I used to write a conlanging blog called “Makealang.” For those that don’t know, “conlang” is short for “constructed language.” I got into it after the Fellowship of the Ring movie came out and I read that the Elvish language in the books was not merely clever gibberish, but an actual language Tolkien had created.
You can DO that? was pretty much my exact reaction. So I learned a lot about conlanging but I am nowhere near the David Person-level of conlanging (he did the Dothraki and Defiance languages).
So I’m re-imagining a particularly fun post I did where I try to reverse-engineer Boushh’s language from Return of the Jedi. We don’t have a lot to work with:
“Yatay, yatay, yotoh,” supposedly meant “I have come for the bounty on this wookie.”
“Yotoh, yotoh” = “$50,000, no less.”
“Ey, yotoh” = C-3PO paraphrases this as “Because he’s holding a thermal detenator!”
“Yatoh, cha” = C-3PO paraphrases this as “He agrees.”
After a bit of searching I discovered that this language is called Ubese. How would you convey meaning with such seemingly limited and simple vocabulary? Such simplicity would imply, to me, that this must be a very context-based language, by necessity; that words mean many different things according to their context. If this is the case, repeating a word, or reduplication, alters, shifts, deepens, etc. the meaning. If this is the case, what could the sentences mean, literally, if translated to English?
“Yatay, yatay, yotoh,” supposedly meant “I have come for the bounty on this wookie.” I’m guessing the literal meaning would be something closer to… “I come, bounty.” In other words, there is very little literal meaning. In every sentence Boushh is talking about the bounty, and in every sentence ‘yotoh’ is said, so I don’t think its a stretch to assume that yotoh is the word bounty, or probably, given the minimalistic nature of the language, it means just reward or money. By repeating ‘yatay,’ which must refer to his coming, I think this deepens the importance of his coming; either because he’s coming for money, or he’s come from a great distance. Being such a minimal language, no connecting words are used – you have to infer what is meant by saying yotoh/bounty. But since he’s got a wookiee on a leash, its not too hard to guess what bounty he is talking about.
“Yotoh, yotoh” = “$50,000, no less.” This is said after Jabba offers $25,000. It makes me wonder if by repeating ‘yotoh’ it doubles the amount, or just means ‘more!’? Here’s another question: can it mean EITHER, depending on HOW you say the yotohs? For example, you might say ‘yo-TOH, yo-TOH,’ with the stress on the latter syllable, to change the meaning from ‘bounty, bounty’ to ‘twice the bounty.’ Or, you might say ‘yo-TOH, YO-toh’ to change the meaning to ‘half the bounty’ or even, ‘the bounty has been cut in half.’ But for now, lets decide that it means to double the amount.
“Ey, yotoh” = “Because he’s holding a thermal detonator!” This is definitely paraphrased. The literal meaning is almost definitely “Hey, reward, NOW.” The ‘ey’ is like, an ‘attentional exclamatory’ or something. And I think the different stress in the word could simply be Boushh’s way of connoting that he’s about to get really crazy – the same way we change the intonation or stress of a normal phrase to make it obvious we are either being funny or sarcastic. I thought about assigning this change of stress some sort of inflectional meaning, but in a language so minimalistic, it seemed more fun to make this a way for speakers to show some emotion.
“Yatoh, cha” = Boushh agrees to $35,000, and C-3PO paraphrases this as “He agrees.” The yatoh is troubling, because if it was another yotoh, along with the one syllable word, it wouldn’t be hard to assume that the ‘cha’ is some sort of affirmative word or even a suffix. But, its yatoh, NOT yotoh; so what could it mean? Without a bigger corpus to study, I’m going to assume that it is an inflection. This sentence agrees to Jabba’s compromise, so I’m going to say that the ‘a’ changes the meaning to be ‘you/your.’ So by saying ‘yatoh, cha,’ Leia/Boushh is saying ‘your bounty, ok/yes.”
But this raises another question: what about the other words? The meaning of ‘yatay’ would now be extended to mean ‘I come to you.’ ‘Yotoh’ could now be extended to mean either ‘my bounty/reward’ or ‘his bounty’ referring to Chewbacca; I’m going to go with ‘his bounty.’
So now that we’ve guessed a few things from the translation, let’s work up a language. I liked a tool Tim Ferriss (the Four Hour Workweek guy) blogged about, how he tries to learn languages faster. He translates and learns six sentences, to have a good reference for how the language works. We’re going to turn this around and use it to flesh out this conlang.
The apple is red.
It is John’s apple.
I give John the apple.
We want to give him the apple.
He gives it to John.
She gives it to him.
TO BE CONTINUED!