Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Phony English

Having returned from Italy on Sunday evening, it seems appropriate enough to share this video, originally brought to my attention by Corey Anton.  The song is by Adriano Celentano, and the lyrics are described as how English would sound if you didn't understand it, didn't speak the language.

This is a fake English, an attempt to mimic the sound of English, or the phonemes, to use the term favored by linguistics.  Every language has its own set of specific sounds that it uses, that differs in some ways from the phonemes of other languages.  When infants begin to babble, they make all kinds of sounds, but through interaction with others, the child learns which sounds are significant and which are not, which sounds make a difference in the meaning of words, and which sounds are ignored, and in this way starts to learn how to speak the language, before learning the meanings of words.  This is an example of how the medium is the message, by the way, as McLuhan would point out if he were with us right now.

Myself, I do have a very early memory of being at the movies with my parents, maybe it was Radio City, seeing faces up on the screen, hearing them talking, but not understanding what they were saying.  Of course, a great deal of meaning is transmitted by the nonverbal cues such as facial expression, posture and distance from one another, and tone of voice (and note that there is some mimicking of American body language in the video as well).  

But in the case of this song, it's just pure play with phonemes, or you might call it phony English.

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