‘How English sounds to non-English speakers’

‘Skwerl’ is, according to the description attached to the YouTube upload, “a short film in fake English”.

The gag here is that everything else about this piece has the trappings of a short, highly charged drama exert, the only thing missing is recognisable English vocabulary. It has been exchanged for English phonics, the actual constructed sounds that make up word, delivered with conviction and in character, so that the audience can infer everything that you may be able to infer from watching a foreign language film without subtitles or dubbing – the setting, the atmosphere, the interpersonal tension and the swings of mood, as well as broadly from this context – the “meaning” of the dialogue.

Screen Shot 2017-11-03 at 12.13.12This whole grand delusion is designed to give an insight into what it would be like to watch an English Foreign Language film, if you had no grasp of the English language itself – the strict ties of vocabulary and meaning are pulled out from under you, leaving you with noises that are tantalisingly familiar sounding, but whose precise meaning is impenetrable.

This particular experiment has strong cultural undertones – with the prevalence of English across the world as a stable of cultural expression, recasting English as a foreign language that native English speakers are not familiar with allows.a degree of insight into another world – the wealth of English culture not being directly accessible to you.

Screen Shot 2017-11-03 at 12.13.13

As well, Sociologically (the YouTube rule of ‘never read the comments’ aside) there are some occasional attestations as to the truth of this rendering of “How English sounds to non-English speakers” from honest-to-god ESOL (English as a second or other language) speakers from the days before their fluency. This is a testament to the thorough research or prior understanding of English phonics, or perhaps merely an intuitive ability of the presumably English native speaking screenwriters to create English sounding non-English words.

Advertisements

The greatest enemy of clear language is insecerity – George Orwell

There is a scene in Dreamland (the Australian title is Utopia) a satirical, “bureaucracy comedy” – think Twenty Twelve or W1A, in which Tony, the boss of the National Building Authority is trying to explain to the head of a Spanish contractor company they’ve hired why there have been delays to the project.

3b1b58ba3f1f19aa3dc7c954b9085f7cd

There is a translator between the two, who keeps clearly breaking what would be the normal flow of conversation and either over or under translating things, until at one point he stops entirely as the Australian boss waffles niceties and clich├ęs, hiding behind corporate-speak. The Aussie boss asks: “You’re not gonna translate this”and the translator replies: “I do not know what you are saying”.

 

 

At work, an Italian staff member asked to lend a pair of headphones. She then questioned herself, asking whether it should be lend or borrow.

I told her it should be borrow, but a lot of people use lend to mean borrow.

She then said that the reason she got confused is because in Italian, lend and borrow are the same word; ‘presta’.

It reminded me of a story of a hacker who typed with clearly “broken” English. In order to try and identify the identity of the hacker, a linguist was tasked with determining the mother tongue of the speaker, based on the specific grammatical mistakes he was making – on the basis that mistakes made in a second language are not random, rather (usually) a misapplication of the same grammatical rules of the speaker’s mother tongue.
Here’s the super interesting part: the hacker was using fake broken English – that is to say, he was a native English speaker, deliberately making mistakes in order to try and throw investigators off the scent – the mistakes were too random, not based in any specific grammatical structure.