Keith Kahn-HarrisJan 7, 2022
The Babel Message
A Love Letter to Language
Icon Books 2021
A thrilling journey deep into the heart of language, from a rather unexpected starting point. Keith Kahn-Harris is a man obsessed with something seemingly trivial – the warning message found inside Kinder Surprise eggs:
"WARNING, read and keep: Toy not suitable for children under 3 years. Small parts might be swallowed or inhaled."
On a tiny sheet of paper, this message is translated into dozens of languages – the world boiled down to a multilingual essence. Inspired by this, the author asks: what makes 'a language'? With the help of the international community of language geeks, he shows us what the message looks like in Ancient Sumerian, Zulu, Cornish, Klingon – and many more. Along the way he considers why Hungarian writing looks angry, how to make up your own language, and the meaning of the heavy metal umlaut.
Overturning the Babel myth, he argues that the messy diversity of language shouldn't be a source of conflict, but of collective wonder. The Babel Message: A Love Letter to Language (Icon Books, 2021) is a book about hope, a love letter to language.
Nathan Abrams is a professor of film at Bangor University in Wales. His most recent work is on film director Stanley Kubrick. To discuss and propose a book for interview you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ndabrams