April 21, 2005


According to a 4/21/2005 story in Newsday:

Nicole Kidman learned a made-up language called "Ku" for The Interpreter -- and forgot every last word once the project wrapped.

"I remember nothing," she said Tuesday night at the Ziegfeld, where the movie's premiere kicked off the Tribeca Film Festival.

"It was like studying for an exam," she said. "You just cram it in the night before and then it's completely gone."

The production information at allmovieportal.com says that

[Charles] Randolph [one of the screenwriters] imagined an entire political reality for the made-up country based on Southern Africa's modern history, involving post-colonial struggles, warring tribal factions and institutionalized corruption. Then, working with linguists, the filmmakers helped to forge an imaginary language for Matobo, dubbed "Ku," that would sound entirely real to most ears.

Sydney Pollack explains, "We went to a language center in England and worked with a professor there to develop a tongue that's a cross between Swahili and Shona, two common African languages in Eastern and Southern Africa. This new language, Ku, has elements of both of those languages, along with a number of unique elements.and Nicole Kidman had to become fluent in this tongue that doesn't truly exist."

So shouldn't it be "Ki-Ku", or something like that? I wonder what the "language center in England" was, and who "the professor there" might be. It's striking that these pages, which name literally hundreds of names, don't choose to identify these two other than as rather generic definite descriptions. In the same vein, it's interesting that the trailer for the movie doesn't have even a single syllable of "Ku" in it.

The allmovieportal.com site also explains that

Like Nicole Kidman, [James] Cameron spent weeks learning to speak the fictional language, Ku, for the role, as did Jesper Christensen, who plays President Zuwanie's head of security. "Learning a language that at first made no sense at all was extremely difficult for all of us," says Christensen. "But it also became quite fun after awhile. I think the whole achievement of creating this new language was quite brilliant."

It doesn't say whether he forgot his piece of the brilliant achievement just as quickly.

[Update: more here.]

Posted by Mark Liberman at April 21, 2005 11:52 PM