Research: ‘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

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.

 

What I got from this:

  • This is a novel but effective approach to discussing how a non English native speaker hears English. Its tackling an issue that previously wouldn’t have been experienced by englosh native speakers as every language sounds inherently different. Someone whoes always spoken english was never going to know what iy sounds like as an outsider. This piece forces everyone to be an outsider of their own language. It’s an equaliser.
  • Part of what makes this piece so successful is that it takes a common but isolating experience and turns it into something that brings the expierencers together.

What I want to take forward:

  • In my final piece I want to share that elusive feeling of isolation and otherness and, by sharing, bring people together. This piece shows that I don’t have to share universal experiences for the to be shared universal emotions.
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Thought: Broken English and the Language of the Mother Tongue

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 that 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.