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EAB News 2008-07-14: Littlewoods' mock-Esperanto advert

Littlewoods advertise in mock-Esperanto

The Littlewoods catalogue company issued a press release, announcing that a future TV advert will feature dialogue in Esperanto.

There's some confusion about when the advert will be broadcast. [Update 2008-08-23: The advert was seen on Channel 4 in the London region broadcast during week commencing 2008-08-18] A preview is available to watch on YouTube but as EAB President John Wells commented on his blog, the dialogue in (that preview version of) that advert wasn't something that most Esperanto-speakers would recognise as Esperanto!

Perhaps "mock-Esperanto" is the kindest description! Perhaps it started out as real Esperanto but was mangled by the actor's inexperienced pronunciation? Perhaps they intended to dub proper dialogue after filming, but that step was missed? Perhaps they thought no-one would notice? Who can tell? Littlewoods are enjoying the publicity and have yet to give an explanation.

Nevertheless the Littlewoods press release did help to raise the profile of the (real) Esperanto language, resulting in several news reports and interviews with Esperanto speakers being broadcast and published. These included:

EAB's membership includes many prominent and experienced British Esperanto-speakers so we're qualified to talk about Esperanto (and even mock-Esperanto). But the Association makes no judgement or comment on the Littlewoods' clothing range being promoted by their advertisement. And although we do have an online shop, the only fashion accessories that we sell are Esperanto badges.

The mysterious script

So what are they actually saying in this mysterious mock-Esperanto language in the advert?

In a previous advert, a cargo plane crash-landed on a tropical island; the local tribespeople unpacked its cargo of garments, and dressed up in them. But now they're tired of those clothes. They gather around their princess (or perhaps she's the high priestess), who addresses them....

The English subtitles say:
[Subtitled English]"Behold! My great invention - to bring us more beautiful clothes!"
which in Esperanto would be:
[Real Esperanto]"Rigardu! Jen mia glora inventaĵo - por alporti al ni pli belajn vestojn!"
but we actually hear something sounding like this:
[Mock Esperanto]"Duba! Mi superfantaĵa eltravo - alporti pluves anĝi!"
Working backwards from the English subtitles and the spoken sounds, that might just about be a corruption of:
[Real Esperanto]"Vidu! Mia superfantazia eltrovo - alporti plu vestojn!"
which has the literal translation:
[Literal English]"See! My fantastic discovery - to bring further clothes!"

A drape falls away to reveal a huge cargo-cult-style machine, to astonished "Oooh!" cries from the assembled crowd. To the strains of the song Iko Iko - again, that's not real Esperanto - tribesmen operate the machine, running on a treadmill and pedalling away on an exercise cycle to power a generator to feed a laptop so that the princess ... can place an order on the Littlewoods website. The princess glances upwards with a knowing look as a plane files over the island, dropping cargo crates on parachutes. The tribe open these boxes and unpack the "beautiful clothes". A voice-over, in English, concludes "Littlewoods direct dot com, bringing style to your door".

Déjà vu, again (1)...

Working backwards from the English subtitles, to guess what Esperanto words the actors are trying to say, is something we've done before. In the 1965 film Incubus the entire dialogue was written in Esperanto, but the cast weren't Esperanto-speakers. Although its star William Shatner made a commendable job of pronouncing his lines, some of the other actors mangled theirs to such an extent that viewers have to reverse-translate the English subtitles to work out what the original Esperanto script had been trying to say.

That film has become notorious for the "unfortunate fates" that befell many of its cast. Was Littlewoods was aware of that reputation when they embarked on this "advert in Esperanto" project? Perhaps the poor Littlewoods' press officer, asked by the BBC to explain why he was "passing off" this advert as Esperanto, would have appreciated knowing about the "curse of Incubus".

Déjà vu, again (2)...

Littlewoods isn't the first company who have attempted to use Esperanto to promote their wares.

In 2005 a promotion by Yakult offended many Esperantists by claiming that this health drink (whose name was inspired by the Esperanto word for yoghurt) "has succeeded where Esperanto has failed"; our riposte in La Brita Esperantisto was to cite an Internet search which (at the time) found 6,570,000 mentions of Esperanto against only 118,000 mentions of Yakult.

Other uses of Esperanto words are more likely to be a happy accident. Suzuki raised a smile when they launched a "sensible compact family car" with the name Baleno - in Esperanto this is word for a whale. And many Esperanto students are amused to discover that the name Coca-Cola, spoken aloud, is the Esperanto for "Chicken-neck".

Déjà vu, again (3)...

In a 1978 episode of the Muppet Show, guest star Jean Stapleton revealed that the Swedish Chef character wasn't speaking in real Swedish, but in mock-Swedish. ("How do you know?" asks Sam the American Eagle? "Oh, I took a correspondence course in mock-Swedish" is her reply.) From that throw-away line, mock-Swedish, otherwise known as "Bork!" (named after the Chef's catchphrase "Bork! Bork! Bork!") developed a life of its own outside the world of the Muppet show - with language options for "Bork!" in Google, Meebo and Guild Wars - as explained in this Wikipedia article.

Is Littlewoods' mock-Esperanto is destined for similar greatness?

And to bring us back full circle, linking mock-Swedish, the Swedish Chef, and a film with English subtitles for unintelligible dialogue, see this blog posting on the film De Düva.

EAB doesn't offer correspondence courses in mock-Esperanto, or mock-Swedish for that matter. But we do offer some very reasonably priced correspondence courses in real Esperanto. If you'd like to try the language, visit our online shop or try downloading a free taster lesson.

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