A word composition by Sara Hamming
Music by Anja Jacobsen and Lil Lacy
Sound installation for nine speakers in a surround sound set up.
Today, the fear that all Scandinavian languages will be swallowed up by English over the course of the next generation is becoming more and more acute. After more than half a century of American cultural dominance the massive pervasion of Scandinavian vernacular by English words, expressions and grammar seems to have exploded in the last three decades: the age of internet.
In a deeply mythical, matriarchal, material, and humorously fierce tale of Genesis and twilight, the musical part-song performance English Speakers both expands, complicates and reverses common conceptions about the linguistic imperialism of the English world language.
From a naked speaker we are addressed by a nameless narrator: a cross between an ancient seeress of Nordic mythology, an anarchistic philologist and a wise, willful and foul-mouthed woman of today. She takes us on an idiosyncratic journey through the intertwinements, cross-fertilizations and mutual aggressions of English and Scandinavian languages. Departing from nine – or is it ten? – crucial and contemporary English words that made the roaming passage from Old Norse into English the narrator knowingly traces the movements of sounds, words and structures flowing between the languages. The journey begins with the ships of the Northeners first crossing the sea to let their language contaminate that of the original settlers of the English coast. Assisted by nine other voices, the narrator lets her tale tap into the deep running streams that connect language to the fundamental sounds of the body moving through its surroundings. The phonemes of the language are incarnated by the sounds of bodies breathing, eating, sighing, screaming, pushing, laughing and crying, as they collide with the sounds of the wind, the birds and the sea – or with the buzzing of internet data centers counting and calculating. And the complex ecology of world and word feeds back upon the speaker as language evidently shapes the identity, relations and perceptions of the voices that put it to use. But as the story progresses it is increasingly interrupted and disturbed by the other voices, by a rebellious chorus of girls, by the algorithmic language of Google and not least, by the narrator’s own forgetfulness.
English Speakers is a sonic performance that exploits the aural materiality and entangled history of nine common English words with Norse roots in a cluster of mythological tales of origin, influence, creation and destruction.