Cityspeak (Blade Runner)

bladerunner“That gibberish he talked was Cityspeak, gutter talk, a mishmash of Japanese, Spanish, German, what have you. I didn’t really need a translator. I knew the lingo, every good cop did. But I wasn’t going to make it easier for him.” – Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), Voiceover

That’s how Ridley Scott explained it in his adaptation of Blade Runner. Well, technically Ford did the explaining through the character of Deckard, but that’s neither here nor there. Point is, Cityspeak was something that did not appear in the novel version of Blade Runner/Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. It was instead an original creation, designed to give the future-noire city of LA some subtext and a more gritty, realistic feel.

I mean, let’s face it. Overcrowded cities have a way of spawning their own lingo, and in a mega-city that is congested with millions of people, hundreds of cultures and dozens of languages, something like this would be sure to emerge. It was simply a matter of predicting which major languages would be involved, and writing the script in the 80’s, it was only natural that the languages of the most populous and wealthiest nations would do.

English was and still is the trade language of the world, Japanese was quickly becoming another one, Spanish was already spoken by millions in California and all over the South-Western US, Germany was next to Japan as being the world’s strongest economies, and Chinese… well, there were over a billion speakers of Chinese even back then. So really, Cityspeak was a legitimate sci-fi concept.

But here’s an interesting fact: turns out Edward James Olmos – who played the character of Gaff, the only one who spoke Cityspeak – was the man chiefly responsible for its creation. Relying on his diverse ethnic background and some in-depth research, he managed to come up with all the lines his character spoke in the course of that opening scene where it makes it debut.

Not only did he rely on his own Hungarian background, he took some night courses and studied inner-city youth lingo, relying even on his own experiences of living in the Philippines. As he recalled, Filipino cab drivers had their own lingo, a combination Spanish, Tagalog and the occasional English words which they would insert into their speech. One can see this in the lines of dialogue he composed, which were diverse and had several words in English for which no translation would be found.

Here’s the conversation as it appeared in the movie in full:

Gaff: Monsieur, azonnal kövessen engem, bitte!
Sushi Master: He say you under arrest, Mister Deckard.
Deckard: Got the wrong guy, pal.
Gaff: Lófaszt! Nehogy már! Te vagy a Blade, Blade Runner!
Sushi Master: He say you blade runner.
Deckard: Tell him I’m eating.
Gaff: Captain Bryant toka. Meni-o mae-yo.
Deckard: Bryant, huh?

The first section breaks down as follows:
Monsieur (French): Sir
azonnal kövessen engem (Hungarian): follow me immediately
bitte (German): please

The second, however, was entirely in Hungarian:
Lòfàszt!: Bullshit! (Or horse dick, depending on how literal you want to get!)
Nehogy már!: Do it!
Te vagy a Blade, Blade Runner!: You are the Blade, Blade Runner!

The last sentence… Well, it stumped me! Yep, not even a few full-on Google searches or several rounds with Google Translate and Babel Fish could crack this code! And I tried everything they listed, Japanese, Chinese, German, even Hungarian. But luckily, the Blade Runner crew had already provided a translation, it’s just that there was no mention of which languages were used. It reads as follows:
“Captain Bryant toka. Meni-o mae-yo” (Captain Bryant ordered me to escort you to him).

And that’s Cityspeak for you, something Ridley Scott and his Blade Runner adaptation was famous for, but which was mainly the creation of Edward James Olmos. I guess he’s not just a pretty face, or the man that played Adama and won the love of countless Battlestar Galactic nerds…

11 thoughts on “Cityspeak (Blade Runner)

  1. Last one is a play on words.

    “Me ni omae yo” is a sort of pun. “Me ni mae” means to meet someone. “omae” is the very informal use of “you” – in Japanese, this is significant – if you say to someone “Omae sa”, it means, “hey you”, but in the way a thug would shout it to a potential victim in a dimly lit alley. Omae is very offensive. So in the last sentence, what Gaff is saying is basically “Captain Bryant told me “get that piece of shit over here””

  2. Hungarian translation from a native Hungarian:

    Lófaszt!: Bullshit! (Or horse dick, depending on how literal you want to get!)
    Nehogy már!: No way!
    Te vagy a Blade, Blade Runner!: You are the Blade, Blade Runner!

    1. I would add a little correction to the last sentence:

      Te vagy a Blade, Blade Runner!: You are the Blade, Blade Runner!

      It’s not really a statement, but a surprise, a doubt, that he is the Blade Runner. It similar like: “What?! Are you really the Blade Runner?!”

      1. Believe it from a native speaker, David: the expression “Te vagy a Blade, Blade Runner!” in Hungarian is not an expression of surprise, or doubt. It is precisely an emphatic statement.

      2. It’s also possible, but to be honest, it’s hard to decided. I think your explanation could also be right, but I still feel that it is a doubt than a statement. But it’s hard to make it out from a non-native speaking Hungarian. I’m also Hungarian by the way. 🙂

      3. Ok! You were right! I watch a few minutes of the movie and I figured that the Guy speaking Hungarian knew the Blade Runner so that means it is a statement. But honestly, without knowing this, I had doubts. 🙂

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