Because I live in the most multi-ethnic/cultural city in the world, Toronto, I like to play the following game. You are jammed in a streetcar and you overhear a discussion in a language you do not know. The game is to guess what language it is. I know what Italian sounds like even if I do not understand it fully. This is the same for me about Russian, Japanese, Shanghainese, Mandarin, Hindi, Bulgarian, Estonian, etc.
[I lived in Finland for a while and learned rudiments of the language. Finnish sounds like Japanese spoken by an Italian. Think: takakataka versus TA-kakataka.]
A question occurred to me in that crowded street-car: assuming that we do not understand the language can we tell the difference between gibberish and actual coherent speech?
Some people are very good at speaking gibberish in their non-native tongue.
Here are some examples.
She is obviously Finnish.
She cannot do the Dutch accent apparently. I like her response to the Trolls and the Dutch! Respect.
You can find a lot more on Google. Obviously I am not the only one interested in these matters.
Being a geek I looked into doing this using web tools.
Here is what I found:
Ok it is not just fun. Since oral communication precedes the printed codification. This is kind of going the other way starting from the code and turning it into sound.
Can we tell nonsense from sense if we do not know the language?
Before I learned English, lyrics from my favorite rock/pop bands were just another instrument. You could tell if they were from the UK or the US. It was hard to tell the difference between Canadians and Americans however. After moving to Toronto I found out that Rush and the Hip are from Ontario, Canada. Cool. Once I learned English it kind of made some songs really lame once you know the lyrics. Rap music is the opposite if you do not know the lyrics it is just peshew, peshew, boom and boom and blah, blah and blah. Rap videos are another story. They are somewhat universal with the visuals that accompany the narrative. I did not appreciate rap until I understood a modicum of urban ghetto slang. The lyrics are interesting but the music is ok.
The Ramones one of the most epic bands of the late 20th century nailed it with their song
Beat on the Brat (with a Baseball Bat.)
The lyrics of this song are morally questionable but the beat/cadence is great. The lyrics are in complete sync with the beat. The Ramones are universal because you only have to look up a few words in your local dictionary. The lyrics are easily translated in many languages. There are only two culture/ethnic based words: “brat” (slang) and “baseball bat” (device used in a sport mostly played in North America and the Caribbean). But the concepts are primitive: someone who annoys you (a brat) has to be beaten with some device (baseball bat). This is awful. But the song is cool.
Besides, our ability to speak comes from early species like birds singing. We think of Neanderthals as grunting brutes but maybe they were singing Opera-like style pieces inspired by birds.
If you know of better gibberish/speech tools, send me an e-mail or leave a comment.
You might have noticed that this blog has no pictures.
It is deliberate because it is about sound.