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Sometimes, in humor (or an attempt thereof), people will make up gibberish in a certain language in an attempt to poke fun at a language or its speakers. Made-up French, German, Italian, Chinese, most of us have heard this.

My first question is, does anybody have any examples of non-English speakers making up "English" gibberish? English is my native language. I am very curious about the perception of how English sounds by non-English speakers.

Edit: I previously stated that I believed it was difficult for a speaker to create gibberish in their own language (or at least, I've never heard it). The link posted by Josh Jolly below proved that incorrect. So, more accurately, it seems there is a significant difference between mimicking a language one is fluent in vs. a language one does not know at all. The former has a bias towards constructs known to have significance (e.g. common word roots), while the latter has a bias towards perceived common sounds independent of their context.

I find this whole concept of gibberish incredibly fascinating. One has to perceive a language that they do not understand, make judgments (often grossly inaccurate) about its defining sounds and tone, then construct sounds that mimic that, but all this is done by a mind that is trained to perceive and construct sounds in their native language. A French speaker may fail to notice subtle sounds and inflections that are meaningful and significant to, say, a German speaker, and therefore a native French speaker and German speaker may end up producing completely different results when making up "Italian" sounding words.

So, my second question is, is there anybody here who is fluent in other languages besides English that has any interesting anecdotes about the differences in gibberish among speakers of different languages? Does made up "French" sound significantly different in, say, Japanese than it does in English? A non-French-speaking Japanese speaker and English speaker may perceive and process French and produce "French" gibberish in entirely different ways. Examples, especially in comedy, would be appreciated.

Update: As an example of this, consider the French gibberish spoken by British comedian Kenneth Williams (via Leon Conrad's answer below) vs. American comedian Louis C.K. (or American comedian Reggie Watts, a master of gibberish, at 0:40 in this video). As I mentioned in a comment below, while I have no concrete evidence, it seems to me that when imitating French, Americans tend to include more fricatives (particularly v, z, ʒ) while Britons tend to focus more on nasal vowels (the video examples support this). I wonder if this is somehow related to exposure to different intensities of sounds like 'r' (a difference that commonly comes up when British and Australian English speakers mock American or Canadian English)?

I of course acknowledge that "humor" is subjective, and it is indeed true that prejudice and racial humor is a common source of this type of gibberish. That aside, I do find the process fascinating.

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@FumbleFingers raised a good point in comments below, especially re: the second question. I am requesting that this entire topic be migrated to linguistics; for some reason I didn't consider that SX site when I posted this. I do feel english.sx is more active, though. –  Jason C Feb 21 at 18:14
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ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRTSUVWYXZ the song by Big Bird who pronounces the whole alphabet phonetically as one big word is clearly English gibberish! –  David M Feb 21 at 19:08
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I think this question has a happy home here, but I will check with Linguistics to see if they would like it migrated. –  KitFox Feb 21 at 19:26
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I'm going to have to add another example: ANYTHING that James Brown ever sang . . . –  David M Feb 21 at 19:26
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You could also remove the second question and ask it separately at Linguistics. I think the first question, about English specifically, is well suited for this site, and would hate to see it moved. –  phenry Feb 21 at 20:05
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11 Answers

up vote 21 down vote accepted

"Prisencolinensinainciusol" is a song by the Italian singer/comedian Adriano Celentano with nonsense lyrics that are intended to sound like American-accented English. As it happens, I played it for my wife two nights ago and asked her to guess what language it was sung in; she eventually guessed English, though she couldn't understand the words. So if it's convincing enough to fool my wife, a native English speaker, I'm happy to accept that it's a pretty good simulation of what English sounds like to non-English speakers, or at least to Italians. Celentano apparently speaks no English himself, so it's a "pure" simulation, untainted by any actual knowledge of the language on the part of the singer.

You can see and hear "Prisencolinensinainciusol" here, and listen to an entertaining NPR radio story about it here. Warning: this song is incredibly addicting.

