Unless you’ve been living in a galaxy far, far away, you’ll know that May 4th is celebrated as Star Wars Day, playing on the catchphrase “may the force be with you”, where the change of a single sound segment gives a different word (known in linguistics as a minimal pair).

Language matters in the Star Wars universe, where interspecies communication is addressed by droids such as C-3PO that are fluent in more than six million forms of communication, and by an interplanetary lingua franca, Galactic Basic (“English” to film-goers). Most characters display multilingualism in the form of mutual passive bilingualism – understanding the languages of their interlocutor, but continuing to speak their own. Notably, though, the code mixing and translanguaging practices that are widespread on planet Earth are not reflected – not even in that marvellous multilingual marketplace of Mos Eisley Cantina.

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It is also notable how several of the alien languages were created for the films based on existing human languages or patterns that sound designers considered “exotic” – in comparison to a Western, anglophone norm.

Huttese, spoken by Greedo and Jabba the Hutt, was based on Quechua, a family of languages spoken in South America’s Andes region. Lando Calrissian’s co-pilot Nien Nunb’s Sullustese is a mix of Kenyan languages Kikuyu and Haya. The Ewoks’ language was improvised from Tibetan as the main source, with several recognisable short phrases, and an extended stretch of dialogue actually a Tibetan Buddhist prayer.

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The most well known must be Yoda’s speech pattern. Striking it is because it markedly differs from our subject-verb-object word order – for example, “A Jedi must have the deepest commitment” – the default pattern in many languages of the world, including English, Chinese and Romance languages, and from subject-object-verb, the unmarked pattern common in even more languages, as in Japanese, and Indo-Aryan and Dravidian languages.


Verb-subject-object is a rare construction, found in Hawaiian and some Celtic languages. But most unusual is object-subject-verb as an unmarked word order – a handful of languages in the Amazon basin use this – and this is Yoda’s generalised pattern: “Much to learn, you still have”, or “Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is” (with adjunct rather than object in initial position).

Such alien languages and patterns were cleverly devised to create “otherness”, foreignness, and thus social distance – but it is worth reflecting on how this is nonetheless on an ethnocentrically Western, English-speaking basis.