What does English sound like to foreign ears?
We’ve all heard examples of fake Chinese or German from speakers who lack familiarity with either language. While typically cringe-worthy, these examples do raise interesting questions regarding our own language. What does English sound like to non-English speakers? After more than 40 years, Adriano Celentano’s “Prisencolinensinainciusol” remains one of the most illuminating examples.
The entire song is nonsense verse, neither English nor Italian, but the sounds are meant to resemble English. Linguist Mark Liberman wrote an interesting post about this sort of thing over at Language Log discussing yaourter, the French word for an attempt to speak or sing in a foreign language that one doesn’t know all that well. This often involves trying to sing a foreign song with nonsense or random words filling in the blanks. Liberman shares this wonderful quote from a random Internet user:
Just for the story, in France, when we don’t speak English and we want to imitate the sound, we call it “yaourter”(to yoghourt), the imitation sounds like a very nasal language, kind of like a baby crying. It mostly imitates the “cowboy” accent.
This is fascinating *A*
I love when they mimic Americans speaking English in anime and it’s all “Shit!” and “OH MY GOD” and “pera pera pera” or something like that XD
I HAVE ALWAYS WONDERED
This is amazing.
It sounds like it should be American English but it’s just…not, and as somebody whose mother tongue is American English that’s really fascinating. And frustrating. It’s almost hard to listen to.
Is no one gonna mention how rad this song is tho?
AHHH ITS ENGLISH BUT NOT
I found this a long time ago and it confused my brain so much because it felt like I should be able to understand it but I couldn’t!
good god, this is really soothing.
WOW… I suddenly feel like I’m 7 again and can’t understand what’s being sung XD This must be pretty much how it must have sounded like when I tried to sing songs by the Eagles, Led Zeppelin, CCR, Dire Straits, you name it, without actually being familiar with the language XD I STILL sometimes bump into old songs I haven’t heard in a while and my brain goes into the pre-english speaking mode, refusing to hear what is actually being said.
It’s not so bad these days, but when I was 13 and already spoke fluently, read books in English and considered myself pretty good at it, I put on Led Zeppelin’s A Whole Lotta Love after like… 6 or 7 years? When I was a kid I used to run around the room, singing
XDDD Aaaaand I was like “okay now I’m gonna hear what it actually says!”
All I could hear was “aholaholaho”. I actually had to go online to check the lyrics (and that was back in the good old days of 128kbps ISDN internet… good gods IT TOOK A WHILE - and we had a FAST connection, most people still had 14.4 or 28.8 XD).
This is me listening to songs in English since forever until one day I finally started to understand and catch random words and sentences.
And this is also how we non native English speakers sing songs when we don’t know the actual lyrics : D