Deconstructing Ubese - a Star Wars conlang extrapolation

And now for something completely different.

I don't know about you, but I was always intrigued by the language Boushh/Leia spoke in Return of the Jedi. There were only a few examples of it in the film:
"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."
There is something else Boushh/Leia says after the business with Jabba is concluded but I can't really make it out. But the 'yatay yotoh' stuff is what fascinates me.

After a bit of searching I discovered that it was called Ubese. After all this research into linguistics and blogging about conlangs, I thought it would be fun to explore an unknown language, and see if I can deconstruct it, and extrapolate on it. Of course, this would have to be a very simple language; but I've posted a few times about how important I think simplicity is.

Ubese seems to be the ideal choice to examine and extrapolate on. How would you convey meaning with such seemingly limited and simple vocabulary? Such simplicity would imply, to me, that this is a very context-based language; 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, 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 wookie 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. But what would the literal meaning be here? The word for bounty/reward is repeated, preceded by a vowel sound. AND the really cool thing is, if you listen carefully, THIS time when he says yotoh, he stresses the FIRST syllable. How might this change the meaning? Whatever it is, its something you say when you pull out a thermal detonator. I think the 'ey' is basically a 'hey' like, "Hey look!" There's probably a technical term for this, like 'attentional exclamatory.' And I think the different stress 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 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.'

Phonology - Known consonants: t, ch Known semi-vowels: y Known vowels: a, ay, o
That's not going to be enough. The phonoaesthetic of this language seems, to me, to be one that wouldn't use lips much, so I'm not going to use p or b.

Yes, I know Boushh's name has a B in it, and he was supposed to be an Ubese bounty hunter, so, given that the name of the people and this Ubese character HAS A B IN IT, UBESE SHOULD HAVE A B IN IT. However, I am ignoring this. Let's face it - Lucas wasn't thinking about linguistics when he created the names, and at best he just approved whatever audio Ben Burtt created for the brief exchange. I'm just using the material that is directly apparent from ROTJ, and, to my ears, a b sound just doesn't fit in with the phonoaesthetic of this language. In fact, I want to stay away from voiced consonants altogether. This also means no front rounded vowels that might require a lot of lip action to make. So here's the phonology I came up with:
t, sh, ch, k, n, l, hh (an h sound further back in the throat), y, ee, ay, i, a, u, o (the six vowels compare with these six words: beet, bait, bit, bat, butt, boat). I kept trying to imagine other words and sounds coming out of Boushh's helmet in that synthesized, amplified, hoarse voice. I realized something that made me think I may have gotten it right: I was keeping my tongue inside my teeth and lips.The language seems like its not supposed to require much effort to pronounce or enunciate.

Morphology - We already have a basic word demonstration in our examples, so lets stay with it. One word is basically a phrase, the meaning of which can be deepened, shifted, extended, etc. if the word is reduplicated, or different stresses are used. Words will consist of open-syllables (CVCV, or just CV). I went to Fantasist.net to try out the phonology and see what kind of words I got from one of the word generators. I'll post the entire word list it gave me here, so you can see the results: tiya, keeto, sheeli, kayyo, teechu, hhaylo, kashu, chuta, litay, naychu, sheenay, shosha, chayshay, tayyu, yaykay, chochu, sheehho, lanee, naylee, kayto, sheekay, kuti, hhahha, tayyi, luna, shushay, yohha, yakee, luhho, taynu, hheena, lalee, naku, kika, nuyee, yukay, kaysha, lochu, yoko, shayay, shuyo, yisha, tihhi, shocha, cheeni, koshay, kuhha, luno, yohho, tichay.

Remember, as you read these, that you have to use the correct vowels; some of the words look like they could be pronounced a certain way in English, i.e. kayyo looks like it could be pronounced kaiyo, with an i sound as in 'hi,' but that sound is not in the phonology - its kayyo and the ay sounds like bait or bray. Not all of them sound exactly right to me, but looking through them I could easily come up with phrases that "sounded right" to me, as though Boushh might have spoken them as well; "yakee, yakee, teechu," or "shocha kayyo tayyu." Ah, but I forgot - the 'cha.' Okay, so now we can have sentences like"keeto shuyo tee."

