How to speak Moonish

eiIoa eiIoaioa aoeo aoeo oeoei oeoei aoua eoia eoia oeiu aeiIou aeiIou aeiIou eiuoauoao ou a e i. aeiIouaeiIo uaeaiaiei IouaeiIouaeiIouaeiIouaeiIou aeiIoua. Got it? If not read on...

In Andrew Norman's opera A Trip to the Moon, which receives its UK premiere on this Sunday (9 July) at the Barbican Centre conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, Georges Méliès' group of bumbling astronomers are exploring the moon in a rocket that needs fixing and encounter a group of Moon People, who speak only Moonish. Threatened by a monster, confused by a missing child and battling language differences, communications between the two parties break down to a near-disastrous point; saved in the nick of time by Georges and his efforts to understand and reach out to the community of Moon People.

Astronomers in rehearsalThe Astronomers are fearful

The opera's central theme is about fear of being different; about how and why different communities fear, misunderstand and hate each other, and how this those misunderstandings can be overcome for the common good – a topic that we see today all over the world in many different situations.

Much of the storytelling throughout the opera takes place in the language of Moonish – a language consisiting entirely of vowels and sounds, invented by Andrew Norman for the opera – meaning that the audience feels for real the same as the group of people from Earth must feel as they try to unravel the threads of what exactly is going on.

moonish dictionaryMuch fun as been had by the LSO Discovery Choir and Community choir, playing the Moon People, in learning to sing in Moonish! Getting all the vowels in the right order is tricky, but once you've got it you can't stop. But how do you speak Moonish? Here's a handy guide:

There are six vowels in Moonish, which are usually sung in the same order:

a (like in father)
e (like in bed)
i (like in machine)
I (like in ice)
o (like in more)
u (like in prune)

Combined with phrasing, articulation and inflection – such as staccato (short), at various speeds, with the vowels transforming into each other, getting louder and softer at the end – to express the emotion behind the words (think Mandarin Chinese!), these vowels are combined to make words and phrases, such as this song which is sung by Eoa, princess of the Moon People:


In this piece of dialogue, Georges teaches Eoa some pronouns:

G: I [gestures to himself]
E: I [gestures to herself]
G: ae
E: iI
G: ou
E: ae
G: you [gestures to Eoa]
E: you [gestures to Georges]
G: ou
E: ae
G: iI
E: ou
G: us [gestures to them both]
E: us [gestures to them both]

There are other sounds used in Moonish as well, mostly to express fear or anger:


At certain points you'll also hear the children making sounds such as fff, sss and sh, and using gasps and exhales to convey surprise or shock, or agreement and empathy – for example, when the Moon Children's teacher suddenly appears to stop their teasing of the astronomers, their gasp is interpreted as "teacher's here, fun is over".

Trip to the Moon rehearsalFear and mistrust on both sides: Moon People and Astronomers in rehearsal

Largely, Moonish doesn't have exact translations, which means that the tone in which it is spoken takes on increased importance. As you listen, your ears gradually pick up more and more meaning in the sounds, just like you would if you were listening unprepared to Chinese or Japanese! However, here are a few words in Moonish which Andrew Norman has indicated do have meanings:

ae! = Silence!
uai = monster
ae i I o Georges Méliès = My name is Georges Méliès
oe I u oa = I come from the earth
oae oa oaeio = We need your help
eiIoa eiIoaioa! = A child is missing!
eoa, oa eiIo uaeio = we need your help with the rocket
aoei = the Moon Call
aoeu = the Moon Response

The Moon Children and Moon People also have an additional form of communication in their arsenal – the sacred stick. Each of the Moon People has a stick which is a part of their personality. No other being may touch someone else's sacred stick, and these are often used to identify themselves in a roll call. Watch out for the musical way in which Andrew Norman expresses this roll call, and the larage part that they play in the opera's plot.

boomwhackers 600The Moon People's sacred sticks. Otherwise known as Boomwhackers!

And that's it. You're ready to take your Moonish GCSE!

You can see A Trip to the Moon at the Barbican Centre on Sunday 9 July at 7pm. Tickets are available from our website here – we have recently released a good batch of £18 and £10 tickets in the balcony. Suitable for all the family, and don't forget that all tickets for under 18s are £5.

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