Macaronic language

From Wikipedia:

“Macaronic language uses a mixture of languages, particularly bilingual puns or situations in which the languages are otherwise used in the same context (rather than simply discrete segments of a text being in different languages). Hybrid words are effectively “internally macaronic”. In spoken language, code-switching is using more than one language or dialect within the same conversation.

Macaronic Latin in particular is a jumbled jargon made up of vernacular words given Latin endings, or of Latin words mixed with the vernacular in a pastiche (compare dog Latin).

The word macaronic comes from the New Latin macaronicus which is from the Italian maccarone (“dumpling”, regarded as coarse peasant fare). It is generally derogatory, and used when the mixing of languages has a humorous or satirical intent or effect, but is sometimes applied to more serious mixed-language literature.

Texts that mixed Latin and vernacular language apparently arose throughout Europe at the end of the Middle Ages—a time when Latin was still the working language of scholars, clerics and university students, but was losing ground to vernacular among poets, minstrels and storytellers.

The Carmina Burana (collected c.1230) contains several poems mixing Latin with Medieval German or French.

Occasionally language is unintentionally macaronic. One particularly famed piece of schoolyard Greek in France is Xenophon’s line “they did not take the city; but in fact they had no hope of taking it” (οὐκ ἔλαβον πόλιν· άλλα γὰρ ἐλπὶς ἔφη κακά, ouk élabon pólin; álla gàr elpìs éphē kaká). Read in the French manner, this becomes “Où qu’est la bonne Pauline? A la gare. Elle pisse et fait caca.” (“Where is Pauline the maid? At the [railway] station. She’s pissing and taking a shit.”) In English literature, the untranslated line makes an appearance in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.

Macaronic text is still used by modern Italian authors, e.g. by Carlo Emilio Gadda and Beppe Fenoglio. Other examples are provided by the character Salvatore in Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, and the peasant hero of his Baudolino. Dario Fo’s Mistero Buffo (“Comic Mystery Play”) features grammelot sketches using language with macaronic elements.

Ezra Pound’s The Cantos makes use of Chinese, Greek, Latin, and Italian, among other languages.

The finale of act 1 of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Savoy Opera Iolanthe has several instances of humorous macaronic verse.

Macaronisms’ are frequently used in films, especially comedies. In Charlie Chaplin’s anti-war comedy The Great Dictator, the title character speaks English mixed with a parody of German (e.g. “Cheese-und-cracken”). This was also used by Benzino Napaloni, the parody character of Benito Mussolini, using Italian foods (such as salami and ravioli) as insults.”


“Many jesters and fools spoke a gibberish language called Grammelot that was first described over 500 years ago. It consisted of funny sounds along with a few real words from different languages. Although Grammelot could not say everything quite as clearly as a real language, it could express general ideas and it engaged people’s imaginations. It also turned out to be very practical because:

1. Villages were remote centuries ago. They were separated by dark woods. The terrible roads made it was hard to leave town, and without TV or radio, the peasants of one village may never hear the accent of the people in the next town. As a result, even neighboring villages might not understand each other. Every town spoke a little differently, and so each town had their own dialect. Sometimes they spoke very differently, and had their very own language. Not surprisingly, there were far more languages then than there are today.

2. Free speech was not a right centuries ago In the days before mass media, it was the traveling perform-ers who gave peasants much of their news of the outside world. If anyone said something that angered the king or queen, he or she could easily be thrown in jail. The censors watched performers very closely. The censors were the people hired by the king or queen to make sure that nothing was said that could upset them or the royal court. If the jesters spoke Grammelot, the censors were less likely to give them a hard time, since nobody knew exactly what they were saying.”

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