Marvel asked me for help to help the superheroes chat with each other in Babylonian

 

 

The Marvel film Eternals, you’ll hear the sounds that are Babylonian that are spoken. It’s the first major film that features the ancient Iraqi language that was spoken at least from 2000 BC up to around 500 BC.

The information we have about Babylonian is derived through written documents, typically clay tablets written in Cuneiform script. The remaining body of these inscriptions, along with those from Babylonian’s cousin Assyrian is comprised of around 10 million words. With this massive document it is known, and we also are able to know what it looked like when written and written using vowels, and there are a number of ancient transcriptions to both the Hebrew as well as Greek letters.

Because I am one of the few researchers who specialize on dialects of the Babylonian dialect, Marvel brought me on as a consultant to help with the film’s translations and to ensure that the words were spoken authentically. It involved me providing written and audio recordings that the actors worked through with the assistance of the expert dialect coach of the film, Sarah Shepherd.

I’m not unfamiliar with using Babylonian in a film setting but Eternals brought a whole new set of difficulties. In particular, for this dialect it’s extremely difficult to create terms for more casual and conversational conversations.

Translating into a long-dead language

My first venture into Babylonian in film was an original short film I directed with the Babylonian language ( The Poor Man of Nippur) together with my students from The University of Cambridge. It was a dramatic adaptation of the Babylonian folktale, and although we added one or two lines from other sources it was based on phrases taken from Babylonian sources. Thus, it was a Babylonian folk tale. script did not require us to create anything completely new.

In the year 2019, I did work for the movie Godzilla: King of the Monsters translating a song into Babylonian to be used in the soundtrack. The elegy-like track featured an “heroic” feeling in it and appeared like the kinds of things you’ll find within Babylonian poems. This meant I had clear examples to work from, which helped greatly in my work. I believe I completed it in a single afternoon.