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The Languages of the Marvel Universe: 'Avengers: Endgame'

The movies in the Marvel universe are filled with interesting real and made-up languages.

By
Samantha Enslen, read by Mignon Fogarty,
Episode #680
Groot, a character from the Marvel universe who also speaks a language called Groot, is sitting in a pile of leaves.

April 26 is the release date for “Avengers: Endgame,” which wraps up a 22-movie story arc in the Marvel cinematic universe. The film that started it all, “Iron Man,” was released in 2008. Since then, Marvel has released 21 separate movies, all with distinct but interconnected storylines.

To say that fans are excited about the coming conclusion is an understatement. 

Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen “Avengers: Infinity War,” you might want to skip ahead about 5 minutes. In that film, an alien known as Thanos, the Mad Titan, collects six infinity stones, powerful artifacts that existed before the universe was created. He uses their combined power to destroy half the galaxy in one fell swoop.

When “Endgame” comes out, we’ll find out what happens next. Will some of our favorite superheroes remain piles of dust? Will the remaining ones recover from their grief? Will the entire universe ever go back to normal?

All will be revealed in a few short days. 

To celebrate, we’re going to talk today about some of the languages featured in the Marvel movies. (By the way, if you like hearing about fantastic languages, check out our April 4 episode on the Languages of Game of Thrones.)

Here’s what you might hear in the theatre next week.

Wakandan

First, off, there’s Wakandan. That’s the Earth language spoken by T’Challa, Shuri, Nakia, and everyone else in Wakanda, the technologically supercharged African nation depicted in “Black Panther.” Two other languages are spoken there — Hausa and Yoruba — and most citizens also speak English and several other African and European languages.

Wakandan — unlike other Marvel languages — wasn’t made up by a language creator. It’s a real language, isiXhosa, that’s spoken in South Africa by more than eight million people. The director of the movie, Ryan Coogler, said he wanted to include as much of the language in the movie as possible. He employed native speakers, translators, and dialect coaches to make it happen. (1)

Groot

Next, there’s Groot. Groot is the name of a language, and also the name of the sentient alien tree from the Guardians of the Galaxy. He’s from the planet Flora Colossi, and he’s an adorable grumpy little creature. He says only three words — “I am Groot” — but that doesn’t mean he’s missing a language. Groot can only form those three sounds because his larynx is made of wood, and therefore pretty stiff. But his inflection can give them a host of different meanings, from “I don’t like hats” to “They’re looking at me funny!” 

“Groot” also means “big” in Dutch, Afrikaans, and Flemish. So you can giggle to yourself when watching the movies, thinking of Groot saying “I am big” over and over. (2)

One final fact about Groot. In the final scene of “Infinity War,” Groot reaches out for help to Rocket, his close friend and a human–racoon hybrid. An executive producer of the movie, James Gunn, has said that the words “I am Groot” in this scene mean simply “Dad.” (3)

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