I often find myself in Null Void when someone talks to an astromech droid flawlessly.

How can I understand voice of an astromech like R2-D2?

Is it like an advanced version of Morse code or something similar? I want to know the full encoding details of an astromech's voice so that I can understand it the next time I watch Star Wars.


This is somewhat covered here. However, not to disregard this question, I found this quote from Ben Burtt, sound designer for Star Wars:

"There wasn't any precedent in movies for a character like a robot that was to be so expressive, but not using words in English or any language," Burtt explains. "And I went to synthesizers at first, but the results sounded too much like a machine, just something cold - it didn't seem to have a soul." Burtt tried lots of approaches. He "auditioned" plenty of noise-making doodads. After a while, he and Lucas realized that as they'd struggled to define what they wanted to hear, they'd developed a repertoire of funny little bleeping noises - verbal sounds that were beginning to take on the characteristics of a language. "And suddenly one day I realized, 'Well, why don't we just do something like that?'" Burtt says. "And so I began to make my own sounds."

  • I would say there's precedent: how about Lassie? Not exactly a "robot", but a pretty good model for communication with R2D2 et al. – supercat Apr 7 '16 at 22:04

It's not possible - the information is not actually present in the sounds that the Droid is making, except insofar as the emotional context is provided.

You can know this for sure because the sound palette from which the sound guys choose is fairly small...the smallest linguistic subset which humans generally use to communicate meaningfully is called a pidgin, and even a very simple pidgin is a lot more complex. And even that relies on knowledge of a full language - a pidgin is a mashup of two (or sometimes even more) full languages.

I don't know the in-universe details - maybe somebody else can full that in.

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    Definite emotional context. Luke at times, and C-3PO more for 'basic' reasons, seemed to glean context beyond emotion, though. But yeah- as you state, not random. – Solemnity Dec 21 '12 at 5:53
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    "the sound palette... is fairly small" - what about Morse code? – Reinstate Monica - Goodbye SE Dec 21 '12 at 7:10
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    @Solemnity IIRC the only times Luke has been able to fully understand R2D2 is when they are on his X-Wing which has a translator fitted – user11154 Dec 21 '12 at 11:17
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    @Wikis - good point. The difference is that Morse code is abcedarian - a fancy word meaning representing the alphabet. You can't maintain a conversational speed with an abcedarian encoding. – Chris B. Behrens Dec 21 '12 at 14:55
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    Well, okay...you can maintain a conversational speed, just not a conversation :). – Chris B. Behrens Dec 21 '12 at 16:59

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