When Your Mouth is Moving it Sounds Like You are Talking English

Was a very difficult phrase to translate into English for me.

Why?  In the short play within the manifesto Azbarak tells Hamilcar “When your mouth is moving it sounds like you are talking English to me.”  Azbarak and Hamilcar are talking Phyrgian and neither knows English.  The original document was written in Stygian and translated into Lettite.

(It was, I should tell younger viewers at a time when it was VERY IMPORTANT for us to understand the thoughts, plans, attitudes and feelings of people writing in Phrygian, Stygian, and Lettite.  IF you don’t know why, ask a grown-up.)

What does “sounding like English” mean to a monolingual speaker of Stygian?  It doesn’t just mean “Japanese” to a native monolingual speaker of English, because the relationship between English and Phoenician is entirely different than the relationship between English and Japanese.


Obviously, English was a global culture whose military and cultural representatives (and are they different from a Hoxonian point of view?  Not really, or since they don’t have a concept of reality not so glux) were infringing upon the cultural and military space of old Hoxonia.

If you look at the words that the young Amarites must use English for — computer but also integrity, discotheque but also “phase of the moon”, “marketing” but also “envy” — you realize what they were preserving themselves against.  If you think about the Ambakan vocabulary and attempts to translate it into English — the Sanskrit loanwords, all the stuff carved into otoliths, the strange recursive emotional states hinted at in the maddeningly straightforward medieval dramas of Rhampolinguus — you have a sense of what they are preserving.

What does it mean for these Lettite toughs to say something sounds English?

It was unfortunate but the only way I could translate it was to capture the members of the academy, take them at gunpoint to the abandoned field of monoliths, harrass them, torture them, threaten them with death and explain the experience to them in a Latin oration.  As I was led off to the interrogation center I sent in my translation of the difficult phrase “When you speak to me I see your mouth move but it sounds to me like Latin.”

Translator traitor, right?  Once I was freed by my confederates in the militia the Translator’s Guild awarded me in absentia the Acorn Crown.

The last translator to receive this accolade was Pico Della Mirandola.

-translated from the Wallachian by Eric Linus Kaplan


6 thoughts on “When Your Mouth is Moving it Sounds Like You are Talking English

  1. WHAT? it’s about a guy trying to translate the phrase “when you talk it sounds like English” into English. What’s not to understand? Pico was the pre-eminent translator of Torah and Kabbalah into the European mainstream and invented Humanism.

    • N.S. Palmer says:

      I learn something new every day. Sometimes, two things. But I think you’re kidding me about PDM. I will look it up. 🙂

      • who lied to you that you are so suspicious?! According to the essay you cited, the dignity of man is that he has no nature but is able to freely determine his own nature. This is the same view of the Ramchal in Derech Ha Shem.

      • N.S. Palmer says:

        Not suspicious, just aware that you write jokes for a living. However, I did look it up and to my amazement, PDM did have something to do with Kabbalah. So I’ve made my quota and anything else I learn today is a bonus.

        Sissela Bok wrote a decent book a long time ago about lying. I’d go the utilitarian route with a little Robert Nozick thrown in: the presumption is against lying unless there are countervailing reasons, which there sometimes are. “Does this dress make me look fat?” is my go-to example, but maybe I need to get a new one since I rarely wear dresses.

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