Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Ku made up

This weekend I went to see the new suspense film The Interpreter. The movie is not bad. The plot is a little weak, but all in all a decent thriller.

The story revolves around Nicole Kidman's character who is an interpreter at the UN. One night she overhears a plot to assassinate the dictator of a small African country. It just happens to be the country she's from and the plot is revealed in a language she just happens to speak, Ku. Nicole Kidman does a great job acting as usual.

Although the film is basically a throw-away, something caught my eye during the credits. The credits listed a Ku language inventor. Turns out that they basically made up a country, language, and culture for the film rather than use an already existing one.

Pollack said he conjured up a country and a language because dealing with a real country can be thorny.

"You can't do what you want to do, you have to do only what's authentic," Pollack said. "You can't say what you want to say for dramatic purposes -- you get yourself in trouble with an organization like the United Nations where in a sense every participating member has an equal position within the United Nations. I think, oddly enough, it is more believable when (something) is fictional than when it is true."

So they turned to someone who knows something about African languages.

The fictional language, Ku, was created for the Sydney Pollack-directed film by Said el-Gheithy, the head of the Centre for African Language Learning in London. "This was a whole new challenge," says El-Gheithy. "They had specific requirements. There was a section of the dialogue in the script that needed to be in Ku. Sydney indicated his preferred choice of languages. He said he wanted a language that would (sound familiar) to someone from Eastern Africa or Southern Africa."

El-Gheithy chose the Bantu languages as the basis for Ku. But first, he had to envision Matobo as a country somewhere in the south of Africa, "bordering somewhere between Zimbabwe and Tanzania."

Africans from that area will recognize the language, he says, "but will be slightly confused" by the new structure he gave Ku. "The Bantu language is identified by the use of prefixes or indicators that are used at the start of the word or subject matter."

But with Ku, he put the prefix/indicator at the end of the word. "Then I created tenses and so on. Throughout the process the speech emerged."

All in all, El-Gheithy created about 500 words in Ku.

LIke I said, the movie wasn't spectacular, but these little details were really cool.


Eric Bakovic said...

Still haven't seen this movie but I definitely want to. Did you miss the discussion of Ku's invention on Lg. Log here and here? It was followed up by a mention of another language made up for entertainment here.

liberal elite said...

I missed those. Thanks for the heads up. I need to figure out this whole rss thingy.

Eric Bakovic said...

LinguistList has RSS feeds as a new feature, plus a pretty good FAQ on RSS with links to (mostly free) RSS readers. Some browsers (Firefox, the new Safari for Mac OS X Tiger) do RSS, too.

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