One of my favorite things to do is to wander around crowded places “collecting” languages.  I listen in for intonations, for sounds specific to certain languages, and for rhythms of speech.  From years of quiet observation I have become quite adept at guessing which language people are speaking or where they might be from.  Here, I don’t often get to play that game, but rather the game might be played with me.  I often wonder, somewhat uncomfortably, what I sound like to other people who don’t speak English, especially when I am surrounded by the reverse situation. Thankfully, the genius Italian comedian Adriano Celentano answered that question in this song, written entirely in gibberish but designed to sound like American English circa 1972.

What I love about this aside from the mindbending mumbling is the attitude reflected in the performance.   Jiving your hips like that and looking the part of the cool Yankee cat are just as much a part of the language as the sounds themselves. There’s a great quote I heard once, I think on a TV show somewhere, “You speak French very well, just not the language.”  What that means is that the subtleties of acting French and embracing francophone culture are just as important.  In classroom learning it’s always easy to forget the cultural context of the language, while the millions of linguistically-uninitiated who travel the world might not be absorbing everything either.

But are you really experiencing Italy?

This skipping of either language or culture is prime breeding ground for things to get a little weird…

I love you, Peter Griffin.  I do.  And trust me, that is what I feel like I sound like a lot, if not most of the time.  If Arabic had a “babbadiboopi!?” equivalent it would sound like very beautiful gargling.  But I am interested in the tough stuff, not just the language, but the culture and the history and politics and everything else that surrounds Arabic.  Language learning, I think, should have a practical application and in the case of any living language, it is an intersection of a great many important things besides words and what they mean.  At least I have some practice keeping my eyes and ears wide open.


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Filed under America, Egypt

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