“Once a time upon, was a village there … what?!! The chamberlain was shocked. He was the third jester that messed all the words up. Maybe there was something wrong at court? Witchcraft, for sure! He heard other people having insane conversations, with dogs chased by cats and adjectives used as nouns. There was no time to think, and the king had to be informed.

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Building Of The Tower Of Babel – Bedford Hours (1414-1423) Meister Der Münchner Legenda Aurea, British Library

He ran up the staircase to the royal rooms, where his majesty was preparing an Italian meal in his leisure time. But something was wrong, terribly wrong! The oil was frying in the kettle, the eggs smashed with the wine and all other ingredients confused! The chamberlain looked at the cookbook. The recipe was clear, but the king was gazing up and down, reading from right to left. 

The chamberlain, panicking, closed the door and climbed the stairs to the tower, where the wizard dwells. 

He slammed the door, “Merlino!” he shouted, “help us, cannot language anymore, we use! Confused words are!”. At his words the magician jumped off his chair! Worried at what he heard, he invited the chamberlain to sit and calm down. Merlino carefully inspected his mouth and ears, muttered the spells of the usual curses but nothing happened and still the words were messed up! Right after, they went to the king and he examined his eyes.

But everything seemed to be in order , adding another twist to the mystery! 

Luckily Merlino studied Linguistics at Wizards’ Academy, and knew the sort of witchcraft at play. He spent hours in the tower, towered by books, recollecting his wisdom, hoping to solve the puzzle. He sketched a mass of syntactic trees and asked the sphere of neural networks, but nothing could help the despair of the court. The end was near when his young apprentice came up with an idea! 

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The Entire Human Brain And Cerebellum, Vesalius Andrea, Wellcome Collection gallery

She stood up and walked to the library, jumped on the ladder and drew the big book of Dr Hagoorten, Language and the brain.

Maybe, she proposed, “these people have nothing wrong in their voice or their eyes, perhaps”, she insisted, “we have to look at what is going wrong in their heads!”. Great idea, Merlino said, grasped the wand and suddenly spelt: “F.M.R.I, clear me the mind, E.E.G. shall the brain I see!” 

Magically, the head of the chamberlain started to turn pale, and then transparent, and they could see

the thoughts running fast on the pink jelly. When he looked at the mirror and, marveled, asked what was happening, his brain sparkled of white light, which expanded through-out his transparent skull. The light blobs glared furiously and traveled back and forth at the rhythm of his own words. As the Hagoorten wrote, those lights were guiding his tongue to produce the right sounds and not the other way around. Unfortunately, the proper association between the lights and the odd syntactic mistakes was far from being understood. Moreover, the spell to tidy up the minds of the king and the jesters had not yet be invented. As we all know, Magic has its limits!

Merlino and Marieke are sitting in the tower, flipping through the book and making simple questions to the chamberlain. They begin to understand how words connect to glaring lights, but much is still to be discovered, and the king is still roasting the butter and spreading the beef! 

Featured Image:
The Hunters in the Snow, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Written by Alessio Quaresima for the NBL department