Animalese is that cute, familiar babble that the Villagers speak in Animal Crossing games, and although it’s supposed to be nonsense, it sounds different in the Japanese and English versions of the game. But if it’s not supposed to be intelligible, why does Nintendo bother to dub it?
To understand what the deal with Animalese is, you have to look back on the long history of developers trying to avoid having people talk in their games. Strategies range from having characters just laugh and grunt on occasion, to matching each word that pops up in the text box with an audible sound effect — a style entirely unique to video games that I call “beep speech.” Each style has its upsides and downsides, but their main purpose was to avoid any of the work of writing, recording, and localizing a big, long script.
Which makes it extra weird that Nintendo goes through all the trouble, especially in a giant game like Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
But as it turns out, not all gibberish is created equal. To get to the bottom of how language (or un-language) functions in games, I spoke to psycholinguist Melissa Baese-Berk. Even if fictional video game babble sounds like nonsense, it will inevitably mimic the linguistic information of the people who record it, which means that some gibberish sounds more familiar than other gibberish.
Watch the video above to learn more about Animalese, Simlish, and the reasons why gibberish isn’t as nonsensical as you might think.