Early in Arrival (2016), Louise is originally rejected by the military as the lead translator. She asks the Colonel in charge to pose a question to the other translator about the Sanskrit word for war.

The military return to Louise (presumably the other translator has failed in some way). The colonel tells Louise how the other translator interpreted the Sanskrit word. Louise says that her translation was something like “a desire for more cows.” At this point the military accept her terms and tell her to get in the helicopter. She is going to lead the translation.

What was the other translator's answer and why was it significant?


3 Answers 3


I believe the other linguist said it translated to something like "a disagreement" or "an argument." I found a discussion of the scene here that I think tells it pretty well (at least how I saw it):

the guy who thinks the Sanskritians would be so trite as to have a word for war that just means “argument” might think that the only danger is a spat or a misunderstanding, but Main Character has a more fulsome understanding of how greed and status competition can lead to war, which is exactly the sort of thing that impresses Forest Whitaker

  • 2
    It didn't impress Forest Whitaker. It impressed the character that Forest Whitaker played.
    – MikeB
    May 11, 2018 at 2:17
  • 6
    You should take that up with the person quoted above. I make no claims about whether or not the actor Forest Whitaker was impressed. May 11, 2018 at 2:44
  • Indeed, the rest of the quote is "(both on screen and, in my experience, off)" - is that some personal friend of Mr. Whitaker?
    – Luciano
    Jul 4, 2019 at 8:12
  • 1
    Follow-up question: was Forest Whitaker really impressed by Louise's answer?
    – Joachim
    Sep 17, 2023 at 16:44

Yuddh is a literal translation of the ACT of war. Gavisti would have a broader scope. Giving WHY. The desire for war, the desire for cows. She set up the other linguist and he didn't catch it. Cows would have been the basis for trade this being something desired.

Giving a purpose to war to gain more. The other linguist wasn't wrong, he just walked into the trap of the answer. She wanted to talk to the aliens.


Yes she set up the other linguist, but the reason her answer was better was because she was trying to demonstrate for Whitaker's character that just translating the word is not enough, and you want to translate the meaning behind the word.

Misunderstandings are common when everyone speaks the same language and can lead to conflict. Especially so, when you don't share a common language, something getting misinterpreted could end badly.

Presumably, as a military man attempting to communicate with aliens with unknown intentions, Whitaker's character understood the importance of what she had just demonstrated.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .