Do the Minions in the Despicable Me movies speak a real language or is it just nonsense?
Like everyone else, I love the Minions in the Despicable Me movies, but as someone who also loves language, I wondered about the Minions' language. Is it real or is it nonsense? Some movies have hired linguists to construct new languages:
- Avatar producers hired a linguist to construct the Na'vi language. (1)
- Star Trek producers hired a linguist to construct Klingon. (2)
- Land of the Lost producers hired a linguist to construct the Pakuni language. (2)
Did Universal do the same thing for the Minions?
To decide if what the Minions speak is a real language, we'll have to answer two questions:
- How were the sounds developed?
- Do the words have meaning?
1. Did Universal Hire a Linguist for the Minions in Despicable Me?
Some press reports say that the film's directors (Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud) created the language themselves—they call it Minionese—and they actually recorded some of the Minion voices themselves, (3, 4, 5). Some reports go so far as to say that every Minionese word has a specific meaning. (3) However, a section from the production notes of the 2013 movie says the language is just gibberish with random foreign words thrown in:
[Pierre Coffin:] ’So, these words pop out, and I have them speak Indian, French, English, Spanish and Italian. I mix up all these ridiculous sounding words just because they sound good, not because they necessarily mean something.”
Viewers have also reported hearing the Minions use words from Hebrew, Japanese, Filipino, and Indonesian.
Coffin’s off-the-cuff vocals evidently hit the mark, because the characters took off, audiences absolutely fell in love with them, and now, of course, they have their own spin-off movie. Renaud continues with his fellow director’s story:
“Their language sounds silly, but when you believe that they’re actually communicating that’s what makes it funnier. What’s great about the Minion language, while it is gibberish, it sounds real because Pierre puts in words from many languages and does the lion’s share of the Minion recordings. There are a lot of food references. For example, 'poulet tiki masala' is French for the Indian chicken dish."
2. Some Words in the Minion Language Have Meaning
- "Ba-boy" means ''toy."
- "Bi-do" means ''I'm sorry.''
- "Para tú" means roughly "for you." (Google Translate tells me this also means "for you" in Spanish.)
- "La boda"means "marriage." (Google Translate tells me this means "wedding" in Spanish.)
The largest chunk of translated text I could find was courtesy of a Best Buy app designed for Despicable Me 2 that claims to translate the Minions' scene during the closing credits. (7) You can find the entire dialogue in English here. Supposedly, the Minions were saying things such as this:
"You're going down, skinny boy."
"In your face! I can hear Twilight in the next theater. Team Jacob rules!"
"Sir, you've made a mockery of our noble contest."
Perhaps an enterprising fan or budding linguist will match the translation to the words the Minions are saying in the movie and find patterns and meanings the directors themselves didn't even know were there.
Note: An earlier version of this article originally appeared July 22, 2013.
See Also: The Meaning of 'Minion'.