Before children learn how to speak properly, they go through a period of imitating the sounds they hear, with occasionally hilarious results, at least for their parents. Baby talk evolves into proto-words, so that “octopus” might come out as “appah-duece,” or “strawberry” as “store-belly.” But it’s not just children who ape the sounds of spoken language. There’s a long tradition of songs that “sound” like another language without actually meaning anything. In Italy, for example, beginning in the 1950s, American songs, films, and jingles inspired a diverse range of “American sounding” cultural products.
The most famous is probably “Prisencolinensinainciusol,” a 1972 song composed by legendary Italian entertainer Adriano Celentano and performed by him and his wife, Claudia Mori. The song’s lyrics sound phonetically like American English—or at least what many Italians hear when an American speaks—but are clearly total, utter, delightful nonsense. You really have to hear it to appreciate it.
“Prisencolinensinainciusol” fell under the radar upon release, but in 1973—once Celentano performed it on Italian public broadcaster RAI—the song topped charts in Italy, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands.
It was rediscovered across the pond in the YouTube age, when in 2010 boingboing’s Cory Doctorow described a video of the song as “one of the most bizzare videos found on the internet,” and the 72-year-old Celentano was interviewed for an episode of National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.” “Ever since I started singing, I was very influenced by American music and everything Americans did,” Celentano said.
He wasn’t alone. After World War II, American culture started to exert its influence in many parts of Europe. The phenomenon was especially strong in Italy, where the arrival of American troops in Rome in June 1944 helped mark the country’s liberation from fascism.
“Americanization” was captured in films such as 1954’s An American in Rome, in which Italian actor Alberto Sordi plays a young Roman who is obsessed with the United States. He seeks to imitate gli Americani in his daily life, and one of the most well-known scenes sees him trading red wine for milk.
By the time Celentano’s song came out, the sound of American English had been “contaminating” Italian culture for decades. Linguist Giuseppe Antonelli analyzed Italian pop songs produced between 1958 and 2007, and revealed the ways in which Italian singers have incorporated American sounds into their music.
One way was to use intermittent English words, with preference for trendy terms. The most notable example of this is “Tu vuo’ fa l’americano” (“You Want to Be American”), a 1956 song by Renato Carosone about a young Neapolitan who is trying to impress a girl.
The song, featured in the 1999 film The Talented Mr. Ripley, features mentions of “baseball,” “rock ‘n’ roll,” and “whiskey and soda,” which not only “sound American” but also evoke a kind of aspirational American lifestyle. Other songs alternated sentences in both languages, and still more, such as Bruno Martino’s 1959 “Kiss Me, Kiss Me,” were sung half in English and half in Italian.
Similarly, in the 1960s there was a trend of bands in England singing in Italian—with strong English accents. Both phenomena resulted in a similar hybrid sound, one that Italians responded to. According to Francesco Ciabattoni, who teaches Italian culture and literature at Georgetown University, this Anglo-Italian pop genre grew from Italy’s collective interest in America, as well as the British Invasion of the 1960s. “I am not sure how much thinking they put in it, but producers must have realized that imitating English and American sounds would sell more,” he says. Linguistics may have played a role, too. “The phonetic structure of English makes it more suited to rock or pop songs compared with Italian,” he adds.
“Rock or pop music is often arranged in ‘common time,’ a rhythmic pattern made of four beats with an emphasis on the second and fourth beat,” says Simone Lenzi, an Italian writer and frontman of Tuscan rock band Virginiana Miller. “That pattern goes very well with the English language, which is mostly made of short and monosyllabic words that can easily be arranged on four beats.” Italian, on the other hand, is mostly made of longer words—only about 2 percent of the most-used words are monosyllabic—making it more suited to arias than rock or pop. For example, Tracy Chapman’s “You got a fast car” translates as “Tu hai una macchina veloce.”
This isn’t to say that there’s not a wide range of popular music sung in Italian, but Celentano expressed his preference when he explained his creation to NPR. “So at a certain point, because I like American slang—which, for a singer, is much easier to sing than Italian—I thought that I would write a song which would only have as its theme the inability to communicate,” he said. “And to do this, I had to write a song where the lyrics didn’t mean anything.”
But the roots of Celentano’s song go much further back than the end of World War II. “What Celentano is doing, inventing a nonsense language, was already done by Dante and by medieval comedians before him,” says Simone Marchesi, who teaches French and Italian medieval literature at Princeton University. And that practice, Marchesi explains, goes back even further, to the Old Testament.
