Faking English: Skwerl by Brian Fairbairn and Karl Eccleston

© M. Adiputra with CCLicense
© M. Adiputra with CCLicense

If a conversation contains patterns taken from English but not sensible words, do we still perceive it as English? What is it that gives a language its own personality and quality?

The following is an delightful short film made by Brian Fairbairn and Karl Eccleston called Skwerl, starring Eccleston and actress Fiona Pepper. An attractive young couple is having dinner when their conversation takes an unpleasant turn. The conversation itself is unintelligible, with the exception of affirmatives like “sure,” “yeah,” “ounds good”, and a few curse words (be advised) which jump out of the jumbled quasi-English texture like knife strokes. Multiple viewings will reveal clues; there are English words sliced and diced in here.

Are you able to understand the argument? You might want to try some techniques: re-ordering syllables, reconstructing incomplete words, and using a “sounds like” approach. Context, body language, and facial expressions are key, and don’t ignore the brilliant analogies between the conversation and the food. This is a fun puzzle to play with and an extremely ingenious film.

Skwerl represents what someone with a very limited understanding of English might pick out of an English conversation: rhythmic patterns, vowels, consonant clusters, word fragments, connecting words, and some syntax, without understanding the actual words. Affirmatives and curse words are the exception; humans pick them out relatively easily, even in new languages. Those who have ever tried watching news clips in foreign languages will recognize the attempt to hold on to anything that seems familiar, even when it doesn’t make sense in context. If I only know three words in a language, my mind is going to try to hear those words.

What do you hear?

Video via Brian and Karl on YouTube.

Brian and Karl are a film-making duo based in Sydney, Australia, known for their short films and music videos.

3 thoughts on “Faking English: Skwerl by Brian Fairbairn and Karl Eccleston

  1. Pingback: Top Ten Videos on Synkroniciti | synkroniciti

  2. samantha phillips Reply

    This video blew my mind. what i got from this is that couples tend to get frustrated with each other because of miscommunication. and in the beginning when they were all cutesy, it showed that couples don’t always have to make sense of what they’re saying, and we just hear what we want to hear, even if what the person is saying doesn’t make sense to us. This video shows that body language and the emotion and actions portrayed by the other person speak a lot more than just the things that they say.
    I mostly sensed frustration from both of them for not being able to explain what they mean clearly and the other person not being able to understand what they mean.

    this video is really brilliant. id like to discuss what other people have interpreted from this, as it seems to be pretty subjective film, open to different ideas of what it means.

    • katmcdaniel Reply

      I think that is an extremely interesting interpretation. When I viewed it, I assumed that the actors knew what they were saying and that they understood one another clearly, while the audience was unable to understand. I fancy that he promised her something on Thursday (maybe the car??) and forgot about it. This is a fight that they have over and over again, and perhaps that has made it descend into a sort of gibberish… no one is really listening, simply reacting to what has happened in earlier interactions.The actual argument means a lot less than the subtext beneath it. It is also possible that they understand each other very well and are simply unable to give each other any ground. Battle lines are drawn, so to speak. There is enough ambiguity here for multiple story lines to work.

      Thanks for your take! I had focused mostly on the audience point of view, but you have some wonderful ideas about the couple themselves.

      Thanks again!

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