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The Languages of 'Star Wars'

Hey, 'Star Wars' fans! Can you name the major languages spoken by Wookiees? How about the droids?

By
Samantha Enslen, Writing for
4-minute read
a dog dressed as a wookiee
The Quick And Dirty

The writers for the "Star Wars" universe have invented at least 68 languages, but they're not the same kind of invention as the conlangs of "Game of Thrones" and "Star Trek."

This fall saw the debut of the "Star Wars" series “The Mandalorian.” And in just a few days, “The Rise of Skywalker” hits the big screen. 

With that in mind, today we’re going to talk about the languages spoken in the "Star Wars" universe. 

Sixty-eight different languages have been featured so far in the various movies, TV shows, comics, and books. And in the original "Star Wars" movie, C-3PO says that he is “fluent in over 6 million forms of communication.” (4)

That’s too much for us to cover today, and we know not all of you are "Star Wars" fans. So we’ll talk briefly about a few of the top languages from this world, and a few fun facts about each.

Shyriiwook and Ewokese

Let’s talk first about the languages spoken by the fuzzy folks of this galaxy: the Wookiees and Ewoks. (By the way, careful spellers will note that “Wookiee” is spelled W-O-O-K-I-E-E. That’s two “Es” on the end.)

Wookiees speak three different languages. Chewbacca speaks Shyriiwook, the most common language of the Wookiees. The other two dialects are Thykarann and Xaczik. All of them sound like a combination of howls and growls.

Wookiees come from a heavily wooded planet, and they are expert woodcarvers. For that reason, their language supposedly has 150 different words for “wood.” (2)

Ewoks are the more petite fuzzy species of this universe. They’re native to the Moon of Endor, and their technology and language are both simple. They use spears and slings as weapons, and C-3PO notes in the “Return of the Jedi” that they speak “a very primitive dialect.” So primitive that he talks with them using a different language: Yuzzum, also native to Endor. Even though 3PO was a protocol droid, apparently Ewokese was too rudimentary to include in his programming.

The sound designer for Ewokese, Ben Burtt, developed the sound of the language by recording speakers from Inner Mongolia, Tibet, Sri Lanka, and India. He chose elements from all of them, weaving them together in a way that evoked the playfulness of the Ewok people. (3)

Droid languages

Let’s move on to droids. Droids play a huge role in the "Star Wars" ecosystem, and they speak many tongues. R2-D2 whistles and squeals in something called “Astromech Binary.” BB-8 uses a more advanced form: 27th generation droidspeak.

Imperial probe droids use Ominisignal Unicode. And some very simple droids — the ones that look like walking trash cans— speak Gonkian, in which the word “gonk” plays a huge role. (4)

Bad guy languages and Galactic Basic

Many of the bad guys in this universe also have their own languages. Boba and Jango Fett use the Fett Code; Death Troopers, a particularly nasty type of Stormtrooper, have an Encryption Code. And Jabba and the other Hutts spoke Huttese, based on Quechua, a real language spoken in South America. (1)

Jabba’s sound was particularly unique. His laugh was created by combining the sounds of humans, hippos, and hyenas. His slimy sound effects were based on the sound of macaroni and cheese being smushed around in a bowl. (5) 

The big bad guys — Darth Vader, Kylo Ren, Supreme Leader Snope — all speak Galactic Basic. That’s a common language spoken across the galaxy. Some races, like Wookiees, can’t speak Basic because of the nature of their vocal cords. But most everyone can understand it. (6)

The 'Star Wars' languages aren’t actual 'conlangs'

One final point. We’ve talked before about languages like Dothraki, which was used in the "Game of Thrones" TV series, and Klingon, from the "Star Trek" universe. Both of these are constructed languages — conlangs for short. They’re made up — but they have a rich vocabulary, elaborate rules of grammar, and a logic behind how their words are constructed. 

In contrast, the languages invented for "Star Wars" have never had broad vocabularies or official grammars. They’re more like systems of sounds, imagined versions of what aliens might sound like when they speak. Like Ewokese, they’ve often been based on the sound systems of real languages, or even on the particular way a certain person speaks. (3)

Does that make them less “real” than a conlang? Maybe. But don’t tell that to a "Star Wars" fan. You might just get a gleeg thrown in your face — that’s Ewok for a drink.

Sources

  1. Asian Absolute Translation. May the Fourth Be with You! Star Wars Languages and Their Real-World Inspirations. May 4, 2018 (accessed November 20, 2019).
  2. Jennings, Dana. Much to Learn You Still Have: 8 Things You Might Not Know About Wookiees. StarWars.com, October 7, 2016 (accessed November 20, 2019). 
  3. Katzoff, Tami. 'Return of the Jedi' turns 30: Secrets of Ewok Language Revealed! MTV.com, May 24, 2013 (accessed November 20, 2019). 
  4. Every Language in Star Wars Movies | Star Wars by the Numbers. Star Wars Kids YouTube Channel, Nov 14, 2019 (accessed November 20, 2019). 
  5. Jennings, Dana. Much to Learn You Still Have: 8 Things You Might Not Know About Hutts. May 8, 2017 (accessed November 20, 2019).
  6. Starwars.fandom.com. Galactic Basic, Wookiee, Ewok, Droid Languages (accessed November 20, 2019).

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

About the Author

Samantha Enslen, Writing for Grammar Girl

Samantha Enslen is an award-winning writer who has worked in publishing for more than 20 years. She runs Dragonfly Editorial, an agency that provides copywriting, editing, and design for scientific, medical, technical, and corporate materials. Sam is the vice president of ACES, The Society for Editing, and is the managing editor of Tracking Changes, ACES' quarterly journal.

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