Genesis 11:1–9 says that after the flood, the people of Earth, who all spoke the same language, founded the new city of Babel, and planned to build a tower tall enough to reach heaven. In reaction to this act of arrogance, God decided to confuse humans by creating different languages so that they could no longer understand each other.
And so, in Dante’s Divine Comedy, the author encounters a giant named Nimrod next to the ninth circle of hell. In non-canonical writings, Nimrod is associated with building the Tower of Babel. He approaches Dante and Virgil, and says “Raphèl maí amècche zabí almi,” a series of words that has no meaning but, according to some scholars, can sound a little like Old Hebrew.
Virgil says, “every language is to him the same/as his to others—no one knows his tongue.” Nimrod speaks a failed language, and failed languages are the result of divine punishment. This is why, Marchesi explains, nonsense languages were traditionally associated with sin. “The medieval period was characterized by a division in ‘high’ aspects of life, associated with the heavens, and ‘low’ aspects associated with carnal, animal existence: the realm of sin.” For language, the high part was “signifiers”—the concepts that language conveys—and the low part was the “signs”—the sounds and symbols that represent those concepts.
It then follows that purely ideal, divine language requires no sound, which is how the angels of the Divine Comedy communicate. Lower language, on the other hand, would be rooted in the materiality of mortal sinners—pure sound. “And what happens when language becomes pure sound?” Marchesi says. “You need the body. It’s the language of mimics, it’s a language of performance.” Indeed, comedians and jesters in the Middle Ages resorted to invented sounds to tell bawdy, racy stories, and tales about hunger, disease, and other “low” subjects.
An example of this is Grammelot, a system of languages popularized by Commedia dell’arte, a theatrical form that started in Italy in the 16th century and later spread around Europe. Grammelot was used by itinerant performers to “sound” like they were performing in a local language by a using macaronic and onomatopoeic elements together with mimicry and mime. Dario Fo, an Italian playwright and actor who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1997, featured Grammelot in his 1996 show Mistero Buffo (Comic Mystery Play).
“Charlie Chaplin even did something like that,” Marchesi points out. The otherwise silent 1936 film Modern Times sees the comedian performing a song that sounds like a mix of Italian and French, but means absolutely nothing. “He sings about love, one can make sense of it through the performance, even if sounds do not make sense,” Marchesi says.
So a few millennia after Babel, a few centuries after Dante, and a few decades after Chaplin, Celentano offered his take on this classic performance trick. “When I first heard Celentano’s song I was very impressed by its ‘Americanness,’” says Arielle Saiber, a professor of Romance languages and literatures at Bowdoin College. “It notably emphasizes the American nasal, mumbling, drawn out sort of sounds … distinct from the clean ‘clip’ of British English or melodic Italian.”
Indeed, it seems like Celentano followed the advice on Grammelot that Fo offered in his book The Tricks of the Trade:
To perform a narrative in Grammelot, it is of decisive importance to have at your disposal a repertoire of the most familiar tonal and sound stereotypes of a language, and to establish clearly the rhythms and cadences of the language to which you wish to refer.
And Celentano certainly grasped the American rhythms and cadences of the 1960s. “Celentano captured stereotypical American sounds of that time, from movies and rock songs, much in the way that comici dell’arte, comedians of Commedia dell’arte theater, in the 1600s imitated colloquial, regional language,” Saiber says.
Of equal importance, Fo adds, is to inform the audience of what the Grammelot performance will be about. So in his 1972 television performance, Celentano introduces “Prisencolinensinainciusol” as the one word that can express universal love. If these rules are followed, Fo writes, the imaginary world created by the performer will make perfect sense for that audience in that time and place.
So, does prisencolinensinainciusol make any sense to you?
What is the song that sounds like English but is gibberish? ›
The song, written and performed by Adriano Celentano and is called "Prisencolinensinainciusol" which means...well, nothing. It's gibberish. In fact, the entire song is nonsense lyrics made to sound like English, and oddly, it does.Which Italian singer made a fake English song? ›
Conversation. Italian singer Adriano Celentano released a song in the 70s with nonsense lyrics meant to sound like American English, apparently to prove Italians would like any English song. It was a hit, and resulted in this: THE GREATEST VIDEO I HAVE EVER SEEN. for bringing this into my life.What is the name of the Italian meme song? ›
"Tarantella Napoletana" was its own joke in a 2017 episode of IFC's 'Portlandia.Which Italian singer makes gibberish song? ›
Adriano Celentano is the musician and actor behind social media's latest novelty craze. In 1972, Italian singer Adriano Celentano created a hit song that made no sense.What is the nonsense song called? ›
"Rubber Biscuit", written by Charles Johnson and first recorded by The Chips in 1956; later known from the Blues Brothers cover version.What is the song that's fake English? ›
In fact, it wasn't performed in any language at all. The song, called "Prisencolinensinainciusol," was written to mimic the way English sounds to non-English speakers. Celentano, now 74 years old, says that he wanted to break down language barriers and inspire people to communicate more.What is that Italian song everyone knows? ›
'O sole mio
The most important and best-known Neapolitan song in history. O sole mio was published back in 1898 and over the years has been recorded by various artists and in many different languages.