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I'm so glad you posted this. It was the first thing I thought of when I read the question, the second link being the YouTube video posted by Josh Jolly. –  KitFox Feb 21 at 17:55
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Wow, this is great! This is exactly the kind of example I was looking for. Also, I should have taken your warning more seriously. –  Jason C Feb 21 at 19:04
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@JasonC I think you need to accept this as the answer! I just listened to it and read the story! Nailed it! –  David M Feb 21 at 19:22
    
What makes this so impressive is the fact that it doesn't come off as offensive, or even gibberish. I could've sworn that I was just not catching the lyrics. Yes, it all has a strong Italian accent to it, but definitely sounds like incomprehensible English! –  David M Feb 21 at 19:25
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Yes but he's cheating! He's peppered the song with words like baby and yeah which immediately imply English. Still great, mind you. –  terdon Feb 22 at 14:58
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So far as I'm concerned, the acknowledged master of of the art was Stanley Unwin, whose "gibberish language" is sometimes called Unwinese. Here's an example on YouTube...

The bizarre thing about Unwinese is that although it's probably incomprehensible to most non-native speakers, Anglophones normally find it relatively easy to get the gist, because it has the exact cadence of normal spoken English (and the odd semantically significant morpheme).

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love Unwin, but it's English to English. –  Leon Conrad Feb 21 at 17:22
    
@Leon: But ELU is a site about English. If OP really wants to know about "non-English that seems like English to non-Anglophones", he should be asking on Linguistics –  FumbleFingers Feb 21 at 17:27
    
you have more experience in these things, although at least the first of the 2 questions seems fine for this site to me. –  Leon Conrad Feb 21 at 17:29
    
@Leon: I think OP's second question (asking for anecdotes) is completely Off Topic. I probably should have closevoted the first (examples of foreigners mimicking/mocking English) as Off Topic too - I've only answered to refute OP's assertion that native Anglophones can't produce "English-like" gibberish. –  FumbleFingers Feb 21 at 17:35
    
@FumbleFingers I didn't assert "can't", only that I've never heard it -- until Josh Jolly's link (I've removed the claim from the OP). More accurately, I think there is a significant difference between mimicking a language you are fluent in vs. one you do not know at all. The former has a bias towards constructs you know have significance (e.g. common word roots), while the latter has a bias towards common sounds independent of their context. –  Jason C Feb 21 at 18:20
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Here's a video of some "English" gibberish - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vt4Dfa4fOEY

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This is great, thank you. This duo is based in London; I've never heard an English speaker make up fluent English gibberish like that before. Listening to it certainly gives the brain a few hiccups. –  Jason C Feb 21 at 18:07
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Wow, that's weird. I keep rewinding, thinking I just didn't hear it right, because it sounds like I should be able to understand it. –  Barmar Feb 24 at 19:38
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Lewis Carrol's Jabberwocky is a famous example of grammatically correct English gibberish.

I guess it does not entirely count as gibberish because the underlying structure is correct, and there are many actual English words in between. Many of the descriptors of the poem call it nonsense rather than gibberish.

So, whether or not you consider it According to Hoyle gibberish, I think it deserves honorable mention. If for no other reason than the common adoption of many of its neologisms! (e.g. galumphing, and chortle.)

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Thanks. It definitely deserves an honorable mention, even though it is not gibberish in the sense I meant it. John Lennon's The Faulty Bagnose is another good example of that (but more incomprehensible than, and not nearly as charming as, Jabberwocky). –  Jason C Feb 21 at 19:14
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And along those lines, I think Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious also deserves a mention. –  Jason C Feb 21 at 19:22
    
@JasonC Absolutely! –  David M Feb 21 at 19:23
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I don't see how The Jabberwocky is gibberish. It's perfectly understandishable once you know what a rath is. –  KitFox Feb 21 at 19:25
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And kudos to all translators of Jabberwocky into (the same kind of gibberish/nonsens in) other languages while keeping the gist of it (with e.g. German translations ranging from "Brabbelback" over the obvious "Der Jabberwoch" to "Der Zipferlake"). They are all examples of texts where you immdiately recognize the language, but unless you speak it quite well you don't even notice that the words are made up. –  Hagen von Eitzen Feb 21 at 21:21
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The only examples I can think of are of English comedians into other languages -

The best example is Catherine Tate's 'offensive translator' sketch, which you may know, but if not, enjoy! (apologies if it offends anyone)

Check out Kenneth Williams's accents clip here.

His 'Ma Crepe Suzette' isn't gibberish, but I'm including it for variety.

ADDITIONALLY:

I've done theatre impro courses with Keith Johnstone and he uses 'foreign gibberish' cards to help weak/unconfident improvisers find their way into impro. There may be some references to his methods in his 2 books on impro.

