A multilingual book trailer

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These days, newly published books often get promoted with video trailers, and there's one that just came out for Michael Erard's Babel No More: The Search for the World's Most Extraordinary Language Learners. In keeping with the book's theme of hyperpolyglottery, Erard rounded up speakers of different languages to create a multilingual reading of a story told in his book. (Direct link here — that's me at 1:05.)

And there's a contest! Here are the details from the trailer description:

How good are you at identifying spoken languages? I asked friends from all over to say one line of a story about Cardinal Giuseppe Mezzofanti, and all the lines are assembled here. Send an email message with 1) the name of each language and 2) in the order in which they appear to info@babelnomore.com, and I'll put your name in a drawing for a signed copy of Babel No More. Deadline is February 23.

I'll keep the comments closed until the deadline to keep anyone from divulging the names of the languages. Good luck!

Update, 2/12: I've replaced the original version of the trailer with a corrected one.

Update, 2/23: Here is the video with the languages indicated.

From the description:

The languages in this video are, in order: English, Ukrainian, Korean, Hindi, French, Indonesian, Irish, Swedish, Mandarin, Portuguese, Italian, Esperanto, Spanish, Mongolian, Dutch, Danish, Thao, German, Finnish, English.


  1. Anand said,

    February 23, 2012 @ 6:11 pm

    The sentence in Hindi is grammatically wrong. I pointed this out to Michael on Twitter, but even in the second video the sentence persists. Was it deliberately kept like this?

  2. a George said,

    February 23, 2012 @ 7:33 pm

    on 11 February at 20:57:59 I wrote the following in an e-mail to the address provided:

    "Hi Michael Erard,

    I enjoyed very much watching your concatenated sentences about Cardinal Mezzofanti.

    Not all the languages that I understood were idiomatic as such, and in places the translation sucks, but probably it is all there, only in the wrong order.

    For instance, you have switched the lines: the Dutch speaker says what is given in English in the Korean-looking environment of the previous speaker [we now know it was Thao; G note], the translation for Danish (or the brave attempt at pronouncing Danish words, including a Norwegian one that apparently had slipped in) could be that of the Korean-looking environment [Thao; G note], because the translation of the Dutch is what is written below the "Danish" speech.

    To the best of my abilities, the following is a list of languages presented in the post on Language Log on 11 February 2012 by Ben Zimmer. Others may already have alerted you to the transpositions, and you may have corrected your video."

    [I had 8 languages correctly identified and positioned, although I completely missed "English", and totally confused the far East]

    "I'm not getting full marks for identification, but I compensate by some text criticism – I hope!

    Kind regards,


    — well, that remains to be seen.

  3. Adrian said,

    May 2, 2012 @ 1:50 am

    Do you also find it odd that the author pronounces Babel like babble?

  4. Felipe Mobus said,

    May 2, 2012 @ 6:48 am

    Very interesting video.

    I should note, however, that the portuguese was spoken in a manner so weird it took me a few words to even realize it was portuguese (which I natively speak). Then, upon re-hearing it, I noticed some problems:

    "Stachevsky se tornou obcecado com a noção que Mezzofanti possuiu algum segredo."

    When "noção" is used like this, it normally takes an indirect object ("de que"). I am not sure this is a hard-and-fast rule, but it would sound more natural.

    The other problem is with "possuiu": this is the perfect past for "possuir" (to own) and it's not entirely wrong, but from the context the imperfect form ("possuía") would be better. The first form would mean Mezzofanti owned the ability but lost in a time before meeting Stachevsky; the second form meant he owned the ability the whole time.

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