There are many memorable aspects of the Star Wars cinematic mythology. From the weapons to the costumes—so many facets of the sci-fi saga hit their mark hard with fans. The language is another intricate part of the Star Wars phenomenon.
I spoke to Thomas Holl, CO-Founder & President of Babbel, about his company’s recent work with the Star Wars franchise.
Can you briefly describe what Babbel is and what its primary goals are?
Babbel is a market-leading language learning app that aims to make language-learning fun. We want to help self-directed learners discover a new language and motivate them to keep learning. Since 2007, we have created highly engaging, conversational-style content developed by a professional team of education experts, linguists and language teachers.
Babbel currently offers 14 languages and all lessons are made available cross-platform on iOS and Android smartphones, desktops and now even the Apple Watch.
Why does the Star Wars universe interest Babbel?
The Star Wars phenomenon is particularly interesting to us as language experts because the series includes dialects that are familiar, foreign or even made up! We wanted to uncover the linguistic origins of the different languages that are showcased throughout the series—and how the creator of Star Wars, George Lucas, developed them for the movies.
What are a few things people may not think about in regards to character names in the Star Wars universe?
Many people may not realize the intentional thought and linguistic background behind the character names and languages for the Star Wars universe. For example, Luke closely resembles the Greek word, leukos, meaning light. On the other hand, Darth Vader’s name loosely translates from Dutch to “dark father.”
There are so many different languages in the Star Wars universe—are there logical reasons to the languages and accents? Or, is everything just sort of made up and does not have much thought put into it.
Most of the fictional languages in the Star Wars universe are based on other languages around the world, but don’t all necessarily have technical language aspects to it such as grammar. Star Wars sound designer Ben Burtt considered these invented languages similar to “sound effects” for the films.
Are there any similarities between real languages in our world and the world of the Star Wars universe?
Huttese, which is the most-spoken fictional language in the films, was based on the Incan language Quechua. Zulu, as well as other African languages, inspired Jawaese, spoken by the Jawas. When creating the Ewokese language, spoken by the Ewoks, many vocabulary words of Mongolic languages were also used.
With the new film now out, are the names and languages used in The Force Awakens keeping in the tradition of the rest of the saga?
While there is no confirmation of The Force Awakens’ characters speaking the same language used throughout the rest of the saga, the name origins of JJ Abrams’ new characters take inspiration from movies and the director’s personal life experiences—such as Poe Dameron’s name from his daughter’s polar bear stuffed animal. Interestingly enough, JJ Abrams echoed Burtt’s process when creating BB-8’s voice, enlisting Bill Hader and Ben Schwartz as “BB-8’s Voice Consultants.” Hader was quoted that he helped create BB-8’s voice by speaking to a talk box attached to a sound effects app.
Where can people go to learn more about the names and languages from Star Wars?
For more in-depth information on the languages and character name origins of Star Wars, check out Babbel’s in-depth article, “STAR WORDS: Language Trivia from a Galaxy Far, Far Away,” right here.