Mama Buzz and I were chatting about the words the Minions say. I swear I heard one of them say “kawaii” (kah-wah-ee), which is what our Japanese exchange student named our little pet frog. She said it means “cute.” They also say “kampai” when making a toast, which is “cheers” in Japanese. Mama Buzz said she’s heard French and Spanish words and a friend who speaks Korean says he’s heard that language as well.
So, you know me … I googled.
There’s a surprising amount (even apps) about the Minion language. I learned, for example, that Minionese is not a fully worked out language like Klingon is. The guy who did their voices (Despicable Me director Pierre Coffin) says he pretty much made it up as he went along … but that it definitely has real words from a bunch of languages sprinkled throughout.
“I have my Indian or Chinese menu handy. I also know a little bit of Spanish, Italian, Indonesian, and Japanese. So I have all these sources of inspiration for their words,” he says. “I just pick one that doesn’t express something by the meaning but rather the melody of the words.”
In English, “minion” refers to a powerful person’s subservient dependent. But the French word “mignon” means “cute.” And the Despicable Me minions definitely get back to their “cute roots” in their appearance, behavior, and language. They have the big head, big eyed proportions of a human toddler, they talk at a higher pitch, and they use a lot of simple consonant-vowel syllables, especially with b and p sounds, which are among the first babies acquire.
In “The Subtle Genius of Minionese”, the author explains one phrase from the video linked below:
In this scene, where the minions are hitchhiking, one says “Me le due, spetta.” This is almost Italian for “I’ll do it, wait” (io lo faccio, spetta) but since it uses the “me” form instead of the “I” form, gives the sense of “Me do it,” which is how a toddler might say it. That “me” toddler sense also works for the Spanish (yo lo haces) and the French (je le fais). This babyish “feel” to the phrase, and the meaning of it, will be accessible to speakers of all those languages. What’s more, it will be accessible to English speakers too, because the “verb” has been changed to due, which sounds like “do it.”
Minions Official Trailer #2 (2015) – Despicable Me Prequel [2:32]