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Language in the Twelve Colonies

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This article discusses an aspect of the Re-imagined Series version of the Twelve Colonies. For information on the Original Series version, see The Twelve Colonies (TOS).
Part of the series on


English or a language portrayed in English is the universally understood standard language; in the Twelve Colonies, it is known as Caprican (CAP: "Blowback"), although other sources state the Colonial language originates from Virgon. Loanwords from other languages ("élan," "fascist," "karma," "esprit de corps" etc.) occur with normal frequency, as do chronologically enigmatic borrowings such as the battlestar Columbia. Most religious terms are explicitly shared with ancient Greek beliefs; the Colonial terms are antecedent to them. They spread down through the eons and resurfaced through the collective unconsciousness.

Contents

Vocabulary

Anachronisms

Battlestar Galactica uses many terms from modern day naval aviation, which appear somewhat anachronistic but also lend the show a flavor of realistic jargon. These include:

Adama: "You keep my planes flying. I need my planes to fly." (Litmus)

Ersatz

In contrast to its predecessor, the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica employs relatively little in the way of ersatz vocabulary. It does employ a few terms outside of a normal American English vocabulary, mostly military jargon. These are mixed in haphazardly with the real-life naval aviation terms above.

Invented Terminology

As all science fiction shows must, Battlestar Galactica has a set of vocabulary referring to technologies and other items not shared with the real world.

Turn of phrase

The dialect used by the Colonials employs some distinct turn of phrase at times:

  • "As of this moment" is used particularly often for seemingly "official" announcements. After the original Cylon attack, then-Commander William Adama announces to his crew, "As of this moment, we are at war." The phrase is used later by Colonel Tigh in his announcement of martial law [2], and Gaius Baltar in announcing his candidacy for the presidency[3].
  • "With every fiber of my being" is often used to conclude oaths, particularly the oath of presidency, as taken by Roslin and Baltar at various points.
  • "So say we all" is used to conclude prayers and similar remarks. It is analogous to, and roughly synonymous with, "amen."
  • When used as an intensifier or in other instances of profanity, "God" is usually replaced with "Gods," befitting the Colonials' polytheistic faith—"Gods damn it," "Oh my Gods!," etc.
  • "In the worlds" is in use prior to the Cylon War, following the same pattern as "in the world" (such as Amanda Graystone's exclamation that "You are so lucky and you have everything in the worlds you could possibly want . . .") (Caprica pilot). The expression is not heard immediately prior to the Fall of the Twelve Colonies or at any time afterward.

Enigmas

Language in Battlestar Galactica have terms whose origins are a curiosity due to chronology or uniqueness to the real-world Earth that likely wouldn't have a parallel of the same name in the Twelve Colonies. See an interpretation of the origin of humanity on Kobol that could support the derivation of these terms.

  • Columbia: This battlestar name comes from Christopher Columbus, thus making it an unusual name for the Twelve Colonies. However, it also stems from the Latin word "columba" meaning "dove" together with the suffix "ia" which means "land" (geographical expression) in all languages derived from Indo-European roots (ergo, "Land of the Dove")
  • Cloud Nine: This American expression of bliss comes from a 1890's Earth weather reference on the highest-altitude cloud formation. The expression became popularized in 1950s radio broadcasts.
  • Adriatic: The name of this vessel under the influence of Tom Zarek, much like Columbia appears to have originated on Earth. On Earth the Adriatic Sea is an arm of the Mediterranean Sea, located between Italy and the Balkans.
  • M8: Commander Adama refers to the Lagoon Nebula, which he sees in the display of the Tomb of Athena as M8. This is curious as it is not a name, but a catalog number from the Messier Catalog, created by the 18th century astronomer.

Honorifics

Although civilians use the honorific "Madam" or its shortened form "ma'am," in the Colonial military all superior officers are referred to as "Sir," regardless of gender.[4]

Names

Many characters have names that include one or more components that appear to be a Biblical or Classical reference. It remains an enigma whether, and to what degree, these should be thought of as translations for the audience's benefit.

Some of these apparent allusions may have no intended meaning beyond sounding good. Others are known to have been chosen for a reason, and that's noted where verifiable.

