The Babel Message: Updates, Mea Culpas, Errors and Corrections
Inevitably, given the sheer number of languages in the book, it was difficult to spot errors. Feel free to contact me if you spot something and I will post corrections here.
Kinder Joy confusion
This isn’t a linguistic error but one concerning The Manuscript: In the book I claim that Kinder Joys (the Kinder Egg cousin made safe for US and other markets) do not contain The Manuscript. I based this on a Kinder Joy I bought in 2020. However, I recently (early 2022) found a Manuscript inside a Kinder Joy. I don’t know whether this is a recent addition or whether the one I bought in 2020 was anomalous.
An update on Munegàscu/Monégasque
In Chapter 13 of the book, I conduct an experiment in translating the Message into 3 languages in as short a time as possible, without knowing any of the language in advance. One of these languages was Munegàscu (or Monégasque), the language of Monaco. My translation was as follows:
ATENÇIUN, lese e cunservà: Giüghetu non adatáu per fiyoei suta 3 ane. E peçe picenine pureressu iesse avalà o inalà.
Unfortunately, I could not find a speaker of the language to check the translation. Since the book was completed though, I managed to obtain a translation from Dominique Salvo:
A mistake in Syriac and Modern Assyrian Aramaic
Nicholas Al-Jeloo provided translations into Eastern and Western variants of Classical Syriac and Modern Assyrian Aramaic:
I included the Western variants in the book, however, there was a mistake in my transcription. This will be corrected in the ebook and subsequent editions of the hard copy.
A Kazakh mistake
The list of languages on the Manuscript on page xxv in the hardback excludes Kazakh.
A tiny error on the cover
The Italian message on the cover should read ‘ATTENZIONE, leggere e conservare’ but the final ‘e’ has been left out in ‘conservare’. [Thanks to @terminologia on Twitter for pointing this out]
Ian Parri emailed me to point out what he called ‘a tiny mistake’ in the Welsh Message:
The second sentence should read: “Mae yna ddarnau bach y gellir eu mewnanadlu neu lyncu”. The “eu” refers to the plural possessive inferred in ‘ddarnau bach’ (small parts), while the “ei” in the book would be in the singular.
Of course this could simply be a typo introduced by me, rather than the original translator, Owen Shiers!
Ian also pointed out:
It is actually fairly common to see food and drink bearing labels wholly or partly in Welsh, and occasionally clothing, I’m glad to say. And as a translator, I recall being contracted to translate into Welsh one of those side-effects disclaimer sheets pharmaceutical companies insert into their packs of drugs. I’ve yet to be approached, however, by Ferrero!
That said, Ian did agree with me the products for sale across the UK or internationally rarely, if ever, carry Welsh.
Siôn Williams pointed out a tiny mistake in the middle sentence of The Message. It should read as follows:
Nid yw’r tegan yma yn addas ar gyfer plant plant o dan 3 blwydd oed.
Siôn also pointed out:
…you refer to Welsh being ‘commonly encountered in government websites.’ This, I believe is rather infelicitous terminology. There is a failure here to ascertain which government is being referred to – the UK Government indeed issues many documents (usually outsourced to, e.g. DVLA, TV Licensing etc) and provides websites in Welsh or bilingually (with English).
The Welsh Government of course, having now control on Welsh language policy (from 1999) and post de jure official status in 2011 has gone much further. Indeed, public bodies in Wales (or serving a Welsh speaking audience) are obliged to treat both languages equally and provide materials in the language of choice of the person requesting them. The Senedd is bilingual and the reports of e.g. proceedings of Plenary sessions as well as legislation (Acts, Statutory Instruments etc,) are printed in both languages. (The private sector is a little behind with this bilingualism, but e.g. banks provide brochures of their services and ATM instructions in both – and more – languages.)
A reader, ‘Emma C’, pointed out that the first word in the Czech Message in the book and on the cover should be UPOZORNĚNÍ, with an acute accent over the final ‘I’
In October 2022, an Amazon reviewer wrote:
Fun book, discursive, disquisitive, distracting and good stuff for a rainy day, but the author’s family nonsense word ‘compocorant’ (pp. 34-35) really does exist — it’s Latin, and means something like ‘they’ve arranged’. So grandad’s friend wasn’t being creative, just a bit punnishing.
I checked and it is true that ‘compocorant’ means ‘they have arranged’ in Latin. However a) it’s possible that the pronounciation and stress of the two compocorants are different and b) in my family story, the person who accused my grandfather of being compocorant is not the sort of person who would have known Latin and if he had would certainly not accuse my grandfather of being ‘they have arranged’, c) my family’s compocorant is an adjective whereas the Latin one is a verb.
Siôn Williams pointed out the problem with the following sentence (p. 202):
These languages have definitely died, although some of their ancestors might still walk among us.
As he correctly points out, it should read:
These languages have definitely died, although some of their descendants might still walk among us
There are some errors in the book that are in fact errors in the warning message Manuscript itself. I point out some of them in the book and discuss them further as well as listing others on this page.
Although not errors as such, there are some omissions in the book that I noticed too late to include in the final version:
- My main oversight was that I should have included the Uzbek and Kyrgyz Messages in the book, given that I made such a big deal out of collecting the ‘set’ of former Soviet Union Messages. I have rectified this in the list of Messages on this website.
- In the book, I stated that I wasn’t aware of encountering ‘Altabash’ – the word with which I started in creating my own language in chapter 14 – before. However, after the book was finished I did come across ‘Atbash’, which is a Hebrew cypher found in the Bible. It vaguely rang a bell so maybe I had come across it before and I drew on it unconsciously? I guess I can never be sure.
- After the book came out, I came across a 2011 discussion on a conlang forum that seemed to prefigure my project. It includes some translations of the warning message into a variety of conlangs. Some of them are not in my collection but I am not going to add them as the discussion is long dormant.
Have you spotted an error in the book. Feel free to contact me to point it out!