Brand language, tone of voice and verbal identity.

Minion language – do you speak it?

10:43 GMT by Caroline
Minion balloon by Gavin St. Ours

Image: Gavin St. Ours

With all the hype about Despicable Me 2, I decided to explore the Minion language and find out how French director Pierre Coffin went about creating the Minion lingo.

In Despicable Me 1 and 2, Coffin does the voices for most of the Minions, both in English and in many other languages where he did the dubbing.

When creating the language, he purposely went with a gibberish approach for comedy purpose. But in the Despicable Me 2 production notes, fellow director Chris Renaud says, “What’s great about the Minion language, while it is gibberish, it sounds real because Pierre puts in words from many languages.”

The gibberish has meaning

The minion language – known as Minionese – is understandable because so many languages are used.

I particularly like the well known songs that are parodied: Boyz 2 Men’s I Swear becomes Underwear in Minionese, Copa Cabana ends up being Bella Banana and The Beach Boys’ Barbara Ann becomes Ba-Ba-Ba, Ba-Ba-Na-Na - to name but a few.

By listening carefully, we can identify words from a variety of languages such as French, English, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Indian, Filipino and more.

Multilingual Minions

Here are a few examples:

Poppadom? – a common Minion phrase.

Gelato! – Italian for icecream.

Kanpai – Japanese, meaning Cheers!

Hana, dul, sae – Korean for one, two, three.

Pwede na – Filipino language – it means Can we start?

Para tú – Spanish for for you when a Minion gave Agnes a replacement toy.

Phonetics and pragmatics

To explain why we understand Minionese without learning it, there seems to be a trick Pierre Coffin uses – phonetics. If something sounds like, or has the rhythm and tones of a word or phrase you’re familiar with, it seems your brain will understand that word.

This is especially true when context is considered. When the Minions are buying a toy for Agnes, they say Papoy? Wha kind a papoy? It sounds like the word toy and they are buying a toy, so there’s no confusion. The French peluche – soft toy – becomes papuche. Again, it sounds similar and is in the right context for the story.

Context helps us understand

With Minionese, Coffin distances himself from semantics, which would have meant a language regimented by codes and hard rules such as grammar, preferring to use pragmatics. This counts on context of the spoken word and pre-existing knowledge about those involved. So pragmatics explains how language users are able to overcome apparent ambiguity, because meaning relies on the manner, place, or time of an utterance.

In a wedding scene, one Minion sings a gibberish song and all of a sudden you clearly hear the word boda – Spanish for wedding. If you have pre-existing knowledge of Spanish combined with the visual context, the meaning of the song is then clear. You feel like you understand Minionese.

I’ll end this with my favorite example of how phonetics and pragmatics work so well here. In the film, a Minion is dragged behind a car before he takes flight with a pair of underwear as a sail. All of a sudden, while flying in the sky, he opens his arms and screams oki-kalo-mata.  He sounds and looks strangely like Leonardo DiCaprio shouting I’m the king of the world.

So is Minionese the new Esperanto? Probably not – but regardless, I look forward to seeing and hearing more of it next year in the Minions movie.

12 Comments

  1. Posted on November 15th, 2013 GMT at 14:25 GMT by makayla

    i wanted to know all the minion words please.

  2. Posted on December 1st, 2013 GMT at 13:13 GMT by joe

    i know 3 only bello poopaye and bananonine

  3. Posted on December 1st, 2013 GMT at 13:14 GMT by joe

    now i know all of them poopaye bananonine bello butt.

  4. Posted on December 17th, 2013 GMT at 10:15 GMT by Kate

    I thought that they made them italian in the second part but I see they are mixing words from more languages.Also in the scene where two minions are bringing Gru to El Macho one says “masala” do you know what that means?

  5. Posted on December 28th, 2013 GMT at 09:38 GMT by Alan

    Great article. Just got the flying minion text tone. Great help.

  6. Posted on December 31st, 2013 GMT at 17:35 GMT by mrrios

    I love the fact that English mavens still exist, especially those who catch the nuances hidden in a cartoon. Thank you for such a great synopsis of Minionese.

  7. Posted on January 7th, 2014 GMT at 16:10 GMT by juanbazooka

    “I Swear” wasn’t sung by Boyz 2 Men. The R&B version was done by All-4-One.

  8. Posted on January 9th, 2014 GMT at 23:10 GMT by minions R awesome

    on yahoo answers they give you about twenty examples

  9. Posted on March 10th, 2014 GMT at 04:04 GMT by kimmie roderick

    i love the crazy minion

  10. Posted on March 18th, 2014 GMT at 19:49 GMT by Alice-May

    Hello ——————————– Bello
    Goodbye ——————— Poopaye
    Thank You ——————- Tank Yu
    I’m Hungry —— Me Want Banana
    Ugly ———————– Bananonina
    I Swear ——————– Underwear
    Fire!!! ———— BEE DO BEE DO
    We Love You —– Tulaliloo ti amo
    I Hate You ———– Tatata bala tu
    Toy ——————————– Papoy
    What —————————— Po ka
    Apple —————————- Papple
    Ice Cream ———————- Gelato
    For you ————————- Para tu
    Chair —————————- Chassy
    Butt ———————————- Butt
    One ——————————— Hana
    Two ———————————– Dul
    Three ——————————– Sae
    Here you go, some more phrases :3

  11. Posted on March 25th, 2014 GMT at 10:39 GMT by Minions4Ever

    ‘Wu-ke-al-ii-ma-ta!’

    Either ‘To Infinity and Beyond!’ or ‘I am Superman!’

  12. Posted on April 13th, 2014 GMT at 18:13 GMT by Ashu

    Hey Kate,

    MASALA is Hindi word. Hindi is national launguage of an India. MASALA means SPICE.

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