12 tongues – virtual speech ballet
for 12 speakers with a different mother tongue /

Annette le Fort 



»12 tongues« is a virtual speech ballet for 12 speakers with a different mother tongue: Arabic, Dutch, English, French, German, Hebrew, Japanese, Korean, Macedonian, Russian, Spanish and Turkish.


12 researchers and advising researchers of the Jan van Eyck Academie in Maastricht were asked to answer a list of questions in their mother tongue and in their own way of speaking. One question was for example: »The telephone is ringing. You pick up the phone, but nobody answers you, although you hear somebody’s breath. What do you say?«

These personal language patterns provide the text material for 12 tongues. For the next step, each person wrote 10 of his/her sentences by hand on white paper blowers.


In 120 short video clips the speakers were blowing in these tongues, filling their words with air and letting them unroll in the direction of their particular language. As a sound you hear the crackling of the paper.
The composition of the video clips formed a speech ballet for 12 speakers, an absurd conversation about nearness and distance, contact and loneliness, understanding and misunderstanding.


»12 tongues« plays with a poetical cross-over between spoken and written language, a materialised – visible and touchable – spoken language with a taste of paper, a language which is exhaled, which makes an object outside of the speaker.

It says something about the loss of material and touch in the virtual communication, the contradiction between linguistic intimacy and spatial distance. At the same time »12 tongues« plays with religious images like the miracle of Whitsun, the linguistic confusion or speaking in tongues.