The Invention of a Desert Tongue for ‘Dune’

In Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi “Dune” movies, Indigenous people known as Fremen use a device to tunnel rapidly through their desert planet’s surface.

The instrument is called a “compaction tool” in Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel, “Dune,” on which the films are based. But the professional language constructors David J. Peterson and Jessie Peterson wanted a more sophisticated word for it as the husband and wife built out the Fremen language, Chakobsa, for “Dune: Part Two,” which premiered earlier this month.

They started with a verb they had made up meaning “to press” — “kira” — and, applying rules David Peterson had devised for the language before the first movie, fashioned another verb that means “to compress” or “to free space by compression” — “kiraza.” From there, they used his established suffixes to come up with a noun. Thus was born the Chakobsa word for a sand compressor, “kirzib,” which can be heard in background dialogue in “Dune: Part Two.”

For language constructors — conlangers, as they are known — such small touches enhance the verisimilitude of even gigantic edifices like the “Dune” series. If the demand for conlangers’ work is any indication, filmmakers and showrunners agree.

“There’s a very big limit to what you can do with anything approaching gibberish,” said Jessie Peterson, who holds a doctorate in linguistics. “If you just shouted one word in gibberish, that would probably be fine. If you shouted a phrase of two words, OK. But if you tried to do a whole sentence structure in gibberish, it would fall apart very quickly. If somebody needed to respond or repeat information, it won’t cohere.”

Other languages are a significant part of the “Dune” films as well. For “Part One,” David Peterson devised a chant for the emperor’s fearsome military forces, the Sardaukar, and the sign language of discreet hand gestures employed by the central Atreides family.

Related Articles

Back to top button