Tuesday, March 07, 2006



Scholars have devoted extraordinary efforts to discover meaning in some of the following examples of gibberish. Whether traces of foreign languages might lurk behind these syllables, they would have sounded like nonsense in their original contexts.

At Aristophanes, Acharnians 100 ff. (tr. anon.), Pseudartabas speaks a sentence of what is supposed to be Persian:
PSEUDARTABAS. I artamane Xarxas apiaona satra.
AMBASSADOR (to DICAEOPOLIS). Do you understand what he says?
AMBASSADOR (to the PRYTANES). He says that the Great King will send you gold.

In Plautus' Poenulus, Hanno the Carthaginian utters snatches of supposed Punic here and there between lines 930 and 1142. The longest example is from 930 to 949. Here is a shorter example at 1108-1120 (tr. George E. Duckworth):
MILPHIO (to HANNO). Hey, you fellow there without a belt, why have you come to this city, and what are you looking for?
HANNO. Muphursa.
AGORASTOCLES. What does he say?
HANNO. Miuulechianna.
AGORASTOCLES. What's he here for?
MILPHIO. Don't you understand? He says that he wants to give African mice to the aediles to display at the games.
HANNO. Lechlachananilimniichot.
AGORASTOCLES. What does he say now?
MILPHIO. He says he has brought latchets, channels, and nuts; he wants you to help him have them sold.
AGORASTOCLES. He's a merchant, I presume.
HANNO. Assam.
MILPHIO. And certainly fat.
HANNO. Palumergadetha.
AGORASTOCLES. Milphio, what does he say now?
MILPHIO. He says that he's got pails and garden tools for sale, for harvest time, I suppose, unless you've a better idea; probably for digging a garden and reaping grain.

At Dante, Inferno 31.67, Nimrod speaks a line of gibberish:
Raphèl mà amècche zabì almi.

In Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel, Book II, chapter 9, at the first meeting between Pantagruel and Panurge, the latter speaks in foreign languages, some recognizable, others not. Here's a sample of one that's unintelligible:
Al barildim gotfano dech min brin alabo dordin falbroth ringuam albaras. Nin porth zadilkin almucathim milko prim al elmin enthoth dal heben ensouim: kuth im al dim alkatim nim broth dechoth porth min michas im endoth, pruch dal maisoulum hol moth dansririm lupaldas im voldemoth. Nin hur diavolth mnarbothim dal gousch pal frapin duch im scoth pruch galeth dal chinon, mir foultrich al conin butbathen doth dal prim.

In Molière's The Bourgeois Gentleman, Covielle pretends to be an emissary of the Son of the Grand Turk, who is eager to marry Monsieur Jourdain's daughter. Specimens of "Turkish" appear throughout Acts IV and V, such as this exchange in Act IV, Scene 3 (tr. Donald M. Frame):
MONSIEUR JOURDAIN. Faith. You do well to tell me so, for personally I would never have thought that marababa sahem meant "Ah, how I love her!" What a wonderful language this Turkish is!
COVIELLE. More wonderful than you'd believe. Do you know what cacaracamouchen means?
MONSIEUR JOURDAIN. Cacaracamouchen? No.
COVIELLE. It means "My dear heart."
MONSIEUR JOURDAIN. Cacaracamouchen means "My dear heart"?
MONSIEUR JOURDAIN. That is marvelous! Cacaracamouchen, "My dear heart." Who'd have thought it? That amazes me.

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