The original Star Wars film to be dubbed in the Navajo language of Dine
April 28, 2013 7:53 PM   Subscribe

The various Star Wars movies have been translated into at least 39 languages (as also seen here in a set of 16 international logos for Attack of the Clones), but the Navajo Nation is set to be the first Native American tribe to officially dub the original Star Wars film.

This isn't the time a well-known film has been dubbed in the language of a Native American tribe, as Bambi was dubbed in the Arapaho language, and 22 episodes of the Berenstain Bears cartoon was dubbed in the Lakota language. The episodes were chosen because each episode teaches children a life lesson that is compatible with Sioux culture. This appears to be the first major motion picture for a more adult audience that will be screened in a Native American language, once some two dozen speaking rolls can be filled by people fluent in Diné.
Chewbacca and R2D2 will keep the language they speak in the Navajo version, and technical effects will be applied to Darth Vader and C-3PO so they sound like the originals, said Shana Priesz, senior director of localization for Deluxe, the studio overseeing the dubbing.

“Having the voice match isn’t as much as I want someone who can deliver the lines,” she said.
The translation of the script happened over two and a half days, after the Navajo Nation received the blessing of LucasFilms, Ltd.

If you're interested in learning Navajo, there are various resources online. has a basic introduction to pronunciation and some vocabulary, and includes and links to more resources. YouTube user daybreakwarrior has educational videos, and as you might expect, there's an app to help, too.
posted by filthy light thief (18 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Finally, a way to enjoy Star Wars without the Germans ever catching on!
posted by mazola at 8:06 PM on April 28, 2013 [21 favorites]

Brilliant use of media by an indigenous community for language purposes! I hope the ease of modern toosl means they can keep this up and do it for more and more shows -- or hell, just release fansubs! -- because this is going to be a great way for languages to be passed on to descendants.
posted by barnacles at 8:12 PM on April 28, 2013

This is really neat. According to Wikipedia, in the early 1980s, 85% of Navajo kids spoke Navajo as their L1, which surprised me. (This has apparently fallen to about 25%, though.) It seems to me that Internet-age telecommunications and media have so many implications, both positive and negative, for threatened indigenous languages. I'd be really interested to know whether scholars currently scholling on this question feel that prospects have been getting better or worse in the past few decades (compared to directly prior, not compared to the pre-columbian era...).
posted by threeants at 8:13 PM on April 28, 2013

While "Diné Bizaad" is the Navajo term for the Navajo language, I have only ever heard of Navajo people calling it "Navajo" in English. This article talks as if "Dine" was the name for the language. That seems weird.

("Diné" is the Navajo word for the Navajo people, "Bizaad" is the Navajo word for "language.")

But maybe people sometimes call the language "Dine" for short, I don't know, in which case I'm quibbling over my own ignorance.
posted by edheil at 8:31 PM on April 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

BTW, I am sorry my initial comment was a quibble. This is all cool as hell and thank you for posting it. :)

That Daybreak Warrior youtube channel especially is awesome.
posted by edheil at 8:36 PM on April 28, 2013

threeants, I'd like to know more, too. From the little I've heard (about) native kids in my region of New Mexico, they don't have that lilting accent that you can hear from some of the prior generation. But at the same time, culture is still very important to the local tribes, and there's a cohesion in your people that would seem to indicate an appreciation, or at least understanding, of their language. There's also a really enjoyable (for this outsider) Singing Wire radio program on the local UNM radio station.

edheil, I honestly don't know how to best refer to the Navajo language, and I saw it was referred to as Dine or Diné in various articles.

