Structured Language in Fictional World Building
Halo, Assassin’s Creed, and Superman are all examples of fictional worlds that have begun in one medium and have evolved into massive multi-platform experiences. Halo has video games, books, wiki-cites, even talk of a movie has surfaced on multiple occasions. Assassin’s creed has also expanded from video games to include multiple apps, wiki-cites, and a very successful book series. But the there are two fictional worlds that stand head and shoulders over every other; two successful transmedia campaigns that beat all others in the sheer size of content and following—Star Wars and Star Trek.
Most extreme fans can pick out the minute details of how the worlds are polar opposites; how each expanse separates the two series even more. But when you look at everything on the large scale, the similarities are vastly evident. Both started on screen (TV and movie respectively), both expanded into novels, and with the rise of the internet, both are widely popular of this third platform. Eerily similar, but Star Trek has expanded into one world that Star Wars has fought and struggled to make headway in—the real world. Sure, both have massive followings at comic con and both are still very popular Halloween costume choices. But both of these still maintain a sense of false-hood.
Language however is the most successful world building tool that is pivotal to bridging the gap between fantasy and reality. You can dress up as Darth Vader, but you’re still speaking Modern English. You’re no longer in a Galaxy far far away, you’re just a human in a costume of a fake world. Dress up as Captain Klaa and talk in Klingon however and you’re living in the Star Trek world. There’s nothing tying you to reality. You have successfully immersed yourself in a fantasy world. You have escaped Earth and are now somewhere lost in space.
Apart from Tolkien’s Elvish, no pop-culture language has taken such a stronghold in the American consciousness. It’s hard to imagine anyone who knows anything about Star Trek not knowing about the language Klingon. The ability to immerse oneself in an artificial language is a goal that Star Wars has been trying to accomplish for quite some time now.
In film, foreign languages are marked by the presence of subtitles at the bottom of the screen. This happens pretty extensively during any Star Trek movie and during most shows, Star Wars however is conducted solely in English. Subtitles are non-existent. Star Wars does have two exceptions to the “English only” rule –R2-D2 and Chewbacca. Both speak languages that are understood only by their closest travel companion—C3-P0 and Han Solo respectively.
The ability for C3-P0 to consistently understand R2-D2 implies, to some extent, that R2-D2 follows some form of structured grammar and lexicon (how expansive, we do not know). The same logic of structured language is applied to Chewbacca and Han. Chewbacca expands beyond R2-D2 however. Where R2-D2 is alone (he is the only robot of his kind), Chewbacca has an entire planet and social structure at home. As countless research has proven, when creatures (of the same species) come together, some mode of communication is created—usually the communication is verbal if it is possible. Using this research, Chewbacca’s language should, without doubt, have a set of structured grammatical restraints.
Why then has Star Wars not created a massive expansion upon Wookiee? Why did Star Wars not put the effort towards creating a consistent and structured Wookiee language after the massive popularity of Chewy with the release of A New Hope?
Well this is exactly what Star Wars in beginning to answer. There are two new books that have been released that act as a means of expanding on the languages of both Wookie and R2-D2. An almost genuine attempt at expanding the world of Star Wars into a new era until you realize that both of these books are both marked under the heading of humor. Both books are intended to bring humor to the intensity of language creation in fictional worlds. The authors both play on the seemingly arbitrariness of fictional languages and use of minor details to expand a world unnecessarily. Sadly, Star Wars missed out on an extremely significant way to grow their fan base and expand the world for future uses.
But, the books’ existence means a great deal for the Star Wars fandom. The most significant meaning of these books is that Star Wars is finally recognizing that language is a pivotal role in many the world. Hopefully, by poking fun at themselves for not expanding on two interesting languages (R2-D2 and Chewbacca’s) they will learn to fix the issue in the soon coming seventh episode. Hopefully, when the movie is released, the characters will be expanded as to include languages for different species.