babel blog

Doing Engrish Fun Good!
August 3, 2008, 11:34 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The Onion recently made an amusing broadcast about some fundamental changes to English grammar: Rules grammar change!

I find that the most interesting thing about such examples of mixed-up English is that they are fairly readily comprehensible despite some quite serious violations of expected word-order. I suppose it’s because, for less complex sentence structures in English, we also get lots of grammatical information from inflectional morophology rather than word-order. Often in deliberately mixed-up examples of speech, people tend to vary the position of the words which carry meaningful content but stick to the typical position rules for words which have grammatical content – e.g. keeping determiners next to nouns and tense inflections attached to verbs.

When people lose grammatical ability due to brain-injury (called agrammatism) they usually produce simple sentences with typical word-order but minus critical grammatical function words/inflections. More complex structures (e.g. passives) which depend upon word-order for interpretation are often entirely absent from spoken language and not likely to be understood correctly either.

Pathology aside, many people appreciate the amusing effects of not-quite-right English. is dedicated to that variety of English which pops up in Japanese adverts or design:

There’s quite a good FAQ section on there which explains the term Engrish and argues that the function of English in this context is often more about design than communication. I don’t know much about Japanese culture so I’m not sure to what extent this is true. There are equivalent sites which show misuse of kanji/hanzi in English designs and tattoos.

Finally, there’s a nice little essay here in wired magazine which points out that Engrish/Chinglish are varieties of language in their own right and probably represent the future of the English language.


July 30, 2008, 11:01 pm
Filed under: art, Uncategorized
Public Harm Announcements

Public Harm Announcements runs excellent Photoshop competitions. A new topic is chosen daily and users vote for their favourite items. The Public Harm Announcements category is most amusing, also see corrupt your children:

Learning the Alphabet

Learning the Alphabet

Anti Book-Crossing Diatribe
July 28, 2008, 4:50 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Here’s the theory: You register a book with and are issued with a unique tagging code. You then write the tag into your book, together with an instruction for finders to log on to The next step is to abandon your book in a public place and hope that some obliging member of the public will find it and register its new location via the website. It’s supposed to a be fun, ecologically sound, way of feeding the literature-starved masses whilst earning oneself a few karma points.

It’s an outrage! I can’t imagine defacing my precious books and abandoning them to an uncaring world. Unthinkable to leave them to a fate of being chewed by curious dogs or cut up to make wraps for crack dealers.  I’m afraid I’m unashamedly avaricious when it comes to books. Sometimes I can’t constrain myself and I’m compelled buy a copy of something I already own because I love it so much.

Haven’t these do-gooders heard of public libraries? I believe that’s where the commoners go when they yearn for something a little more substantial than the Metro News. If the book-crossers were really so concerned about consumerism they’d support their local libraries instead. It was with more than a little glee that I read that the book-crossing website developers have sold out and now users have to pay a monthly fee to use all the previously free features and have the right to comment in the forums there. Serves ’em right for besmirching books, killing dogs, supporting crack dealers and being generally patronising.

Examples of Fantastic Graffiti
July 27, 2008, 5:54 pm
Filed under: alphabet, art, text

"Q" by Eine

"Q" by Eine

I’ve recently been feeding my obsession with all things textual by considering the role of text within graffiti. From the story in Daniel where King Belshazzar’s doom is spelled out by the cryptic message “mene mene tekel parsin”, through to Life of Brian’s “Romanes eunt domus” scene and beyond, illicitly writing on walls seems to be a good way of getting your message across. Sometimes, text is valued for its artistic merits and its message is beyond the conventional linguistic meaning. Eine is an artist who clearly values letters for both meaning and form and specialises in writing on walls and other public places. Eine’s alphabet series is written on various shop-shutters in the East End of London. Nighttime photographs of the complete alphabet can be viewed here, and on this page (whence I stole the above ‘Q’) a devoted fan has compiled the letters into a ‘rude word search’ – most amusing. Eine also uses his distinctive font to leave messages – vandalism is my favourite.