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Alien languages

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction and Writing Resource' started by Mr_Black, Jun 23, 2004.

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  1. Mr_Black

    Mr_Black Jedi Master star 1

    Registered:
    May 31, 2004
    Is there any rhyme or reason used in the construction of the varying terrestrial tongues we hear/read in the saga?

    It seems to me that the many languages are just arbitrary products of sound design: Pitching something up or down, looping, dubbing, re-dubbing, playing back to front, etc.

    I haven't scrutinized the alien-speak of SW too closely, but I know a thing or two about languages, and I can't place a grammatical structure or an engineered diction among any of them.

    So, at this point, I'm presuming it's all gobbildy-gook. Something like this could alternately make writing alien dialog either extremely difficult & complex, or extremely easy & simple. If you can prove me wrong, please do. I'd welcome it :).

    -------------

    Just as an anecdote: My favorite section of alien speak in either trilogy is when Han & Jabba are negotiating. Jabba's Booming, declarative, brook-no-argument tone of voice offers a copiously comedic juxtaposition to his actual dialog. I liken it to the voice of God delving into baby-speak.

    And the Lord Said:

    "Ra-ba choo-ga noo-goo"

    and it was good. O:)






    Unlocked by request.

    Leona

     
  2. Xaara

    Xaara Jedi Master star 3

    Registered:
    Jun 30, 2002
    To my knowledge, there hasn't been a great deal published about the origins of languages found in Star Wars. However, I have found two short passages, one at [link=http://hem.passagen.se/filmljud/starwars.htm]The Sound Design of Star Wars[/link], and the other at [link=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_in_Star_Wars]Languages in Star Wars[/link] that indicate that some languages are based on those spoken by small groups of humans.

    Quite a few SW languages are based at least as much upon inflection as they are on actual vocabulary. The Wookiee language, for example, is seldom translated; more often, an author will write, "Chewie grumbled menacingly," "The Wookiee yelped in annoyance," or "Shaking her head, the Wookiee told him in no uncertain terms that he was to stop making bad jokes."

    Huttese, on the other hand, is clearly a language that has a defined vocabulary and structure. As far as I can tell, it follows English grammatical conventions (Subject + Verb). I'd have to take a closer look, but it seems to translate almost word-for-word into English, which isn't really very realistic.

    I'd love to make a closer analysis of Star Wars languages with regards to how they're derived from human speech, but unlike Star Trek or Lord of the Rings languages, most of them just don't appear often enough.
     
  3. Mr_Black

    Mr_Black Jedi Master star 1

    Registered:
    May 31, 2004
    What a technical reply. Thanks for that. :)

    I feel as if my thunder has been stolen. [face_worried].

    Going from natural, personal perspective, I'd say that the linguistic nature of star wars has less to do with meticulous authoritative craftsmenship, and more to do with allowing the audience to immerse themselves freely in an alien universe/culture.

    Elements of the SW universe have a direct real world correspondance (the force=a more fantastical version of Taoism), and I'm sure the languages are no different. Bits & pieces are taken from the roots of multiple indigenous dialects and mish-moshed together to form suitable alien-speak.

    Keep in mind, this is just my gut feel. I could be entirely off base, but I just don't see something like the technicalities of E.T.-ese consuming too much of the production schedule. If it sounds alien, that's enough. There doesn't need to be textbooks or guidelines pertaining to it, like, for example, TLOTR. That work (which I still cannot read past Galadriel's Glade. The uber-description makes my pupils contract, and the effusive geneaology of elves puts my mind on spin-cycle) had different creative objectives; chief among them--making the reader feel & believe in the history of the story, not the fantasy aspect. Star Wars is just the opposite, a pure fantasy, set in a vague Galaxy Far, Far Away, Long Ago. And it's a timeless, joyful story because of it.

    I find it interesting that the methodology you mentioned is the dominant way of handling alien conversation, always second hand, indirectly from the human's perspective. Come to think of it, I don't see many aliens in ff; certainly not non-basic speakers. Talk about a void. It'd be a terrific writing challenge to present a story detailed in a completely fabricated language, yet still have the readers recognize character motivation, dynamic, and development, as well as empathize with their plight. Some day. [face_mischief]

    -Mr Black
     
  4. Dantana Skywalker

    Dantana Skywalker Manager Emeritus star 5 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Registered:
    Apr 7, 2002
    To make this relate to fanfiction (because at the moment it doesn't), I'm going to redirect the discussion a bit.

    Of the writers here who have made up languages for their stories (myself included), how do you go about doing that? Do you create an entire culture to go with it? How does it mesh with the "Star Wars" galaxy?