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Thanks; the Tate bit is a classic. These are good examples of a British English perspective. I've always found it interesting that the American and Canadian English 'r' stands out so much to British and Australian English speakers. Also, I have no concrete evidence but I've noticed that, when imitating French, Americans seem to include more fricatives (particularly v, z, ʒ) while Britons seem to focus more on nasal vowels. I wonder if this is somehow related to exposure to different intensities of sounds like 'r'? –  Jason C Feb 21 at 18:03
    
Check out this Louis C.K. bit as an example of an American interpretation of French, in contrast with Kenneth Williams. –  Jason C Feb 21 at 20:58
    
As well as Reggie Watts at 0:40 in this video (with other mimicked languages throughout). –  Jason C Feb 21 at 22:53
    
Jason C, that's a good point. It stands out a lot. –  Tristan r Feb 21 at 23:18
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"Blinkenlights" is a neologism referring to the diagnostic lights on the front of mainframe computers. The terms comes from a sign in mock-German warning non-technical users away from messing around with the computer. There are a few small variations, but the sign generally ends with, approximately, "Relaxen und watchen der blinkenlichten." (Relax and watch the blinking lights.)

While the classic Blinkenlights sign with broken mock-German spread across the English-speaking computer world, the Germans came up with their own version1, in broken mock-English:

ATTENTION

This room is fullfilled mit special electronische equippment.

Fingergrabbing and pressing the cnoeppkes from the computers is allowed for die experts only!

So all the “lefthanders” stay away and do not disturben the brainstorming von here working intelligencies.

Otherwise you will be out thrown and kicked anderswhere!

Also: please keep still and only watchen astaunished the blinkenlights.

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This was actually a common trope in french comedy ten years ago. Comedians like Jamel Debbouze, Gad Elmaleh, Alain Chabat, and comedian duos like Eric & Ramzy and Kad & Olivier are famous for that kind of mock-english gibberish. An example that comes to mind is the singer in this scene from Kad & Olivier movie "Mais qui a tué Pamela Rose "(Who killed Pamela Rose, a parody of Twin Peaks).
Ten years ago, Alain Chabat even had a game show in which from time to time one of the games was what he called "yogurt-singing" in which he would sing badly a famous song but replacing the lyrics by random mock-english gibberish and the constestants were supposed to recognize the original song.

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This does not completely address the question, but John Cleese once took an article on Business, swapped the beginnings and endings of the words, and memorized the result. He then had a few seconds of something that sounded very much like English, because it had English word fragments, but which was completely meaningless. I've heard it, and it sounds astonishingly and annoyingly like I, as a native anglophone, should understand it.

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Here's a similar John Cleese bit: youtube.com/watch?v=FQjgsQ5G8ug#t=33 –  Jason C Feb 24 at 19:20
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@JasonC The brain bit is all real words, just used in totally nonsensical order. It's also kind of like "for Richard Stands" (from the Pledge of Allegiance) -- many of the phrases are phonetically similar to technical terms that might have been used in an actual brain description. –  Barmar Feb 24 at 19:48
    
@Barmar Huh, I didn't even catch that. I had so much trouble parsing what he said that I just heard it as random sounds. –  Jason C Feb 24 at 19:59
    
It helps to turn on the closed captions. Once you can see the words he's actually saying, you then notice that if you mash them together you get technical terms. It's also similar to "word salad". –  Barmar Feb 24 at 20:02
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Mairsy doats is another, if anyone out there is old enough to remember it. –  Joan Pederson Feb 26 at 1:46
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At 0:40, Brazilian actor Miguel Falabella tries to imitate Bill Clinton: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8LNrDgr36ps&feature=youtube_gdata_player

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Apart from the "Bill Clinton" and the "Fuck You" it sounds nothing like English or Bill Clinton. –  David M Feb 24 at 19:43
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A colleague shared this with me today - I think you'll enjoy it!

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This is awesome. I think Area 51 needs a "notrussianbutsomethingslavic.stackexchange.com" proposal. –  Jason C Mar 29 at 5:09
    
She is very good at mimicking the sounds and mannerisms of native language speakers. The only one that didn't convince me was her mock-Italian. The London and Californian English was pretty spot on. –  Mari-Lou A Mar 29 at 5:35
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On this link What English sounds like to people who don't speak it there is a comprehensive list of people speaking fake English on video.

The Swedish clip (the second video) imitates the deep southern drawl of Mississippi or Georgia. I'm guessing it's one of the two, perhaps someone who is American can confirm. Although the entire sketch is lightly peppered with real English words the Swedish comedian is speaking quasi gibberish.

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