In the 2017 novel Thrawn, we find that Sy Bisti is a language used around the parts of the Galaxy known as Wild Space and the Unknown Regions. Throughout the novel, it is brought up that Imperial droids are not programmed with the language.

Barris snorted. "Hard to image a standard for a language so obscure that even the droids don't bother with it.

Eli held his tongue. Sy Bisti was actually a perfectly well-defined and eminently useful language. It was the people who still used it, and the worlds they lived on, that were obscure.

Chapter 1

I understand that Sy Bisti is an obscure language, and that a general Imperial ship might not normally have a droid that can speak that language.

But later on, we get a statement that seems absolutely incredible to me:

But the pirates had a card of their own to play. Leaning close, they began speaking softly together.

In a language they would have learned growing up in Wild Space. A language that was used only there and in the Unknown Regions. A language that had never been programmed into Republic or Imperial translators or protocol droids. A language they could reasonably expect no Imperial had ever even heard of.

Sy Bisti.

Chapter 9

This doesn't seem to be an exaggeration either. Thrawn requests Eli be assigned to him as a translator, and nobody suggests just requisitioning a protocol droid that can speak Sy Bisti.

This seems pretty ludicrous to me that not a single Republic or Imperial droid has ever been programmed with Sy Bisti. After all:

  • Eli Vanto, a human speaker of Sy Bisti, is part of a family of traders who works at least partly in Imperial space. Presumably they would need droids.
  • There is an Imperial Academy in the region of space where Eli is from. Surely they would deal with traders such as Eli's family, or someone else who spoke the language. Programming it into droids makes sense.
  • The pirates who spoke Sy Bisti were successors to Q'anah's Marauders, which operated in the Mid Rim and other areas under both Republic and Imperial control. Presumably they, or someone they worked with, would have found it desirable to have a droid that could speak the language.
  • If nothing else, there has got to be a Sy Bisti to Basic dictionary that somebody has made, and in an era of datapads and holograms, I don't see why it would be much effort to have a droid learn from that.
  • Once any of these droids has the Sy Bisti language programmed into it, it seems trivially easy to copy that to other droids.

Are any of these assumptions wrong? Why wasn't Sy Bisti been programmed into any Republic or Imperial protocol droids?

  • 5
    Sounds like a cheap plot device to me. But maybe there are specific nuances to the language a Droid can't reproduce due to whatever reason?
    – Mario
    Sep 3, 2017 at 6:23
  • 2
    There seems to be a lot of "surely's" in your question. In a galaxy with tens of millions of planets, each with their own languages and dialects, it's not too hard for some to be so obscure that they're not programmed into a TranLan
    – Valorum
    Sep 3, 2017 at 7:40
  • 1
    The Empire is fairly humanocentric (and Coruscant-centric too, for that matter). It wouldn't surprise me if they had little interest in ensuring that all alien languages from irrelevant outer systems were included in their translator droids.
    – Adamant
    Sep 3, 2017 at 17:27
  • @Adamant Are you willing to turn that into an answer? Coruscant-centrism is a recurring theme in the book, so that sounds at least plausible. Sep 4, 2017 at 0:38
  • The entire novel seems rushed and poorly thought out. It's so far below par for Zahn that I would wager he was given a lot of deadline pressure that he isn't used to and didn't have time to think everything through.
    – user45623
    Sep 13, 2017 at 5:50

1 Answer 1


Although I think the real answer is that the novel was rushed and poorly thought-out, I'll propose an in-universe answer:

Eli is from Lysatra, a backwater world in Wild Space. Other trainees at the Academy repeatedly treat Eli as if he is a hillbilly from the boonies, so to speak.

Being a backwater planet, news from Lysatra probably doesn't travel very far. Residents of the planet probably have no reason to go around bragging that they know Sy Bisti, a language most people will never heard of. In fact, they might consider the language to be something of a trade secret, since knowing it allows them access to trade sources that only communicate in Sy Bisti.

Overall, we can conclude:

  1. Trading families such as the Vantos would probably not want protocol droids to learn Sy Bisti, since having exclusive knowledge of Sy Bisti gives them advantages when trading with the Unknown Regions
  2. If rumors of the language were to spread, prejudiced linguists might well imagine that residents of Lysatra and nearby planets are too poorly educated to be useful sources of information. Imagine trying to learn a language from Cletus Spuckler.
  • 1
    The in-universe answer you give about the language being a trade secret is at least plausible, although I agree that out-of-universe reason is that it was poorly thought out. Maybe Zahn was trying to express a more 1970s attitude where it takes a lot of effort to catalog a language, as opposed to a 2010s attitude where anybody can share language translations online, no matter how obscure. Sep 13, 2017 at 18:12
  • 1
    @Thunderforge Sharing language translations online requires access to the internet and enough education to write effective translations. We've also repeatedly seen with chat bots like Microsoft's short-lived Tay that crowdsourcing language for a computer is a bad idea, because the crowd will do their best to teach the computer to talk dirty.
    – user45623
    Sep 14, 2017 at 2:12

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