    I'll respond to these questions after other people have had a say.

    Dana
     
  5. Knight-Ander

    Knight-Ander Jedi Padawan star 4

    Registered:
    Jul 19, 2002
    I don't make-up languages for my SW aliens, but I find that [link=http://www.geocities.com/wermosguidetohuttese/index.html]this website[/link] is pretty handy when it comes to translating some of the already established languages in the Star Wars universe. :)
     
  6. MariahJade2

    MariahJade2 Former Fan Fiction Archive Editor star 5 VIP

    Registered:
    Mar 18, 2001
    I haven't made up any language per se. I have had non-human characters speak in their own tongue. I tried to use the films as a guide to create words that sounded similar in tone to what we had heard on screen. For a Falleen character I've got, I used a slavic language which I thought worked well.
     
  7. poor yorick

    poor yorick Ex-Mod star 6 VIP - Former Mod/RSA VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Jun 25, 2002
    I tried creating some simple language rules for a culture I made up, but when I tried to write the language out in sentences I thought it looked terrible. I've confined myself to using single words at a time, which preserves some of the "alien culture" flavor without my having to resort to: "Ooogoo boogoo noogoo," said Pumphlett.

    For what it's worth, my "language" does have some simple grammar rules which more or less correspond to Latin, which I wasted four years of my adolescence learning for reasons which currently escape me. (Two of my sisters took Spanish, and they've been able to navigate more or less successfully on trips to Mexico. Where is my language training going to come in handy? Latin America? Heloooooo . . .)

    As for how to come up with collections of made-up words that have a homogenous, "same language" sound, I usually find two or three RL languages that have the right "feel" and then copy down collections of syllables I like. Then I play "spin the phonemes" and mix and match the syllables and spellings until I like the result. If it's a really important made-up word, I'll sometimes enter it in Google to make sure it's not a real word in some obscure language. It would be sort of embarrassing if my word for "great high priestess" meant "drunken brother-in-law" in Tagalog or something.
     
  8. Xaara

    Xaara Jedi Master star 3

    Registered:
    Jun 30, 2002
    With all due respect, DantanaSkywalker, I believe that any discussion of the technical aspects of the Star Wars galaxy that might be useful to fan fiction writers (such as a discussion of the origins of the various languages) belongs in the Fan Fiction Resource forum.

    As for languages I've made up, when I need a quick language, I just take what I want to say, translate it into a language that doesn't have English grammatical structure (usually a romance language), and then change vowels and some consonants until I have the sound I want.

    For more long-term, in-depth languages, I work similarly to ophelia - I come up with a collection of about 30-40 standard sounds and work from there. It's really amazing how much you have to define in creating a language. It's necessary to come up with standard and irregular verbs and their conjugations, singulars and plurals, various agreements, etc. (But hey, it's fun. :) )
     
  9. The_SkyWolves

    The_SkyWolves Jedi Youngling star 1

    Registered:
    Feb 25, 2004
    I've noticed that Huttese at times seems to follow Japanese conventions (Noun- yaddayadda- verb.)

    Like "Solo, for tu ba ke chaya. (I like Captain Solo where he is.)

    I've created a language of some 500 words which follows Japanese conventions to an extent. I have some words that relate to English words- like ai= yes, na=no, fil=cat (feline), kan=dog (canine), etc...

    Ku dei Katafo fo? (Can you, Katafo speak?)

    La nai. (I can.)

    Dita nai. (Fun, is. It's fun.)

    Ies, naiesta nai. (But, not useful is. But, it's not useful.)
     
  10. DarthIshtar

    DarthIshtar Jedi Grand Master star 9

    Registered:
    Mar 26, 2001
    I once saw something with John Williams where he said that Ewok was kind of backwards Chinese.
     
  11. SaberBlade

    SaberBlade Jedi Master star 3

    Registered:
    Sep 19, 2001
    The language that I've been working on for a while is based mostly off of Latin, because that's what I took in school for many years. I think this fits in many ways, because the culture of the language is very old and in many ways archaic, so the rather archaic and formal structure of Latin, especially the verb forms, help me get a feel for the culture.

    Also, I'm having fun with it, since it's supposed to be very complicated and near impossible for a non-native to understand. I've been shortening things and rearranging things around to make it a bit more of a mess. I've been playing around with contractions a bit too, which are always fun.

    Generally, my word order follows Latin, in that the verb can basically go anywhere because the case of the other words will tell you what the subject, direct object, etc is. Sometimes it's a royal pain, but overall, I love playing around with it.



