The Sound of English

 

Right now, say a few words in fake French.  Don’t use real French words,  just imitate the French sound.  If there is someone in the room with you chances are good they will correctly guess it was French you were imitating.  It would probably work just as well with fake Chinese,  fake Spanish or fake Norwegian.  But now try something else:  say a few words in fake English.  You can’t do it, can you?  You don’t know what English sounds like.

I know what French sounds like, I know what Russian sounds like and I know what Japanese sounds like.  But like you  I don’t have any idea what English sounds like.  English is my native language, which is probably the reason I don’t know what it sounds like.

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Sid Caesar is the master of fake languages.  It is hilarious and delightful to hear the way he captures the nuances of a language’s sound with complete gibberish, as he does in the video below.  I always want Sid to mock English next, but he can’t do it.  He doesn’t know what English sounds like.

This question has been in the back of my mind for years.  What does English sound like?  It must be hard for a native speaker to know how English sounds for the same reason that a fish doesn’t know anything about water.  A fish is no doubt an expert in the uses of water, but because everything in the fish’s world is in the water, water is just a normal and ubiquitous part of his fish reality. He doesn’t separate it out as something.  And so it is with everyone who was steeped from birth in English.

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If we could hear fake English would we learn what English sounds like?  Well, there is one (and only one) good example of fake English available on the Internet.  Get ready to jam to the nonsense verses of Italian comic Adriano Celentano  that are intended to sound like American English.

Adriano Celentana knows what English sounds like because he’s an Italian.  I know his fake English is good because it makes me think I could almost understand what he is saying if I listened  a little harder. My non-rational, intuitive side swallows his fake English hook, line and sinker as English. From the standpoint of pure aesthetics, it might as well be English. It’s so good that  I’m back at square one, oblivious to what English sounds like on any aesthetic level. I might as well try describing what my tongue tastes like.

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And so I am led to wonder:  what else do I know absolutely nothing about for the reason that it has pervaded my reality since day one? Can I tell you what my religion or my politics is like if my native perspective in these matters is all I have known?   If I don’t know very much about world cultures, can I say what it’s like to be an American? Worse yet, what if I am asked to describe something with which there is no contrast?  “Define reality.  What is truth?  Discuss the meaning of life.”  Sure . . . as opposed to what?

Sorry, I got nothing when it comes to questions like this.  There are times when I think I got something, but right now I don’t.  And I am certain I have really heard the sound of English on more than one occasion.  But damned if I can remember what it sounds like.

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One comment on “

  1. sitearm says:

    @OverallsNation; Hi! Excellent videos and article. Cheers! 🙂 Site

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