Let's nail down the possessive/relationship inflection rule I started to create when I was wondering about 'yotoh' vs. 'yatoh.' The first vowel sound of a word will show the inflection. Ok, so I = i, you = a, it/he/she = o, we = ay, they = u.
yitoh = my reward, yatoh = your reward, yotoh = his reward, yaytoh = our reward,
yutoh = their reward

Lastly, lets talk about grammar and syntax. Given the simplicity of the language, it doesn't initially look as though it is fully conveying Subject Verb Object, but it is. Through the morphology rules, subject is conveyed in the first word of the phrase, which is also the verb. And the next word is the object. Whichever comes first is the verb, and the second is the object. So, by this rule, if you switched the phrase 'yatay yotoh,' to 'yotoh yatay,' the meaning would then become something like 'He rewards your coming;' or lets use 'yitoh yatay.' 'I reward your coming,' makes a little more sense. If you said 'yitoh yitoh yatay' the meaning would be 'I truly/deeply/doubly reward your coming.'

But let's not leave out that little nugget 'cha' (as in 'yatoh, cha'). I think that in a language so minimalistic, there would have to be some helper words to convey meanings that the standard rules of grammar do not allow. I think the smaller one-syllable words can help us here. So, we already have 'cha' as an affirming word. Let's add: nay = negating or 'no'; tee = elevating or up; hhu = declining or down. Ooo, and I almost forgot a big one - How do we convey past, present, future tense? No marker for present tense, but ko = past tense, kay = future tense.

This is not very much, but I wanted to finish by translating a few phrases into this so far.
"Do you like to run down the hill?" Let's establish 'shishay' as 'run' and 'tiya' as 'like.' We haven't talked about how questions work in this language yet, but lets borrow a little from our own language and say that a higher pitched ending syllable denotes a questioning phrase.
'Taya shishay hhu?' A gesture pointing down the hill would be used, instead of saying it.
'I built two houses.' Let's establish 'kito' as 'build' and 'tinay' as 'house' and 'shay' as 'two.' We haven't talked about how singulars, plurals, or other numbers are conveyed in this language (this post can only be so long!) so now we have to. Alright, adding an n to the end of a word makes it plural (you can only do this to the second word in a phrase; doing it to the verb doiesn't make sense), and numbers will be added in before the word they modify.
'Kitoko shay tinayn.' Supposedly, you could also say 'Twice I built a house' by saying 'Shay kitoko tinay.' Which one should be the most correct?

There's still a looong way to go, but I like the way this is going so far...

9 comments:

lexmosgrove said...

Hi there,

I'm well aware this post of yours is over a year old now, but something just struck me as possibly important.

Concerning the word ubese, and whether it says anything about the Ubese language: As a matter of fact, you can not necessarily derive any rule about a language from how non-native speakers call it in their own languages.

Example: Some of the sounds you find in the word german are inexistant in the German language - for instance, /d_Z/ occurs only in loanwords, etc.

This may not hold true for conlangs, though, and I have no idea whether it does for Ubese, so your analysis could well be valid anyway in this respect.

-Lex

Libra said...

I'm really loving where this lang is going! Could you post some more grammar of it sometime? I really like it.

Jack Redwood said...

Hmm... maybe I'll try and develop it some more; create some more vocabulary using the phonemic rules I've observed thus far and expand the Ubese corpus some more.

I feel like David Salo!

Wolfways said...

According to the various movie scripts i've found, when "Boussh" agrees to the price he says "Zeebuss".
I guess that was changed because in the movie he says "Yatoh,cha".

But after the deal, when Bib says something to Boussh his reply is "Zeebuss", and something that sounds like "Doo,cha" to C3PO.

Anyway, this is a very interesting read.

Wolfways said...

More info which you may find useful.

Naming Conventions

Traditionally Ubese only have one name, which is partially derived from their parents' name. They can also be referred to by their Clan as well - e.g. Lavaz à Guan, meaning Lavaz of Clan Guan.

A male's name made up of a 'derived' portion and a 'given' portion. The 'derived' portion is made up of the first three letters of his father's name. Whilst the 'given' portion of his name is given by the parents - e.g. Trazel is the father of Tralak, the 'Tra' is derived, whilst 'lak' is given.

A female's name is created in a similar manner except that the 'derived' portion of their name is made up of the first three letters of their mother's name.

While this method of naming is traditional a number of Clans don't always follow this method, most notably Clan Malex, which is known for it's non-traditional views.