  • William and Lee Adama: "Adama" is Hebrew for "earth" in its literal meaning—ground, dirt—from which "Adam," the Biblical First Man, derives his name. It is also the name of a large city in Ethiopia. Lee's call-sign "Apollo" is of course a reference to the Greek (and apparently, Kobolan) god. Both "Adama" and "Apollo" are carry-overs from the original series, where they were chosen for their mythological significance.
  • Richard Adar: "Adar" is a month in the Jewish lunar calendar still in use today. It coincides roughly with the Gregorian month of March. It is a carry over from the original series.
  • Karl Agathon: "Agathon" was an Athenian poet, a friend of Euripides and Plato.
  • Gaius Baltar: "Gaius" was the praenomen of the man we commonly call Julius Caesar and the noted Roman historian Tactius, among others. "Baltar" was made up by Glen A. Larson for the original series.
  • Helena Cain: "Helena" is a common enough name, but is also a possible reference to Helen of Troy. "Cain" in the Old Testament is the first murderer, and is a carry-over from the original series.
  • Aaron Doral: "Aaron" is a Biblical Hebrew name, the older brother of Moses.
  • Anastasia Dualla: The Greek word anastasia translates to "resurrection," and was a deliberate choice by Ron Moore. It's also a common Greek and Russian name. Dualla is the name of a region and people in sub-saharan Africa.
  • Hera/Isis: "Hera" was a Greek goddess, the wife of Zeus. "Isis" an Egyptian goddess, the wife of Horus in early mythology; the wife of Osiris and mother of Horus later. This is one of the few Egyptian references in the new series.
  • Gina Inviere: "Inviere" is Romanian for "resurrection." The word is described in the series as from "Old Gemenese" and is one in a handful of instances where the Re-imagined Series suggests that the standard language viewers hear spoken is not the sole language of all colonies.
  • Billy Keikeya: "Keikeya" is one of the three queens of Ayodhya in the Hindu epic, Ramayana.
  • Kara Thrace: "Thrace" is a region in southeast Europe spanning Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Turkey, and Serbia. It was also the ancient name for the same area. The famous gladiator Spartacus was a Thracian.
  • Saul Tigh: "Saul" is a Hebrew name (pronounced "Shaul" in Hebrew), which means "borrowed." Biblical references include both the first king of Judah and Israel, and the birth-name of Paul of Tarsus. Originally the character was named "Paul Tigh," but when it was discovered that this could not be used for legal reasons, it was shifted to "Saul Tigh," a reverse of the name switch that Saul of Tarsus/St. Paul made. "Tigh" appears to be a reference to the historical figure Colonel Tye, an African-American military leader who fought for the British in the American Revolutionary War (the original series version of Colonel Tigh was of African ethnicity).
  • Galen Tyrol: "Galen" was a famous Greek-born healer, the source of much Roman and Medieval medical knowledge, and was the first to argue that the mind was in the brain and not the heart; this could be construed as ironic, given that Tyrol followed his heart and maintained a relationship with Boomer even when he shouldn't have. "Tyrol" is a region that spans the border of Austria and Italy.
  • Sharon Valerii: "Sharon" is a name of a geographic area in the center of Israel, although it's also a common English woman's name. The gens Valeria is one of the longest-running families in the history of the Roman Empire. "Valerii" is the masculine genitive plural form, which is used to refer to members of a family collectively.
  • Tom Zarek: "Thomas" is a deliberate biblical reference. Originally he was supposed to be called "Peter," but that didn't clear with the legal departement. It's also a common English name. Zarek is a Polish name derived from the Babylonian name Balshazzar meaning "Baal protects the king." According to the writers, they just made up the name "Zarek" because they thought it sounded "strong and futuristic." (Battlestar Galactica: The Official Companion, p.52)

Uncertain references:

  • Leoben Conoy: "Leoben" is an Austrian town where a preliminary peace in the Napoleonic wars was signed. "Conoy" is a Native American tribe, also known as the Piscataway. Both are pretty obscure.
  • Laura Roslin: "Roslin Institute" is where Dolly the Sheep was cloned. A more likely source of the name would be the Scottish village of Roslin, Midlothian, where (unsurprisingly perhaps) the Roslin Institute is located.

Other Languages

Real-world languages other than English have made brief appearances in the Re-Imagined Series.

The Chinese Characters behind Tyrol in Webisode 7
  • The bookshelf concealing a fallout shelter in "Act of Contrition" contains a book titled Oberst, the German word for colonel.
  • Number Six tells Gaius Baltar that he speaks with élan in "The Hand of God." Élan is the French word for flair.
  • The opera heard in Baltar's lab in Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down is in Italian. It is titled Battlestar Operatica and was composed by Battlestar Galactica composer Bear McCreary.
  • In Battlestar Galactica: The Resistance there are three Chinese characters on a crate behind Tyrol. They are "盐," "油" and "姜," meaning "salt," "oil" and "ginger". Chinese language characters has also been seen on numerous occasions in both Batttlestar Galactica and Caprica. One example are store signs in Little Tauron being written in Chinese (note: Vancouver's Chinatown played as Little Tauron during the filming of Caprica).
  • In "Lay Down Your Burdens, Part II" is French visible on the blackboard of Roslin's school are the French verbs aller, avoir, and être.
French visible in blue left of Maya's head.
  • The Latin "sine qua non" ("without which not," "without which it could not be") is spoken and translated by Romo Lampkin ("Sine Qua Non").
  • In Caprica, a mixture of Ancient and Modern Greek is used to represent the native language of the Taurons. In the episode "Blowback", Romanian is used to represent the language of Gemenon.

Accents

Most characters (or the actors that portray them) speak with a Standard American accent, with some exceptions.

