in the recent Battlefront: Twilight Company novel where the Outer Rim soldiers thought the Coruscant accent was “the accent of the Imperial elite” and “seemed overly enunciated” to the Rebel soldier. Obi-Wan has the Coruscant accent. Tarkin’s home world is Eriadu in the Outer Rim, but he has the Coruscant accent. The same with Count Dooku and his home world is also in the Outer Rim. For Force Awakens, from the trailers, it looks like Finn has the Outer Rim accent while Rey has a Coruscant accent. Kylo Ren also has an Outer Rim accent.

Jabba_the_Hutt   Jabba says, “Bo shuda!”
Huttese is the second most common language. Of course, we first heard it from Greedo in A New Hope. This is the language of “the criminal element.” Han Solo obviously understands it, but we don’t hear him speak it. Anakin speaks Huttese to Watto and Sebulba in Phantom Menace. We know Jabba speaks Huttese, he can also understand Basic, but just doesn’t want to speak it. His uncle, Ziro the Hutt, speaks Basic in the Clone Wars cartoon. The language is based on Quechua, an ancient Peruvian dialect. This and other Star Wars languages is covered in sound designer Ben Burtt’s book, Star Wars: Galactic Phrase Book & Travel Guide. There are some lesser known languages like Bocce which we have never heard which is described as “intersystem trade jargon.” This of course the language Uncle Owen asks if C-3PO can understand. The alien “language” we hear the most is Chewbacca’s language which was called Shyriiwook in Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire novel. The name means “tongue of the tree people.” It is difficult for Basic speakers to speak Shyriiwook (though there are some good imitators) which was made from the vocalizations of a trained bear named Pooh.

EP6_ILM_152 Nien Nunb says, “Atirizi inyui mwi hau inyouthe ukai.”
The other language we hear in the films is Sullustan spoken by Nien Nunb in Return of the Jedi. He speaks Basic to Leia in the Princess Leia comic book, but I think he is comfortable speaking Sullustan with Lando who understands it. It was based on Haya, the language of Tanzanians, in East Africa. The Galactic Phrase Book also includes Ewokese which most Star Warriors can sing the final song and pick up some Ewokese in the Ewok movies, but it leaves out “Goonda” which I think means “very good” or “excellent.” Another strange language is of the Neimoidians, we only get hints of it with “droideka”, but this seems like a jargon, a variation of Basic. There is also Jawaese (which I recall had phrases seen in the collectible card game, “Utinni!”, “a triumphal call”), the language of the Sand People (greeting is “Aargh”), and droidspeak which is made up of “chirps, whistles, buzzes, and beeps.” The best part of the Galactic Phrase Book is the translation of Han and Greedo’s encounter and also C-3PO’s recounting of their adventures to the Ewoks. Plus, it’s nice to read about Burtt’s dealing with animal sounds, obscure languages, and other sounds to make alien languages. This is something that we don’t get as much in Star Trek which has too many humanoids with bumps on their heads (though Klingonese has turned into a workable language). I think it would be interesting to see the language of the Togruta, the people like Ahsoka Tano and Shaak Ti, and also the language of the Twi’leks like Aayla Secura and Hera Syndulla.