Do the Minions Speak a Real Language?

Posted by Jamie Balkin

We here at Lionbridge onDemand love the little, yellow men from the Despicable Me movies just like everyone else. However, we also love language and have wondered about whether or not the language the Minions speak is real. Here’s what we discovered:

Universal Studios did NOT hire a linguist for the Minions

      Directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud

      Directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud

Reports show that the film’s directors, Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, created “Minionese” and recorded some of the voices themselves. Coffin recalled that when initial voicings for Gru’s henchmen weren’t working, he stepped in to give it a go.
“I told [Illumination founder-CEO and producer] Chris Meledandri, ‘Let me make a test. It won’t be an official one; it’s just to show whoever is going to design the voice a way to go.’ When I asked Chris to listen to it, he said, ‘Well, you’re going to be the voice of the minions.’ “In Despicable Me 1 and 2, Coffin dubs the voices for most of the minions in English and many other languages. When creating the language, he purposely took a gibberish approach to the language for comedy.

Does the gibberish have meaning?

New England Patriot’s player Rob Gronkowski                            Sporting a Minion hat

New England Patriot’s player Rob Gronkowski                            Sporting a Minion hat

If you listen carefully to the language, you may be able to identify words already existing in other languages. Some words are pulled from French, English, Spanish, and Italian. The vocals from this movie were a huge success and audiences around the world fell in love with the minions. Renaud continues with Coffin’s story:
“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. There are a lot of food references. For example, ‘poulet tiki masala’ is French for the Indian chicken dish.”
I personally love the well-known songs parodied in the film such as Boys 2 Men where I swear becomes Underwear, and Copa Cabana turns into Bella Banana and The Beach Boys’ Barbara Ann becomes Ba-ba-ba, Ba-ba-na-na, just to name a few.

Some words translated form Minionese:

Bello! = Hello!
Baboi = Toy
Chasy = Chair
Poopaye! = Goodbye!
Po ka = What?
Kan pai = Cheers!
Tank yu! = Thank you!
Bable = Apple
Pwede na = Can we start?
Me want banana! = I’m hungry!
Gelato = Ice Cream
Luk at tu! = Look at you!
Underwear = I swear
Butt = Butt
Muak Muak = Kiss kiss
Bee Do Bee Do Bee Do! = Fire!
Hana = One
Bi do = I’m sorry
Tulaliloo ti amo! =We love you!
Dul = Two
La Boda = Marriage
Tatata bala tu! = I hate you!
Para tu = For you
Stupa! Stupa! = Stop! Stop!

Our findings

Director Coffin spontaneously invents new gibberish words for the minions, though Minionese is infused with the occasional real word or phrase borrowed from a legitimate language. However, the familiar yet goofy dialect is part of the minions’ adorably hilarious appeal. Now that the Minions have taken over, it’s funny to think that the most popular children’s blockbusters of the summer is, for all intents and purposes, a foreign language film.

And there you have it, language case-closed.

As they say in Minionese: Poopaye!