3 Important Lessons We Learn from the Minions Language

Three Important Lessons We Can Learn from the Minion Language

Even if them and their films don’t quite fit with your age group, nearly everyone has most likely heard of the Minions. The both lovable and formidable yellow creatures first appeared in the Despicable Me film franchise when its first movie came out in 2010, and they have since incited a global revolution featuring more yellow pill-shaped merchandise than the world ever needs, endless memes and online Minions content, and their own spin-off film that ended up out-grossing the previous three films in the franchise and becoming the 14th highest-grossing film and breaking various other similar records.

The Minions are small, pill-shaped yellow creatures that always wear some combination of overalls and goggles, vary in height, weight, and number of eyes. They are, literally, the minions of the protagonist supervillain in the film Despicable Me, where their ridiculous demeanor, comical behavior, and perhaps their most identifiable characteristic, their absurd language helped them steal the hearts and minds of millions. It might be the sounds, the vocabulary, the intonation, or just the body language that make us laugh. But what’s interesting about Minionese is that people can understand Minions when they speak.

What Exactly is Minionese?

In recent decades, we’ve seen constructed languages come into existence alongside epic, fantasy, or mythical films like Klingon language with Star Trek, Elvish with Lord of the Rings, and Dothraki with Game of Thrones. Despicable Me, however, blessed us with the language of the Minions, also known as Minionese. The director of the Despicable Me franchise films, Pierre Coffin, does the voice of the Minions himself with help from American filmmaker Chris Renaud and New Zealand comedian Jemaine Clement. In the production notes for Despicable Me 2, Coffin noted:

“I have them speak Indian, French, English, Spanish, and Italian. I mix up all these ridiculous sounding words just because they sound good, not because they necessarily mean something.

Renaud chimed in, saying:

“Their language sounds silly, but when you believe that they’re actually communicating, that’s what makes it funnier. What’s great about the Minion language, while it is gibberish, it sounds real because Pierre puts in words from many languages and does the lion’s share of the Minion recordings.”

The directors knowingly compiled gibberish and nonsense phrases together into sentences strung together with combinations of real words from foreign languages and strange sounds, and held together with the body language, the tones, and the phrases of the Minions that make the language, albeit nonsense, somewhat intelligible. Words from French, English, Spanish, Italian, Hindi, Hebrew, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Indonesian, and many other global languages shine through in Minionese.

If It’s Gibberish, Why Can We (Kind of) Understand Them?

Of course, Coffin didn’t design Minionese to be understood, spoken, or learned by dedicated fans like with other constructed languages, but he did want the language to have some relatable attributes to it. Bloggers and Minions fanatics have compiled small Minionese and some have built a Google Translate-like platform for Minionese alone. Coffin apparently liked this feeling of slightly knowing what the little yellow creatures were saying, which is why when the film is dubbed in different languages for release around the world, the voices of the Minions are also altered to assume some vocabulary familiar to the target audience.

But even so, why is it that without knowing their language we can still understand what the Minions are trying to communicate? Body language and emotion. We understand a great deal from what someone is trying to say from the way they express themselves with movement and the emotion behind their words. Often subconsciously, we read the facial expressions, postures, gestures, eye movements, touches, spaces, and tone of voice of people. Obviously with such ridiculous little characters, their actions, emotions, and movements exaggerated so that it becomes very easy to read.

One 1971 study by Albert Mehrabian even suggested that only 7 percent of communication is verbal, or based on the words we speak, with 93 percent of our everyday communication being nonverbal. Merhabian reported that 38 percent of our nonverbal communication is our vocal tone and 55 percent is body movements and language.

What’s the Takeaway?

If we want to take the absurdity of the Minions and their nonsense language and try and learn something from the way they communicate, there are a few things worth noting:

  • Body language is incredibly important, not just in communicating in one language but across languages. An often overlooked skill of interpreters is how they read those they interpret. When the target and source languages have different syntax and structure, some interpreters will use body language to fill in the blanks while waiting for the speaker to finish a sentence.
  • Many say that the Minions’ language is what makes those little characters so lovable. And with a franchise that has grossed more than $3 billion, it would be safe to say that the Minions language has contributed to the films’ global success. But one assumption we can make is that by altering the Minionese in dubbed versions around the world, Coffin localized content to impress foreign audiences. This is just one simple example of how localization helps businesses succeed in foreign markets.
  • And finally, whether you think the Minions are cute or just plain annoying, a final takeaway is that we have to give Coffin credit for creating the language, voicing the characters, and getting a ton of laughs.

 

Unrelated to their language, if you want to hear how else the Minions have wreaked real havoc off the movie screen, read about the Gmail Minions “Mic Drop” Scandal.

About the Author:

Daniel is based out of Chicago and works as a writer, editor, and translator.

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