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How to Say a Lot and Mean Nothing (videos)

Lorem Ipsum is the name for a class of text generators that can create vast quantities of almost intelligible content. There is apparently an audio equivalent. (It doesn’t have a specific name, although "gibberish" or the label of "nonsense song" comes close.)

Atlas Obscura brings our attention to what could be the most famous example, an Italian song named Prisencolinensinainciusol:

But it’s not just children who ape the sounds of spoken language. There’s a long tradition of songs that “sound” like another language without actually meaning anything. In Italy, for example, beginning in the 1950s, American songs, films, and jingles inspired a diverse range of “American sounding” cultural products.

The most famous is probably “Prisencolinensinainciusol,” a 1972 song composed by legendary Italian entertainer Adriano Celentano and performed by him and his wife, Claudia Mori. The song’s lyrics sound phonetically like American English—or at least what many Italians hear when an American speaks—but are clearly total, utter, delightful nonsense. You really have to hear it to appreciate it.

You can see the song in the video below:

This song doesn’t quite fall into the same category as gibberish or nonsense song. If you look into the former you will find people on Youtube that will teach you to speak gibberish in a manner that resembles pig Latin – they take ordinary words and insert extra syllables in a consistent manner.

As for nonsense songs, those typically don’t mean anything – they’re just filler. Prisencolinensinainciusol, on the other hand, was written to be almost intelligible as English without actually making any sense.

It is the lorem ipsum of music, and it builds on a mostly forgotten theatrical tradition:

Indeed, comedians and jesters in the Middle Ages resorted to invented sounds to tell bawdy, racy stories, and tales about hunger, disease, and other “low” subjects.

An example of this is Grammelot, a system of languages popularized by Commedia dell’arte, a theatrical form that started in Italy in the 16th century and later spread around Europe. Grammelot was used by itinerant performers to “sound” like they were performing in a local language by a using macaronic and onomatopoeic elements together with mimicry and mime. Dario Fo, an Italian playwright and actor who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1997, featured Grammelot in his 1996 show Mistero Buffo (Comic Mystery Play).

“Charlie Chaplin even did something like that,” Marchesi points out. The otherwise silent 1936 film Modern Times sees the comedian performing a song that sounds like a mix of Italian and French, but means absolutely nothing. “He sings about love, one can make sense of it through the performance, even if sounds do not make sense,” Marchesi says.

There are also other more recent examples of nonsense language. It’s the kind of thing that there is always someone new every couple years trying their hand at it.

I haven’t been able to find them, though – my Google-fu is failing me.

If you know of one, please post it in the comments.

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Bob Dougherty January 29, 2018 um 7:10 pm

You could always tune into Rutland Weekend Television:

Nate Hoffelder January 29, 2018 um 7:41 pm

ooooh, thanks!

Robin January 30, 2018 um 3:11 am

I thought it to be the art of the politician.

Nate Hoffelder January 30, 2018 um 7:18 am

Hehehe – that was my first thought, too

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