Do you hear that? That’s the sound of the halcyon days of childhood, at least for those raised on the wholesome lessons of Luke Skywalker and his scoundrelly friend Han Solo. Warding off the Dark Side is what they do best, but it’s not always easy, and often involves flinging lethal beams of energy, also known as lightsabers.
Today on Reddit, fans are debating how exactly to spell the sound a lightsaber makes, as Redditors are wont to do. Responses to the thread were marked by variation; puzzlingly, no one seemed to agree on the spelling of the noise made when slicing the air with a controlled plasma blade powered by a Kyber crystal.
Hoping to close the case, or at least guide it towards some kind of agreed-upon set of vowels, I asked Dr. Ellen Broselow, a professor of linguistics specializing in phonology, how she’d tackle the question. Her response explained why there is so much room for interpretation when it comes to the spelling of non-human sounds.
When translating sounds to written language, Broselow and linguists like her use the International Phonetic Alphabet, a guide to spelling out the pronunciation of all human sounds.
“But that’s meant to represent speech sounds, so for things like wsshh! or buzzing noises, there’s no symbol,” Broselow said. “There’s not going to be any perfect equivilent. There’s no right answer.”
There are, however, some universal trends in the meanings we apply to certain sounds. The idea that noises can convey specific meaning across cultures is called sound symbolism. Broselow explained, “Words with ‘eeee’ often refer to little things, and words with ‘ahhhh,’ where your mouth is more open, refer to bigger things. ‘Glimmer,’ ‘glow,’ and other ‘gl’ words have to do with shininess or light.”
Similarly, there are letters that lend themselves to sounds conveying movement, and letters that are more likely to be used to convey stillness. The sound of a lightsaber whipping through the air is likely to be spelled with an "h" or "m" -- “sounds that you can continue,” Broselow said. “Some sounds like "b" or "d" you can’t continue, you’re completely stopping the air flow.”
Ultimately, though, there are myriad ways to awaken the force on the page. Because the answer to this timeless question is essentially whatever we want it to be, we asked a few Huffington Post staffers to share their light-fuelled onomatopoeias:
- wwwwOOWWwww...WOOOOwwwwwwwOOOWwwww and then BJJJJJJJZZZZHKKHKJZJJJJJJJZZZZZZZvvvwwommmmm
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