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The scene: Ben Kenobi, Luke Skywalker, R2D2, and C3PO, encounter a decimated Jawa Sandcrawler. Luke sees evidence that the attack was carried out by Tuskan Raiders. Ben disagrees, saying, "They didn't. But we are meant to think they did. These tracks are side by side. Sandpeople always ride single file to hide their numbers." Ben further notes uniformly fine marksmanship, unlikely from Tuskans. Luke then follows the mental trajectory to a whiny conclusion, which he impulsively decides to prevent or verify. (The narrative is vague on this.) Despite Ben's objections, Luke hops in his Landspeeder and ends the scene.

The challenge: Gather together as many translations of "Sandpeople always ride single file to hide their numbers." as you can, for the sheer whimsey, a passing fancy for comparative linguistics, and the whole romancing-the-Rosetta-Stone karma.

While it started as a stupid, pop-culture-reference-obssesed version of Oh my God! There's an axe in my head!, during its collaborative creation, I discovered it was the next evolution of the meme. "There's an axe in my head!" is a declarative first person sentence with concrete singular nouns, "axe", and "head." The meaning, while surprising and humorous, is unambiguous. The Star Wars quote is a highter order of semiotic complexity.

To reconstruct it in another language, you are met several challenges.

  • You must either recognize its original context or be told to understand that the full pragmatic meaning of the statement is, "{In general,} (the people who live in the desert) ride {mounts} in (single file) to (conceal the number of individuals in their group){from anyone later observing their footprints}.
  • You must imply "people who live in the desert" with reference to "sand".
  • Omit or include an article, helping the reader understand that these aren't any particular group of Sand People, but Sand People in general. At the same time you must imply that there is some group who can be referenced as “Sand People”. It is not a catch-all for any given desert-dwellers.
  • Your verb for "ride" should imply that they are mounted as they travel. If you want to match the sense of the original, the verb should not explicitly require an object, i.e. Banthas.
  • Not all languages share the ambiguity of descriptive and categorical adjectives that English enjoys, so you must make sure that "Sand People" communicates "people of the sand" and not "people made from sand."
  • "Single file" is a colloquialism. You must understand this and find either a similar colloquialism in your own language, or describe it succintly.
  • Work out the verb "hide." "Numbers" is an abstract concept, and it just so happens that the English (or Tatooinian) "hide" works for abstract and concrete objects.
  • Decide whether the possessive "their" should be plural or singular in the new language. Who has these numbers? Do the individuals posses a single number? Does the group posses a single number?
  • Somehow make it clear that Tuskan Raiders aren't embarassed about their football jerseys, i.e. they don't have any actual numbers they are trying to hide. The numbers are abstract. They want to make it difficult for a tracker to estimate the size of their group.
  • Tense the whole phrase to imply that this behavior is habitual: not at a specific point in the past, present, or future.
  • Determine, if your language distinguishes, if Ben would honor Luke with formal speech. Yes, they know each other, but they are not close, and it has been a long while since they were in contact. Ben has come out of the Jedi Master closet, so some hierarchy is established, but Luke is not yet a part of the hierarchy. Can we just rely on the age difference? Confusing this is the fact that recently, Luke learned that Ben knew his father. Ben also hides Horrible Truth about Luke's father. How does this color his take on the situation? The English doesn't tell you how to resolve these social complexities.

The Results

Grouped by approximate language families

As you can read, it's not as easy as it seems at first blush. The good news is that many people are up to the challenge.

English
The sand people ride single file to hide their numbers.

Swedish
Sandfolket rider alltid i enkla led för att dölja sina antal.

Danish
MCX provides Sandfolket rider i enkelt kolonne for at skjule sit antal

Norwegian
Sandfolk rir alltid på rekke for å skjule antallet sitt.

Editor’s note: whitecrow, who provided this translation, notes the distinctions between this and other Scandinavian translations:

  • Sandfolk(sandpeople, people (relatedto) sand. Not THE sandpeople (sandfolkET), unlike what the Danish and Swedish translations imply)
  • rir alltid ((do)ride always)
  • på rekke (on (a)line)
  • for å skjule (to then obscure/hide/cover/pull from view)
  • antallet sitt ((the) number (of) theirs)

German
Das Volk der Sandleute reitet hintereinander her, um seine Anzahl zu verbergen.

Dutch
cryforhelp provides De zandmensen rijden in een enkele rij om hun aantallen te verbergen

French
Les Gens-du-Sable marchent en file indienne pour dissimuler leur nombre.

Italian
I sabbipodi camminano sempre in fila per nascondere il loro numero. (This direct from the Italian version.)

Spanish
La gente de la arena camina en una sola fila para ocultar su cantidad.

Portuguese

O povo da areia sempre anda em fila indiana para ocultar quantos são.

Polish
Ludzie Piachu jeżdżą jeden za drugim, ukrywając swoje ilości.

Russian
Pesochnie liudi hodiat zepiu skrivaia ih kolichestvo.

Croatian
Ljudi iz pustinje hodaju u jednom redu da bi sakrili svoj broj.

Slovenian
Puscavniki hodijo v skupini, da ne razkrijejo svojega stevila.

Phonetic Japanese
Sabaku ni sumu hitobito wa karera no ninzuu o kakusu tame ni ichiretsu ni narande susumu.

Phonetic Hebrew
Anshei hachol rochvim betoor bichdei lehasvot et misparam.


/msg me with more languages.

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