Today we are talking Star Wars and linguistics!
As a complete nerd, Star Wars holds a special place in my heart. However, as a linguist Star Wars makes me want to pull my hair out! Now I have already briefly discussed Star Wars and its Galactic Basic, which is just a basic ass name for spoken English with a neography. So, for this reason I won't be focusing on Galactic Basic, but more looking into some of the other languages that make up the expansive universe. Also, I will be focusing only on the movies for this blog, but we will look at other non-canon sources of languages later. Alright here we go!
There are some notable languages in the Star Wars movies, but probably the most famous one is Droidspeak. Droids account for a lot of character interaction in the films, especially with characters like R2-D2 and BB-8. The interesting thing about this language is that Droidspeak from the original three movies was done by the genius sound designer Ben Burtt. He took his own voice and tweaked it using a sound mixer until he got the sounds we now associate mainly with R2 and the other infamous droids (I'm looking at you, sexy gonk droids), but these sounds also influenced how the sounds for newer characters like BB-8 were created.
Another language seen frequently in the films is Huttese, a language that is mostly spoken in areas in which the Hutts control. We see it most notably in Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace, during the interactions of characters on Tatooine. The origins of the conlang are connected to the language of the Rodians as we see spoken by Greedo in A New Hope. Both Rodian and Huttese have linguistic characteristics of a dialect of Quechuan, a language spoken by indigenous peoples living in the Andes of South America. The heavy influences from this natlang are a bit controversial because the creation of these languages was left to good ol' Ben Burtt, the sound designer. He explained that his process to create these languages was one where he would find natlangs that he felt were exotic and work on them to sound alien. The decided upon "alien sound" is the languages we hear in the movies. The problem is many linguists, me included, are upset because the overall speech of Huttese and Rodian is described as morphologically accurate but syntactic non-sense. This means that Burtt's idea of alien like didn't have a strong disconnect from the natlang. These languages are considered by many (especially those that speak them) to be very exploitive and extremely lacking in linguistic/cultural respect. Now, you may be thinking "It was the 80's, we have grown since then!" Sadly, this linguistic controversy persisted even into the newest films.
When it came time to continue the awesome saga of Star Wars J.J. Abrams was looking to create more alien languages. So, with his massive multimillion-dollar budget he set out to find someone to create other alien languages for the franchise. At the time there were big names like HBO and Netflix investing in conlangs, seeking out linguistic professionals to create languages for their universes. Abrams on the other hand had the "well if it ain't broke don't fix it" mentality. He enlisted the help of Sara Forsberg a musician and youtuber with an affinity to turn modern natlangs into what she calls "gibberish." To make you sound like you are speaking that language, but really speaking non-sense. She mimics these languages and takes phonemes to make sure speech sounds morphologically accurate but syntactic babble. Many people praise her for this ability, but I find it repugnant and extremely insensitive. For an alien language to be decided upon and used by Forsberg and Lucas Film there needed to be value judgements put on other languages and how alien-like they sound. This is a far cry from HBO and Netflix who enlist experts in linguistics and conlangs, so that that can create fully functioning phonology, morphology and syntax. Yes, conlangs like Dothraki, Klingon, and Na'vi have real natlang influences, but they are small phonetic samplings from languages where the natlang is strained out at the morpheme stage and a unique conlang is made. What this does is creates linguistic discrimination against languages other than English. This highly influential saga is filmed in English, where human-like characters speak English and those that are alien, speak languages that are influenced by real languages that are given judgments for their alien-like quality. Many critics to the use of conlangs in movies, tv, and video games say that it’s not feasible for every outlet to have conlangs for financial reasons. To this I agree, but not when it comes to Lucas Film. We all know they ain’t worried about overdraft fees. So, with the revival of the Star Wars movies and us getting blessed with Star Wars movies nearly every year, I say it’s well past time for Lucas Film to clean up its mess and look to the experts to do the language creation from now on.