Nicoline van Harskamp



Nicoline van Harskamp is an artist that has developed research projects into the English language and its possible future amongst non-native speakers. Her video PDGN is a fiction that imagines a future in which a societal collapse has taken place, and nation states and corporations no longer exist. In scenes that are neither utopian nor dystopian, human survivors have constructed a new link language (or lingua franca) between people across this world through self-instruction. Van Harskamp developed the script for PDGN from the results of actual spoken, non-native English from participants in a series of workshops she organised. Some aspects of language and narrative were also informed by feminist fictions that propose systems of language-transformation, including Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time (1976) and Suzette Haden Elgin’s Native Tongue (1984). The language of the script was further developed by applying probable factors of language evolution in the areas of syntax, lexicon, and phonetics. Van Harskamp conceptualised these ‘text change algorithms’ with the help of academics in fields such as creole studies, computational linguistics and language acquisition, as well as with Esperantists, amateur language inventors, and the lead actresses Ariane Barnes, Mouna Albakry and Paula So Man Siu. The resulting language, recently described by Professor of Literary Arts Avishek Ganguly as “not-quite-not-English”, sounds familiar to the ear but is in fact an artistic construction. Through Dutch subtitles, the viewers are able to access the women’s discussions about the rebuilding of their world and their language.

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