    Question for others like me: how do you come up with words? Do you have a vocab list of nouns, adjectives, and verbs, and make up each word, or do you have like a list of phrases and only invent words for the phrases, as necessary? I'd be interested in seeing how you decide what words are important enough to translate.

    -Saber
     
  12. DarthIshtar

    DarthIshtar Jedi Grand Master star 9

    Registered:
    Mar 26, 2001
    I've used Naboo a bit in my stories (most recently for a mourning song) and a lot of it is a mix of either Hebrew or Greek and misspelled spanish.
     
  13. Mr_Black

    Mr_Black Jedi Master star 1

    Registered:
    May 31, 2004
    [blockquote] Saber Blade: Question for others like me: how do you come up with words? Do you have a vocab list of nouns, adjectives, and verbs, and make up each word, or do you have like a list of phrases and only invent words for the phrases, as necessary? I'd be interested in seeing how you decide what words are important enough to translate.
    [/blockquote]

    In my writing, it's much less technical. I find, based on my preferences as an author, and the preferences of the audience that I'm writing the story for, that a fabricated language seems much more natural & genuine if it simply sounds like a foreign language.

    as for individual words, someone else mentioned spelling rearrangements, but, as is true with any dialogue, speaking it out loud after you write it helps it keep a truer ring. Especially when cavorting with a completely made up dialect, I speak it into a tape recorder. Than I pitch it up or down, speed it up, slow it down, play it backwards. Sometimes it's difficult to capture the inflections or syllabic stresses purely in writing, so I elect to narrate the stories that I use my languages in. Plus, I like to flex my anemic acting muscles, so that's just an excuse ;).

    Capturing a language in writing alone is a difficult task. I think the best thing to do when constructing is to avoid randomness. The language needs to have rules, parameters, and guidelines about it so the readers can latch on to an air of sincerity and consistency. This helps them remain rooted in your fictional universe instead of jarring them out of it by thinking "jeez, this guy's just trying to hard. It all seems like a bunch of nonsense."

    If you want to take a hit for your art, you can try speaking your language at random intervals while in conversation. It's a good idea to start with the closest of friends, so that the embarassment, humility, and hilarity is contained & at a minimum. Usually, in the linguistic aftermath, their ensuing facial expression speaks many more/richer volumes than any "How To" book could aspire to.

    Hope this kinda/sorta helped. :)

    -Mr Black
     
  14. Mr_Black

    Mr_Black Jedi Master star 1

    Registered:
    May 31, 2004
    [blockquote] Dana: Do you create an entire culture to go with it? [/blockquote]

    It depends on the situation within the story. If the person/creature is a main protagonist, than yes. It adds to their depth & arc as a character, their backstory, and the overall themes of the overall story. However, if I'm using foreigners as a plot device, or featuring them in a second-tier scene, than no.

    For example, if I'm going to have the separatists hold an alien world hostage and eventually blow it up, I'd try to demonstrate the culture in broader strokes (the costuming, the architecture, technical or mechanical devices, weaponry, etc) instead of using the alien language as the concentrated portal for this world & its people.
     
  15. ladyrebelsw1983

    ladyrebelsw1983 Jedi Master star 2

    Registered:
    Dec 25, 2002
    I just recently checked out a book from the library on Star Wars tourism, which contains common phrases, conjuctions, nouns, and adjectives in 8 of the popular languages from Star Wars (Pre-Corellian, Huttese, Bocce, Ewok, Shyriiwook aka Wookie, droid chatter, Jawa, Sandpeople, Gunganese, and Neimoidian). It may be helpful for you. It is titled:
    "Star Wars: Galactic Phrase Book and Travel Guide" and is authored by Ben Burtt
    Lady Rebel
     
  16. Dantana Skywalker

    Dantana Skywalker Manager Emeritus star 5 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Registered:
    Apr 7, 2002
    With all due respect, DantanaSkywalker, I believe that any discussion of the technical aspects of the Star Wars galaxy that might be useful to fan fiction writers (such as a discussion of the origins of the various languages) belongs in the Fan Fiction Resource forum.

    Yes, but it must relate to fanfiction. Just having a discussion on the languages does not relate to fanfiction. Alien languages and how the board members create them, use them, etc., and resources for them, THAT relates to fanfiction.


    Dana
     
  17. Healer_Leona

    Healer_Leona Squirrely Community Mod star 9 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jul 7, 2000
    Unlocked an giving a boost up to find.
     
