I’ve always wondered

. . .what English sounds like to non-English speakers.  Now, I’m not sure I know (I found the repeated use of the word “ciusol” somewhat less than convincing), but I certainly have seen something I’ve never seen before.  And it’s only Wednesday.

(thanks to my little brother Izzy for the link, even though he should be doing his Existentialism homework or something)


  1. We had an American exchange student live with us when I was about 15. She said that Australian’s spoke way to fast and she found them hard to understand. I have thought before that Americans seem to draw each word out when maybe I am use to Australians saying them so fast that it isn’t drawn out at all.

  2. Beware. We found this video a couple of months ago, and it gets stuck in your head very fast, and is amazingly hard to sing to yourself. Because it lacks words aside from “All right”.

  3. HA. THIS was awesome. Is there any time when you’re NOT so entertaining? And the various suggestions from sister and brother make me think Thanksgiving Dinners are quite the show…

  4. I ran across this a few months ago, and was amazed discover that by 1974, the Italians had already invented (proto-)rap, Simlish, and MTV.

    I was also inspired to do some digging into just what this was.

    First of all, just because it horrified my darling fiancée, here’s a second TV performance of the song from the same year (sadly, the video cuts off before the end):

    Anyhow, fortunately there is a fair bit of info to be found, thanks to Italian newspapers which, late last year, were moved to write stories about the song’s new popularity in America as an Internet meme.

    The song is “Prisencolinensinainciusol” by Adriano Celentano, a singer and actor who has had a long and productive career in Italian music, film, and television. It was recorded in 1972, but did not become a hit until this pair of TV appearances in 1974. All of the “words” of the song are gibberish; Celentano indeed intended for it to sound much like American English sounds to a non-English speaker.

    The clip Simcha posted aired the week before Easter in 1974. It comes from the show “Milleluci”, one of many, many, many short-run musical-variety-spectacular type shows that have been popular on Italian TV for decades. (Even today there is much more musical performance on television there than here…and the variety format lives on too in several different variations. Including variety shows built around game shows.)

    The opening title sequence to “Milleluci” can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSErGN_0AXo .

    The dancer is “Milleluci” co-host Raffaella Carrà–though it’s not her own voice she’s lip-synching to. On the recording that bit was done by Celentano’s wife, Claudia Mori…who performs her part in person in the second clip. (She was a recognized performer in her own right, which is why there is applause when she stands up.)

    Speaking of the second clip, it is from the musical-variety-spectacular program “Formula Due”. Even though it is in color, Italian sources indicate this clip aired earlier than the first one…February 1974 perhaps.

    Finally, just for the sake of completeness, here’s the opening title sequence from “Formula Due”:

    (From the vantage point of our 300-channel short-attention-span era, it’s a little amazing to see programs with three-minute opens, isn’t it?)

  5. Okay, correction. I had thought Simcha posted a different clip than she did. By the “first clip”, i.e. the complete performance from “Milleluci”, I meant this one:

    Also, just to clarify…this is also the clip where I meant where I referred to Raffaella Carrà lip-synching to someone else’s voice.

  6. Also, correction to the above correction: do not adjust your sets, the post it is meant to correct is not up yet. I believe it got flagged for moderation because I included too many links.

  7. That is really bizarre and just jolted me out of my typical suburban day.
    In Switzerland years ago a schoolgirl on a train told me that to her, American English sounds something like this “Arrrr arrr arrr rrrraa rrraa rroo rrrr.” She was proud to have mastered the American “R” sound, and said her English class spent many days on it.

    • Her rendition of American English sounds just like what I’d expect a pirate who turned up as one of the teachers in a Peanuts episode would sound like.

      “Arrrr arrr mrrr, rrraa rraa mrr rraa rrr.”

      “Yes sir.”

  8. This clip is oddly addictive. I visited earlier and my son made me play it again.
    I had to come back for two reasons. First of all, I wanted to hear the “All right” song again. Also to ask what your brother’s full name is. We call our daughter, Isabella, Izzie and I insist on spelling it with an ‘ie’ because I think a ‘y’ makes it look masculine. My husband teases me about it and says Izzy is not a man’s name. What is your brother’s full first name so I can inform my husband that, once again, he is wrong and I am right.

    • Well, we might not be the right ones to ask. My brother’s name is Isaiah. However, my name, Simcha, is actually a man’s name. Furthermore, when I was younger I went by “Simmy,” never realizing that a “y” is masculine.

      • Well, I don’t always think a ‘y’ looks masculine. Some girl names I would spell with a ‘y’. It was this very break in logic that makes my husband give me a hard time about it.

  9. I lived in Germany for two years, and I think (for them at least), the most obvious American English sound is our ‘R’. They mimic our accents: “hieR ist ein bieR” (here is a beer), for example.

    From a linguistic standpoint, it’s an odd sound indeed, and most European languages at least (maybe none of them) do not have it or anything at all like it. Spanish and Italian either have a short flap of the tongue, which is the same sound Americans make when ‘d’ or ‘t’ is in the middle of a word (like ‘catty’ and ‘caddy’ which are homophones in American English), or they have the famous trilled ‘r’. Portuguese has either that sound or a throaty ‘kh’ sound when ‘r’ is at the beginning of a word. German and French have a throaty ‘gh’ sort of sound, except Swiss and Austo-Bavarian German which have the trilled sound. Even Arabic, Japanese, and other languages have the sound you hear in Italian or Spanish. Some Indian languages, however, have the American sounding R sound – it fits in with the general pattern of Hindi and Urdu, for example.

    Within the English-speaking world, I find that English rednecks from the Midlands have this sound (if you ever hear Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin, hes a good example). Also, the Irish use it at the end of syllables, but they use the trilly sound at the beginning. Within Britain, both of these are how country folk talk, not educated people. Standard British English has the R sound at the beginning of syllables, but not at the end (this is why “car” and “here” sound like “caw” and “hee-ya”). The Kinks have a song called “Village Green” where the mention how American tourists say “Oh DaRRRling, isn’t it a pretty scene?” So to the Brits we sound like Irish rednecks, which is probably where we inherited our accents from. Of course, even we drop the R at the end in certain city dialects (famous ones are New York, Boston, Baltimore, New Orleans), and in certain really blueblood dialects (rich Southerners like in “Gone with the Wind” and Yankee bluebloods like Franklin Roosevelt).

    Another thing Europeans notice is that American English has impure vowels. That’s nothing like impure thoughts :). So when we say ‘o’ we really say ‘o+w’ or when we say ‘ee’ we really say ‘ee+y’, and especially our long ‘ay’ sound has a very very distinct ‘y’ on it, and so on. This guy in the video does that with a lot of the vowels. Most languages in Europe, especially Romance languages, have vowels as pure as freshly-fallen snow. This vowel thing is what will mostly give us away as Americans: “Parlez vous français” in French, roughly “pagh-le vu frõ-se”, is “paR-layy vuww frawn-sayy” when we say it.

    Brits have impure vowels also, but not as exaggerated as we do, because the last thing is that American English is slow and drawn out compared to just about any language on earth.

    Anyway, sorry to run on so long, but this is the stuff I studeied, and I wanted to use it, because I sure don’t use it to make money at my job.

  10. My wife, who does not speak English as her native tongue, confirmed that this is exactly what American English sounds like. Leave it to the Italians! “Tu vuò fà l’americano”

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