Is any term identified, among linguists, for an effect by which some speech or text has no meaning, and yet superficially resembles, by following certain patterns, speech or text from a particular language or language group?

The following are examples to illustrate the concept:

  1. Consider the following meaningless text:

    Furgle blunkers manergatation

    Assuming that the text was written with an intention to follow English orthographic patterns, you probably can infer an intended pronunciation, even though you recognize no word from those you have learned.

    Imagine trying to teach someone to reproduce the speech and text from memory. One might speculate that such a task is much easier in the case that a person is familiar with English, compared to the case that a person has had no exposure, because of the superficial resemblance between the phonetic and orthographic structure of the sample and that of speech or text understood as English.

  2. A comedy sketch, performed by American comedians Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, attempts to lampoon how an English speaker might experience speech of the French language. The humor of the sketch depends on a gimmick, by which the audience hears speech that some incorrectly may believe is understood as French.

    (The illusion is enhanced by the early inclusion of the widely-recognized French expressions merci beaucoup and très bien.)

  3. Italian singer Adriano Celentano, in 1972, released Prisencolinensinainciusol, a song explained as "intended to sound to its Italian audience as if it is sung in English spoken with an American accent, vaguely reminiscent of Bob Dylan; however, the lyrics are deliberately unintelligible gibberish with the exception of the words 'all right'."

    (A dance performance of the musical piece, in collaboration with Italian dancer Raffaella Carrà, additionally parodies visual features of certain American performing styles.)

    (Thank you to user @livresque for providing this additional example.)

  • 4
    The closest thing I can think of is glossolalia. Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 6:48
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    There’s a similar short film (very short, like a minute or two I think) that does the same in English. Made by some Australians, I think. A young couple having some sort of argument/emotional scene over dinner – all seems like you understand them because it sounds exactly like Broadcast American, but it’s actually gibberish. Can’t remember what it’s called though. Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 8:56
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    "Godël, Escherman and Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid" has some beautiful renditions of "Jabberwocky", a poem of half-gibberishin (some of which has since been integrated to the Lexicon) in German. Ebyan Álvarez has "translated" it well to Spanish, too. Ah, a list of translations is available!
    – Conrado
    Commented Aug 3, 2020 at 3:33
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    Jabberwocky employs fictional words, much the same as fantasy and science-fiction literature, but is undeniably a work of writing in the English language, as directly evidenced by the possibility of translation into German or any other real language, as well as the by the reader's ability to follow an essential story line. It is an interesting example, but perhaps distinct from the framing of the current question.
    – brainchild
    Commented Aug 17, 2020 at 9:35
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    @Conrado: The relevant consideration for whether glossolalia is an applicable term is the understanding linguists give to it, not the original source text from which the term is borrowed. The linguistics usage of the term entails spontaneous vocalization that lacks any clear intention known the speaker. This activity contrasts against the kind described in the question, a systematic and deliberate process of mimicking features of a particular, actual, natural language.
    – brainchild
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 9:18

3 Answers 3


Grammelot (or gromalot or galimatias) /ˈɡrɒməlɒt/ is an imitation of language used in satirical theatre, an ad hoc gibberish that uses prosody along with macaronic and onomatopoeic elements to convey emotional and other meaning, and used in association with mime and mimicry.

A romance grammelot (sometimes dubbed "Cirquish") is famously used by Cirque du Soleil, e.g. Pearl.

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    Great find! ... +1 Commented Sep 4, 2020 at 10:44
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    Does the term represent an instance of an imitation of some particular target language, or only language generally? (An important feature of the Key & Peele and Celentano examples is that an observer with familiarity but not understanding of the target language might make the inaccurate inference that the speech is authentic.)
    – brainchild
    Commented Sep 5, 2020 at 11:27

I only know a term from typography for that thing, it is greeking. In typography greeking is used to demonstrate layout and fonts without distracting the judges by the contents of the text. Maybe, it's this word you remember.

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    I considered using Lorem ipsum as an example, but it seems to be based on a corrupted source text, and not a deliberate attempt to mimic Latin.
    – brainchild
    Commented Jul 28, 2020 at 3:43

I don't know what the technical terms in linguistics would be, but the phenomenon you describe has several possible variations and there are a set of denominations for it.

Apparently each language has its own word for it.

Pig Latin (taken from wikipedia):

Early mentions of pig Latin or hog Latin describe what we would today call dog Latin, a type of parody Latin.[citation needed] Examples of this predate even Shakespeare, whose 1598 play, Love's Labour's Lost, includes a reference to dog Latin:2

Costard: Go to; thou hast it ad dungill, at the fingers' ends, as they say. Holofernes: O, I smell false Latine; dunghill for unguem. — Love's Labour's Lost, William Shakespeare

  • @epl from the OP "and yet superficially resembles, by following certain patterns, speech or text from a particular language or language group?"
    – bad_coder
    Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 23:59
  • "Has no meaning" means without any possibility of being a method of communication.
    – brainchild
    Commented Jul 28, 2020 at 0:03

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