  18. ardavenport

    ardavenport Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Dec 16, 2004
    Thanks so much for the thread unlocking!! :)

    OK, I'm just wondering, are there any sounds in the Wookiee language that are recognizable names? For example, are there any particular sounds that Chewbacca makes that mean 'Han', 'Luke', 'Leia', 'Death Star'? If there aren't, I can just make something up (like 'Aah', 'Ouhh', 'Eeeh-uh' 'AAaaaa-oooff') but I'd like to know if anyone has dealt with it before. Usually, when a Wookiee speaks the story narrative just describes what they say or uses italic translation, but I'd like to try something different.

    Is there any established grammar to the Wookiee language?

     
  19. Darth_Manion

    Darth_Manion Jedi Youngling star 3

    Registered:
    Feb 5, 2007
    Try Ben Burtt's Galactic Phrase Book and Travel Guide. I use it all the time when I want to add some lingual flavor to my fics. It's got a section on Huttese, Bocce, Ewok, Tusken, Gungan, Nemodian, Jawa, a little Sullustian, as well as an entire section devoted to Wookie-speak, AKA Shyriiwook.
     
  20. Jade_Pilot

    Jade_Pilot Jedi Master star 5

    Registered:
    Dec 10, 2005
    Ahhh... I was just going to suggest the book myself! I've often used this in my FF to give my stories some authenticity.

    Kiney chattu toma tip-yip!
     
  21. ardavenport

    ardavenport Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Dec 16, 2004

    There's a phrase book?? <checking amazon> Yeah, I guess there is. I'm glad I asked before plunging into this plot bunny. Thanks for the reference!

     
  22. Onoto

    Onoto Jedi Knight star 5

    Registered:
    Oct 7, 2004
    My godfather is Chinese, and though he's not fluent, he understood some of what the Ewoks were saying in ROTJ. It was gibberish.

    Anyways, what I do is write in italics if the Basic-speaking character understands them. If it's only aliens, I'll just use regular speech. But if the Basic-speaking character cannot understand, I'll say something like, "The alien made clicking noises to his companion, who clicked back. John Doe's head swiveled as he tracked the clicks, hoping to find a understanding." I won't actually write, "Clickety, clack, clack."

    So I avoid the research by not writing dialogue in anything but English.
     
  23. Aiel

    Aiel Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Oct 14, 2004
    I actually borrowed this:

    [link=http://selarips.free.fr/wookieetranslator/]Easy Shryiiwook[/link]

    For when I had to do some text for Chewie in my story.

    I don't know how accurate it is, but it sure is helpful and easy.
     
  24. Space_Wolf

    Space_Wolf Jedi Master star 3

    Registered:
    Mar 13, 2007
    As I tend to have quite a lot of aliens in my stories, I find this topic quite interesting. I generally avoid writing alien speach in dialogue, though, and tend to write something like Flik cursed in Shistavanen, or something like that, when he isn't speaking basic. I have written a couple of stories about Wookiees and when the scene is made up of Wookiees, or there's only one human character in a bunch of them, I usually write what the Wookiees say in this [], as that's what you get in offical novels. If there's more than one set of dialogue, for instance, Wookiees don't just speak Shyriiwook, there's also Xatzic as well. Those of you've read A.C Crispin's Han Solo Trilogy would have come across this and to indicate that it's different, I put the dialogue in this: <>. If, however, there's only one Wookiee in the scene and all the others speak basic, I just discribe the Wookiee's body language, along with a growl or something like that. Having read books that do have non-English dialogue in them, I find too much of it distracting and I almost think that the author is being a bit arrogant if they try too hard with it, though it's ok if it's just the occassional word or phrase. I don't think there's a point in writing too much of it because too many people aren't really going to be able to understand it. I find that when I'm reading a book that has a lot of this stuff in it, or if there's really long sentances, that I just skim over it.
     
  25. Eleventh_Guard

    Eleventh_Guard Jedi Master star 5

    Registered:
    Dec 17, 2005
    I've never actually written anything in a homemade alien (or human-but-not-Basic) language, but I sort of referred to one by copying over some of the hypothetical language's characteristics into Basic; the alien speaker's pronunciation and grammar are a little different than "standard" Basic, but understandable.

    I used a bit of Dathomiri in a fic, but since I couldn't actually find a whole lot about how that language works, I made it up, and it's probably all wrong, but nobody said anything if I did bungle it badly. one character primarily speaks Dathomiri, and hasn't really spoken Basic in 12 years (since she was 5) and while she can communicate in Basic when necessary, her grammar and vocabulary are all kinds of awful. But I wish I knew what Dathomiri grammar was really like, so that her mistakes would at least be more consistent.
     
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