Salvatore Antonio "Rino" Gaetano (29 October 1950 – 2 June 1981) was an Italian musician and singer-songwriter. He is famous for his satirical songs and oblique yet incisive political commentary. He is remembered for his raspy voice, for the heavily ironic lyrics of his songs and his social protests.What song sounds phonetically English Italians? ›
“Prisencolinensinainciusol” reached the top spot on the Italian charts when it was released in 1972, despite the fact that the lyrics were 100 percent gibberish. Italian singer Adriano Celentano wrote the song to mimic the way he thought American English sounded.What is the famous stereotypical Italian song? ›
The "Tarantella Napoletana" is the tarantella associated with Naples. It is familiar to North American viewers of popular media as a quintessentially Italian musical riff or melody.
What Italian song was made to sound like English reddit? ›
Annoyed by this phenomenon, Italian singer Adriano Celentano made up a song with nonsensical words that sounded like American English. "Prisencolinensinainciusol" became a #1 hit not only in Italy but all over Europe!What is the Italian song that repeats? ›
Written by Italian singer Adriano Celentano 50 years ago this month, “Prisencolinensinainciusol” is a gibberish song. It aims to mimic what US English sounds like to a non-English speaker. (The song's title sounds like: “Preez-en-collie-en-sin-ine-chew-zol.”).What is singing gibberish called? ›
In vocal jazz, scat singing is vocal improvisation with wordless vocables, nonsense syllables or without words at all. In scat singing, the singer improvises melodies and rhythms using the voice as an instrument rather than a speaking medium.What is the most listened to Italian song ever? ›
“Ti amo” – Umberto Tozzi
Umberto Tozzi's 1977 hit topped the charts all across Europe and became known around the world. Today, the track has stood the test of time and is regarded as an Italian classic. “Ti amo” has been streamed on Spotify 67,034,920 times.
Scat singing is a type of voice instrumental music. A scat is vocalized using wordless vocables and syllables (e.g. "bippity-bippity-doo-wop-razzamatazz-skoobie-doobie-shoobity-bee-bop-a-lula-shabazz") as employed by jazz singers.What is the most mysterious song called? ›
"The Most Mysterious Song on the Internet" (also known as "Like the Wind", "Blind the Wind", "Check It In, Check It Out" or "Take It In, Take It Out" after lines in fan-interpreted lyrics; acronymed as TMMSOTI or TMS) is the nickname given to a song recording, most likely composed in the 1980s, whose origin, author, ...What kind of song is a ditty? ›
A ditty is a little song or a simple tune. When you're babysitting, you might sing a soft ditty to help a child fall asleep. A ditty might be a simple nursery rhyme in song form, or even the theme song to your favorite TV show. Ditties are easy to learn, and fairly short and effortless to sing.What songs are Contrafactum? ›
"Candle in the Wind" (1973, "Goodbye Norma Jean ...") and "Candle in the Wind 1997" ("Goodbye England's Rose ..."), self-reworking by Elton John, lyrics by Bernie Taupin. "How You Remind Me" (2001) and "Someday" (2003), self-reworking by Nickelback.What is the only song banned with no lyrics? ›
The only instrumental track to ever be banned from the radio. Its iconic lead line is that of pure and unadulterated rock 'n' roll legend, Link Wray's effortlessly cool 'Rumble' is a song so doused in danger that it remains the only instrumental track to ever be banned from the radio.What song is cursed? ›
“My Way” - Frank Sinatra
Because it is believed to be cursed. If sung or played, you or people around you may die. The idea of it being cursed began once killings began surrounding the song.
What famous song has no words? ›
- 2 - Frankenstein by Edgar Winter Group reached #1 in 1972, featuring an unforgettable riff and psychedelic sound. ...