Also, I've heard about this for a few days, and it was sheer chance that I posted it right after another Star Wars post. I started drafting this post before I saw that prior post.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:39 PM on April 28, 2013

It was better in the original Klingon.
posted by w0mbat at 8:47 PM on April 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

'Star Wars' Sundays on MeFi!
posted by mazola at 8:49 PM on April 28, 2013

"That's no Moon-When-The-Baby-Eagles-Hatch."
posted by Abiezer at 8:56 PM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Episode IV: A New Hopi
posted by ShutterBun at 9:11 PM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

A lot of tribe names usually mean "the people". Thanks for the cool post. If my grandpa were alive he would slap his knee, getting a kick about "those crazy whites". ;)
posted by SteelDancin at 9:18 PM on April 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Addendum to my prior comment: my wife, who teaches at a small school just outside of a pueblo, said that she sees her students still being taught their culture first, and then English and other cultural elements second. She said there are some kids who come to kindergarten and don't know any English, but are fluent in their native language. My wife noted that pueblo culture is different from the larger cultures, where there is a nation spread throughout the US, so my prior comment was from my knowledge of pueblo culture, and that probably doesn't carry over much to Navajo and other wide-spread native cultures.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:33 PM on April 28, 2013

This is so freaking cool.

Also, making jokes about tribal names is in bad taste, guys. Don't do that.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:02 PM on April 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

This is a wonderful project and I am so glad it is happening. Excellent post.

I started reading about the Diné and other native Americans when I became a fan of the Tony Hillerman Navajo tribal police mysteries. The mysteries, while perfectly adequate, paled beside the masterful sense of place and cultural immersion that Hillerman evoked. He imparted much knowledge about the Navajo land and culture and sent me in search of more.

The study of Native American history is vast and I've not gotten very far beyond reading about the Navajo and some other tribes in the Southwest. I dipped into the study of Pueblo pottery a bit and the basketry of a couple of tribes. I learned of the O'Odham people in southern Arizona that the international border cuts across tribal land such that immigration law makes criminals of people who are simply trying to follow their traditional journeys within their own O'Odham land to procure the salt, sweet grass and other materials they need. Law has cleaved them into four peoples, some now considered foreigners living in another country or illegal aliens if they come to visit their relatives.

For a while the Tohono O'Odham were called Papago (I've read it meant 'bean eaters' and indeed, their their technique for growing the plants in southern Arizona was impressive) until they asked that they be correctly designated. Something similar was happening with the Navajo. Navajo was a name used by the Tewa people and referred to the expanse of cultivated land on which the Diné lived. (I've also read that the Hopi called them something in their language that meant 'headbreakers.' People have reasons for asking that they be called by their proper names.) They do live very spread out, each family spaced distantly from their neighbor while the Pueblo people tend to live very closely together in their villages.

The Diné are a large tribe and the reservation sizable. With the kind of leadership evidenced by this project, there is reason to hope that they can preserve their language and culture in spite of the monumental difficulties.

There seems to be an emphasis in Navajo culture on taking care of one's relatives and not standing out as competitively better or richer than others. If a person displays too much luxury or fame it appears he is not taking care of his relatives, the thinking goes, as I understand it. So the concept of competition and winning is not as emphasized in that case as it is in our cultlure. With that in mind, I still think it would be wonderful if the Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, the first Navajo in Major League Baseball, could attend the premier of this Navajo language Star Wars.
posted by Anitanola at 10:58 PM on April 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

Also, making jokes about tribal names is in bad taste, guys. Don't do that.

Cultural sensitivity is important.
posted by George Lucas at 11:34 PM on April 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

Skywalker is already a native-American-evocative name.
Would a small Luke Codetalker joke elicit a smile, at least? The brute-force attack is strong in this one.
posted by dhartung at 12:13 AM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Scene at the Star Wars bar:

Chewbacca, with drink in his hand, complaining to a random guy at the bar about loosing his job. "Chewbacca do everything for Han Solo. Chewbacca cook for Han Solo. Chewbacca fight for Han Solo."

"So why did he fire you?"

"He found out what Han Solo mean in my language."
posted by three blind mice at 2:21 AM on April 29, 2013

Guys, I' believe the honorable Sir George Lucas himself is in the room.
(so no trash talking Jar-Jar!)
posted by QueerAngel28 at 12:11 PM on April 29, 2013

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