Phonetica, similarities in babel territories


Phonetica by Nao Tokui is a project that identifies homophones in the more than six thousands existing world languages. It’s a cross-disciplinary project that, reconciling art and science, propose an innovative key to the reading of the magmatic contemporary culture. Homophony is the projects’ fulcrum, and the system measures it basing on the International Phonetic Alphabet’s scale of values. The research process most interesting aspect is to discover that the words or expressions’ similar sounds in two or more different languages, do not match a respective semantic analogy. So when the system connects these words and expressions, also known as ‘false friends’, it brings also cultural information about people speaking that specific language. In this way the two omophones’ comparison becomes a potential input to prepare the individual to new cultures awareness. The artist has amplified this possibility realizing an interactive installation (Rondo), testable at the Tokyo ICC till March 2007, that allows the user to value the spatial distances of the similar linguistic origins through a software interface and a speaker that revolves on a circular track, simulating the origin location. The – linguistic so cultural – similarity/alterity dichotomy becomes then the line on which the social relationships equilibrium is calibrated. Diversity is never more only a question of accepting each other or pacific cohabitation, but it becomes the ‘trait d’union’ amongst the most disparate cultures.

Francesca Tomassini