Letters more commonly used: A's, H's, L's, O's, U's and Z's.

Example names: Savax, Bousshh, Zulla, Araz

Some words:

À - of
Á - is
Teal - Hunter
Vell - Warrior
Vellux - Clan Chief (literally means Warrior Chief)

Some Notable Clans:

Guan - Recently enslaved by pirates and taken off world
Malex - Non-traditionalists
Zalth - Have a very strong dislike to strangers
Culaz - Has possibly the largest contingent of Warriors
Kurat - Probably the wealthiest tribe

Some more examples:

Lavez á Vell à Zalth - Lavez is a warrior of Clan Zalth

Vellux Trazel à Culaz - Chief Trazel of Clan Culaz

Matthew Shields said...

Hey, very cool stuff Wolfways! Thanks for contributing!

Miles Huff said...

Hi! I liked your post. Just wanted to point out that languages don't need to have a past, present, future trichotomy. This language could very well do "She goes to the store some time next year" instead of "She will go to the store some time next year".

Héctor Miguel Corrales Bárcenas said...

Hey, you know!! i was also intrigated all my life qith the same paradigm you solve it in minutes, LOL. Im' not Linguistic or something like that, but surely, you're as i can see, anyway a few arguments you took here, seems logic, i also think them a long time ago, not so deep as you, but huh... some wierd things like that. and i want to add 3 things to the post. First you're theorizes at the beginning are correct, cause you can found it in Japannese language as an example, you can say Hashi whuch have 3 diferent meanings, it depend the context youre talking about (or better if you can see its kanji), the second thing again with japanese lenguage, is the long or short pronuntation of the words, which also gives another meaning maybe slighlty for example だった & だた, which one is the past, and the other the infinitive verb. And finally the 3rd thing is about paraphrasing, which is true, in a lot of other languages that you cant translate literally the meaning,(this text is not an example if u find mistakes :), for example of two clashes of lenguages, the meaning of comming up, is someting that will get along with time, its not that its going to get down from skies, or the context in sapnish will be diferent cause, we don't apply that way for saying something will come with time, we can say next.

Now really believe me that with your explanation i wil dream better LOL, as to compy, and to get another theory, which i found could be posible, is htat, C3po is a droid protocol, which also aplplies the 3rd reason i mentioned, for example "cause he have a thermal.." so he maybe translated diferent beacuase of its rule, besides, its an artificial technology, so i expect he can take advantage of it, and have different frequency earing, so maybe, Boussh was asying slightly diferences while he speaks, that we can detect by human earing. that was my concluson, but its also possible. At the end i think, the last word, is from Lucas, or now from Disney... Goddnight

Héctor Miguel Corrales Bárcenas said...

Hey, you know!! i was also intrigated all my life qith the same paradigm you solve it in minutes, LOL. Im' not Linguistic or something like that, but surely, you're as i can see, anyway a few arguments you took here, seems logic, i also think them a long time ago, not so deep as you, but huh... some wierd things like that. and i want to add 3 things to the post. First you're theorizes at the beginning are correct, cause you can found it in Japannese language as an example, you can say Hashi whuch have 3 diferent meanings, it depend the context youre talking about (or better if you can see its kanji), the second thing again with japanese lenguage, is the long or short pronuntation of the words, which also gives another meaning maybe slighlty for example だった & だた, which one is the past, and the other the infinitive verb. And finally the 3rd thing is about paraphrasing, which is true, in a lot of other languages that you cant translate literally the meaning,(this text is not an example if u find mistakes :), for example of two clashes of lenguages, the meaning of comming up, is someting that will get along with time, its not that its going to get down from skies, or the context in sapnish will be diferent cause, we don't apply that way for saying something will come with time, we can say next.

Now really believe me that with your explanation i wil dream better LOL, as to compy, and to get another theory, which i found could be posible, is htat, C3po is a droid protocol, which also aplplies the 3rd reason i mentioned, for example "cause he have a thermal.." so he maybe translated diferent beacuase of its rule, besides, its an artificial technology, so i expect he can take advantage of it, and have different frequency earing, so maybe, Boussh was asying slightly diferences while he speaks, that we can detect by human earing. that was my concluson, but its also possible. At the end i think, the last word, is from Lucas, or now from Disney... Goddnight