Meaningful Nonsense

A new song came to me the other day. I’d been thinking of writing something in a made up language, and spent some of last week speaking to myself in made up words. The words were all open syllables (consonant plus vowel) and most were two syllables.

I wrote the song down and sent it to my singer-songwriter friends. One of them put it into Google Translate, which identified the language as Chichewa, a Bantu language spoken mainly in Malawi.

These are the original words with their Chichewa meanings (according to Google Translate):

Oba mmta uku kitu (Bow and find something)
Tika kuta dupa fu (Tika walls dupa fu)
Fitu mmdu bapi kati (What is the difference between)
Taku mipa untu li (Taku barrels)

Oba mmba undu fitu (Be very serious)
Tepu pimi mmdu ku (Tape pima mmdu to)
Kata tifu uko kibi (Cut off live)
Bifu bafu taku ni (The bath tub taku is)

Kula tupa muta pitu (Eating discarded)
Katu tiku lafu lu (We are already dead)
Lipa lupa pula puli (Pay the pula plum)
Talo tilu lopa mi (So this is the story of my life)

I then played around with the words until they all meant something in Chichewa, and came up with the following:

Oba mpa katu kitu (Pray for nothing)
Tuka kuta taku du (Exit the walls)
Fitu mbu bapi kati (Where’s the mosquito repellent)
Tala mipa untu li (Color your bodies)

Oba mba undu fitu (Pray now and then)
Tafu pima ndu ku (Find out how to)
Kata tifu uko kibi (Cut off live)
Bifu bafu tata ni (The master bath complex is)

Kula tupa muta pitu (Eating discarded)
Katu tiku lafu lu (We are already dead)
Lapa lupa pula puli (The family is raining)
Talo tilu lopa mi (So this is the story of my life)

So I accidentally managed to write a song in a language I don’t know at all. It may be mostly nonsense, but it’s sort of meaningful nonsense.

Do any of you speak Chichewa? If so, is this a good translation?

Have you ever written some nonsense like this, and found that it meant something in a language you don’t know?

This sounds like something from the brilliant YouTube channel Translator Fails, on which songs, and sometimes other things, are put through Google Translate too many times and become thoroughly mangled. Here’s a recent example:

2 thoughts on “Meaningful Nonsense

  1. I’ve done something in similar spirit. Someone commented to me once that my half cursive handwriting looks somewhat like Arabic to them. I took a picture, mirrored it, loaded it into Google Translate’s app, and it was recognised as text. When it translated back into English, it read: “Do not refer to agendas or males, or tell him about it, so money of the homeland can not be answered”.
    The original text was notes for an ethics class.

  2. My friend and I made up a language when we were teenagers. It was great. We used a phonetic alphabet. I don’t remember if we invented one or used a (more obscure) established one. It definitely was not a well known or widely used phonetic alphabet.

    Separately, I love writing songs in languages I’m not fluent in. The limited vocabulary, combined with the appeal of new sounds, sparks my imagination and sends me off in new directions.

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