- 4 - I, Robot by Alan Parsons Project. ...
- 6 - A Fifth of Beethoven by Walter Murphy & the Big Red Apple Band. ...
- 8 - Speed of Life by David Bowie from Low (1977)
O mio babbino caro - Puccini
The Everest of tearjerking soprano arias, 'O mio babbino caro' has been recorded by all the greats from Renée Fleming to Montserrat Caballé, and is one of the most performed pieces of opera music of the last 100 years.
In spoken – and sung – Italian, the sequence of 'staccato' and 'tenuto' sounds created by long and short consonants, is also what gives Italian its musicality. This rhythmic sequence of consonants provides the framework from which the vowel sounds can be projected and shine.What music did Italian gangsters listen to? ›
Streaming has allowed the genre, sometimes sung by people with ties to the mafia, to become a national craze.Who has the rarest singing voice? ›
What is a countertenor? A countertenor is a male singer who can sing as high as a soprano or mezzo-soprano. The countertenor is the rarest of all voice types.Who has the most beautiful singing voice in the world? ›
- 1 of 35. Celine Dion. Kevin Winter/Getty Images. ...
- 2 of 35. Barbra Streisand. Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for BSB. ...
- 3 of 35. Etta James. ...
- 4 of 35. Nina Simone. ...
- 5 of 35. Aretha Franklin. ...
- 6 of 35. Whitney Houston. ...
- 7 of 35. Smokey Robinson. ...
- 8 of 35. Mariah Carey.
- Martin Luther King's “I Have a Dream” speech is just as powerful today as it was in 1963, and for good reason: His voice. ...
- We bet you read “I have a dream” in Martin Luther King's voice each and every time too–it's unforgettable. ...
- Not an expert on making the most of different pitches yourself?
Because the Italian language is almost entirely phonetic and every syllable is pronounced, Italians typically struggle with English words ending in “Ed”. The fact that there are 3 different pronunciations for “ed” endings doesn't help: t, d, and Id.What accent in Italian has a lisp? ›
The first thing you will notice about the Tuscan accent is the Tuscan giorgia, the "Tuscan throat". This is the phenomenon of lisping certain consonants when they are pronounced between two vowels (though it is not seen in written language):What sound does ZZ make in Italian? ›
Z and ZZ- When used singular, it can be silent, as in Dizionario, but when doubled in Pizza it can sound more like a T. G- If G appears before the letters A, O, or U, it has a hard sound like Grande, but if it precedes E or I, like in Gelato, it has a soft and gentle sound.
What are the 3 Italian songs which became famous from the San Remo Music Festival? ›
It has led to the success of epochal songs such as the 1958 winning track 'Volare' (the real title is actually 'Nel blu dipinto di blu') by Domenico Modugno, 'Quando, quando, quando' by Tony Renis, 'Che sarà' by Ricchi e Poveri and 'Felicità' by Al Bano e Romina.What do you call an Italian term wherein the songs are sung in a not too fast or not too slow tempo? ›
Andante (Italian: 'walking'). Meaning the music should be played at a walking pace. Not too fast or slow.What music is unique to Italy? ›
Instrumental and vocal classical music is an iconic part of Italian identity, spanning experimental art music and international fusions to symphonic music and opera. Opera is integral to Italian musical culture, and has become a major segment of popular music.What is the Italian song about wanting to be American? ›
"Tu vuò fà l'americano" (pronounced [ˈtu ˈvwo ˈfa lameriˈkɑːnə]; "You Want to Play American") is a Neapolitan language song by Italian singer Renato Carosone. Carosone wrote the song in collaboration with Nicola "Nisa" Salerno in 1956.What language sounds most like Italian? ›
According to many sources, Italian is the closest language to Latin in terms of vocabulary. According to the Ethnologue, Lexical similarity is 89% with French, 87% with Catalan, 85% with Sardinian, 82% with Spanish, 80% with Portuguese, 78% with Ladin, 77% with Romanian.Why is Italian so melodic? ›
Italian benefits from a very high number of words that end in vowels, and few words with many consonants in a row, creating an open sound that makes it perfect for singing.What is it called when you keep repeating the same song? ›
Most likely many people reading this have experienced earworms, or “stuck song syndrome.” This occurs after listening to a catchy piece of music often or repeatedly, until the tune is stuck in your head.What is a tarantella song? ›
The Tarantella is an upbeat Italian song and dance style characterized by light, quick steps, and tambourine-playing (note how we use wrist bells in class to mimic this!) The name “Tarantella" is believed to come from the disease “Tarantism” – a form of hysteria induced by the bite of a Tarantula spider.What is the singing style in Italian? ›
bel canto, (Italian: “beautiful singing”) style of operatic singing that originated in Italian singing of polyphonic (multipart) music and Italian courtly solo singing during the late 16th century and that was developed in Italian opera in the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries.What does Sprechgesang mean? ›
Definitions of sprechgesang. a style of dramatic vocalization between singing and speaking. synonyms: sprechstimme.
