29

Due to popularity of Protocol Droids, I won’t say Basic was lingua franca of the Galaxy far far away, but Basic seems to dominate the Galaxy far far away. You can find it everywhere and it seems special language because it’s officially used by Imperials and Rebels and Resistance. Even the Galactic Senate used to discuss laws in Basic. You can see Basic as lingua franca in localities like Mos Eisley where different aliens talk in Basic without the help of a protocol droids (those aliens have different native languages). According to Wookieepedia:

Galactic Basic Standard (or Galactic Basic, Galactic Standard, Galaxy Standard or just Basic) was the most prevalent language in the galaxy.

Talking about Chewbacca, he fully understands Basic (because Han has never roared to him). Although his buddy Han fully understands him, he does travel a lot (unlike Ewoks) and his language can give headaches to people (not talking about us; what if Rey couldn’t understand him) provided that he doesn’t travel with a protocol droid.

So far if you have been laughing… Now the main part: the dialect issue. What if Chewbacca can’t produce necessary sounds to speak Basic? This seems unlikely because his roar seems to contain all the necessary sounds. Take an example of the mighty Jabba the Hutt. His not being able to speak Basic should be blamed at his not being able to see the point in learning a new language (maybe, a feeling of cultural superiority which is common among old generation wealthy and powerful people) because I remember his relative (of same species) speaking Basic on Coruscant (Star Wars: The Clone Wars).

Also, I remember playing a video game in which there were at least two Wookiees who were speaking fluent Basic. I don’t know if the video game was canon, but has the Canon or Legends ever addressed the language issues with Wookiees or Chewbacca?

Can Wookiees not speak Basic or is this an issue of Chewbacca? If it’s an issue of Chewbacca, why doesn’t he learn to speak Basic?

  • 5
    “This seems unlikely because his roar seems to contain all the necessary sounds” — Huh? Granted, I don't know what the phonetic inventory of actual Basic is, since it's represented by English; but Chewie's roars/growls/whatevers do not contain a single sound found in English. They consist entirely of what sound something like highly strident, nasal vowels alternating with faucalised, non-nasal ones: there are no consonants and no modal-voice vowels, while English has no sounds that are not either consonantal or modal-voice (or both). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 1 '16 at 5:11
54

It clearly states in the factbook 'Star Wars: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know' that Wookiees cannot speak Basic (e.g. English) for physiological reasons.

"Strange but true: Wookiees cannot speak Basic because of their strange vocal chords - but they can understand it. Barking, growling, moaning and roaring are typical features of the Wookiees' many different dialects"

As this book was published to complement the Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens set of books it can be considered completely canon.

  • 4
    Yes, it's part of the Journey to the Force Awakens. – Valorum Jan 1 '16 at 9:58
  • 3
    @Richard "I've treated myself to a few new books this year." They must have seriously improved parcel delivery speeds since I left the UK. ;) – Martin Ender Jan 1 '16 at 14:37
  • 12
    Downloads only take a few seconds. Welcome to the 20th century – Valorum Jan 1 '16 at 15:28
  • 8
    <pedant> 21st century ;) – Lindsey D Jan 1 '16 at 19:58
  • 4
    Perhaps... though I'd still be surprised if you were downloading books in just a few seconds in the 90s. – Lindsey D Jan 1 '16 at 20:15
30

Ralrracheen (from Thrawn Trilogy #1, Heir to the Empire by Zahn) was the only Wookiee (or one of few) who could speak in a way Leia understood, and it is explained in a conversation between him, Leia and Chewie:

The tall Wookiee bowed his head slightly and opened his mouth. Leia braced herself—

[I to you, Leiaorganasolo, bring greetings,] he roared. [I to Rwookrrorro welcome you.]

Leia felt her jaw drop in astonishment. “Ah . . . thank you,” she managed. “I’m—all—honored to be here.”

[As we by yourr presence arre honored,] he growled politely. [I am Ralrracheen. You may find it easierr to call me Ralrra.]

“I’m honored to meet you,” Leia nodded, still feeling a little dazed by it all. Apart from the odd extended growling of his final r sounds, Ralrra’s Wookiee speech was perfectly understandable. Listening to him, in fact, it was as if all the static she’d always had to plow through had suddenly cleared away. She could feel her face warming, and hoped her surprise didn’t show.

Apparently, it did. Beside her, Chewbacca was urf-urf-urfing quietly again. “Let me guess,” she suggested dryly, looking up at him. “You’ve had a speech impediment all these years and never thought to mention it to me?

Chewbacca laughed even louder. [Chewbacca speaks most excellently,] Ralrra told her. [It is I who has a speech impediment. Strangely, it is the kind of trouble that humans find easierr to understand.]

Wookiepedia says that

They could learn to understand other languages, like Basic, but they were physically unable to speak them

about Wookiees - but does not offer any citation for that. I suspect the above paragraph may be the basis for it, but it's hard to know.

However, that paragraph does offer a clear idea: only a speech impediment allowed Ralrra to be speaking in a way understandable to Leia, which means the regular Wookiee physiology was unable to make more-human-understandable sounds even in Shyriiwook. This would likely imply that they wouldn't be able to make similarly understandable sounds in any language, Basic included, that wasn't specifically built for their vocal apparatus.

Other EU/Legends sources discussing Shyriiwook in any level of detail don't offer any more evidence other than the base fact that Wookiees never speak other languages and other species learn Shyriiwook ("Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader", "Paradise Snare" - which shows how Han learned to understand Shyriiwook)

  • I'd be inclined to accept this as canon, even if the EU novels are considered no longer such. – Jane S Jan 1 '16 at 9:34
  • I'm pretty sure I've seen it mentioned somewhere there Wookies have a unique vocal structure that restricted them to speaking only Shyriiwook and similar languages, though that wouldn't apply to canon. Regardless of canon status though, the Wookies have spent millenia as Republic loyalists, and if they are capable of speaking Basic they would have long ago. imo a biological reason can easily be inferred to be the cause. – thegreatjedi Jan 1 '16 at 9:35
  • @JaneS - I'm not aware of any DIsney canon info on the topic. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jan 1 '16 at 9:43
  • @thegreatjedi - you see that assertion all over the place. Wookiepedia, Wikia, forums. NONE ever provide a cite. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jan 1 '16 at 9:44
  • @DVK - Ta-da. That being said, this must come from an earlier source since I've been reading that assertion for at least 5 years. – Valorum Jan 1 '16 at 10:11

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.