British (Queen's English) Accent

Three characters speak with the Received Pronunciation, Dr. Gaius Baltar from Aerilon (although he consciously suppresses his native Aerilon accent), Galactica medic Layne Ishay and Pyxis' Captain Jules Tarney.

Canadian Accent

The actor playing Colonel Tigh, especially when shouting or barking orders, exhibits a definite Canadian accent. Michael Hogan is a noted Canadian actor, and on the show his speech is generally indistinguishable from General American English, but observant listeners can detect the accent in certain situations.

More subtly, Leoben Conoy, portrayed by veteran Canadian actor Callum Keith Rennie, exhibits Canadian patterns discernible to native speakers.

Sergeant Hadrian, played by Canadian actress Jill Teed also shows Canadian cadences.

Since the series is shot in Vancouver, British Columbia, many of the actors are Canadian character players, for the most part speaking with West/Central Canadian accents.

American (Puerto Rican) Accent

Giana, a woman rescued from Caprica by Sharon Valerii, speaks with a Puerto Rican accent, and inquires after the whereabouts of her husband, who she states is "stationed on Gemenon." Her place of origin is unclear, but no other characters from either Caprica, Gemenon, or anywhere else have shared this accent. The actress, Lymari Nadal, is from Puerto Rico (Miniseries).

New Zealand Accent

The reporter D'Anna Biers speaks with a New Zealand accent (this is actually the accent that actress Lucy Lawless speaks with when off screen, because she is from New Zealand). However, the same episode revealed that D'Anna is actually a Cylon (Number Three), and another copy of her model on Cylon-occupied Caprica does not speak with this accent, but a Standard American one, perhaps to differentiate the two characters. Subsequent appearances by Number Threes in "Downloaded" and Season 3 have featured the Kiwi accent exclusively.

Australian Accent

Kendra Shaw speaks with an Australian accent. She is portrayed by Stephanie Jacobsen, who was born in Hong Kong but spent most of her life and education in Sydney, Australia. Given that her mother was Caprica's delegate to the Quorum of Twelve, she is likely from Caprica as well. From an in-universe point of view, this probably means that there is not just one accent from one colony, but also regional variations (Razor).

British (Yorkshire) Accent

In "Flesh and Bone," Baltar notes that Sharon Valerii speaks with a trace of an Aerilon accent. Valerii tells him that she is not from Aerilon, but rather Troy. In the episode "Dirty Hands," Baltar displays his native Aerilon accent. It sounds somewhat raspy, and resembles the English regional accents from Yorkshire and Lancashire. Baltar being from Aerilon explains how he could pick up a faint trace of it in Valerii. However, in her case, the accent appears to be entirely fictional - Canadian actress Grace Park speaks Standard American English without a 'foreign' accent.

Irish Accent

In "The Son Also Rises," Romo Lampkin speaks with an accent somewhat similar to Baltar's native Aerilon accent. The actor, Mark Sheppard, is Irish.

(Note: The accent of the corresponding 'Aeries' people in the Original Series sounds Irish, as heard in "The Long Patrol")

Liturgy

During the funeral service at the end of the Miniseries, Priest Elosha chants a prayer in a foreign language. It is recognizable as a common Sanskrit prayer, found in Part I, Chapter III, Verse 28 of the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad.

Devanāgarī Transliteration Translation
अस्तो मा सद् गमय asato mā sad gamaya Lead us from Falsehood to Truth
तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय tamaso mā jyotir gamaya Lead us from Darkness to Light
मृत्योर् मा अमृतं गमय mṛtyor mā amṛtaṃ gamaya Lead us from Death to Immortality

Although the lyrics are identifiable, it should be noted that the actress's performance is closer to the chanting of biblical Hebrew, and does not resemble the traditional melody.[5]

References

  1. This usage is not entirely unknown in Earth-bound English. As a synonym for radio or radiotelegraphy, it's more common in British usage, according to Merriam-Webster. Prior to the popularisation of television in the 1950s, it was the preferred term for radio equipment and radio broadcasts amongst the bulk of the British population. It's also the source of the prefix 'Wi' in 'WiFi' and other similar wireless data standards now common.
  2. "As of this moment, I have declared martial law." — "Fragged"
  3. "…I am, as of this moment, a candidate for the Presidency." — "The Captain's Hand"
  4. According to RDM's blog on January 20th, 2006, the series follows the system established in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, where the term "sir" has become gender-neutral in military usage. Thus, Laura Roslin is referred to as "Madam President" or "ma'am" in a civilian context, but in her capacity as Commander-in-Chief, she is always addressed as "sir."
  5. Viewers can compare Elosha's chant to the same chant found in the soundtrack of the movie The Matrix Revolutions, by composers Don Davis and the group Juno Reactor. The final track, "Navras," (which plays during the closing credits of the motion picture) begins with this same verse; the track "Neodämmerung" also consists entirely of Sanskrit lyrics taken from the Upaniṣads, including this verse.




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