What music sounds English but gibberish? ›
The song, written and performed by Adriano Celentano and is called "Prisencolinensinainciusol" which means...well, nothing. It's gibberish. In fact, the entire song is nonsense lyrics made to sound like English, and oddly, it does.What is scat singing in music? ›
scat, also called Scat Singing, in music, jazz vocal style using emotive, onomatopoeic, and nonsense syllables instead of words in solo improvisations on a melody.What is the number 1 Latin song of all time? ›
Top 10 songs of All-Time (1986–2021)
|Artist(s)||Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee featuring Justin Bieber|
|2.||"The Twist"||1960, 1961 ( re )|
|4.||"Mack the Knife"||1959|
Abstract: Vocalises are songs that are sung on no words or nonsense syllables, sometimes applied as special effects in a song, used as a vocal exercise or for emotionally or spiritually focused music.What is prosody in singing? ›
In music, prosody is the way the composer sets the text of a vocal composition in the assignment of syllables to notes in the melody to which the text is sung, or to set the music with regard to the ambiance of the lyrics.What are wordless vocalizations called? ›
There are some words that are, well, not words. Linguists have a lot of names for them, none especially clear-cut: interjections, exclamations, non-lexical conversational sounds. (For native speakers of American English, think “hmm,” “uh-huh,” et al.) Interjection is the favored umbrella term.How do I find a song that sounds like a song? ›
Shazam. Shazam is one of the most popular music recognition apps out there. It's packed with features to help you identify music you hear, as well as discover music from new artists you might not hear about otherwise.How do I find an English song by humming? ›
- On your iPhone or iPad, open the Google app .
- In the search bar, tap the mic .
- Ask "What's this song?" or tap Search a song.
- Play a song or hum, whistle, or sing the melody of a song. Play a song: Google will identify the song. Hum, whistle, or sing: Google will identify potential matches for the song.
A true “song without words”, Rachmaninov's 'Vocalise' was never intended to be sung with words, but instead is sung using any one vowel of the singer's choosing. The piano transcription is one of his best-loved works.
What does Skatting mean? ›
noun. 1. a type of jazz singing characterized by improvised vocal sounds instead of words.Is there an app to identify a sound? ›
Shazam will identify any song in seconds. Discover artists, lyrics, videos & playlists, all for free. Over 1 billion installs and counting!How do I identify an unknown song? ›
Music identifier websites will help you name that tune
Wondering what song is playing? Popular music-identification apps such as Shazam and SoundHound are valuable tools that quickly name unknown songs as they play.
Shazam, which first launched in 2002, is the most popular song identification app out there. It's free for both Google Android and iPhone users.Can Google recognize humming? ›
Yes, the easiest way to find a song by humming is using Google's Hum to Search feature. Just open the Google app on Android or iPhone and click on the microphone icon in the search box. On the resulting page, click on the "Search a song" option at the bottom of the page. Hum, whistle, or sing.Is there an app to identify songs by humming? ›
Have a song stuck in your head? Press the SoundHound button, sing or hum the tune, and we'll do the rest! Music Discovery: 'Hey SoundHound… What's that song?Is there an app to recognize a song humming? ›
Deezer can now help you find songs that suddenly start playing in your head in the middle of the night. The music streaming service has upgraded its in-app SongCatcher feature so that it can now identify a track just by humming or even whistling parts of it.What is the number 1 hardest piano song? ›
- Liszt – La Campanella. ...
- Ravel – Gaspard de la Nuit. ...
- Conlon Nancarrow – Studies for Player Piano. ...
- Sorabji – Opus clavicembalisticum. ...
- Charles Valentin Alkan – Concerto for Solo Piano. ...
- Chopin – Étude Op. ...
- Scriabin – Sonata No. ...
- Stravinsky – Trois mouvements de Petrouchka.
#2 Fur Elise - Beethoven
It's one of the most recognized piano pieces ever written. Fun fact: Beethoven wrote this piece to impress a girl.