The Babel Message

The Babel Message
Published : 4 Nov 2021 - Icon Books
A thrilling journey deep into the heart of language, from a rather unexpected starting point.
Keith Kahn-Harris is a man obsessed with something seemingly trivial – the warning message found inside Kinder Surprise eggs:

WARNING, read and keep: Toy not suitable for children under 3 years. Small parts might be swallowed or inhaled.

On a tiny sheet of paper, this message is translated into dozens of languages – the world boiled down to a multilingual essence. Inspired by this, the author asks: what makes ‘a language’? With the help of the international community of language geeks, he shows us what the message looks like in Ancient Sumerian, Zulu, Cornish, Klingon – and many more. Along the way he considers why Hungarian writing looks angry, why no one actually speaks Arabic, and the meaning of the heavy metal umlaut.

Overturning the Babel myth, he argues that the messy diversity of language shouldn’t be a source of conflict, but of collective wonder. This is a book about hope, a love letter to language.


There is a delicious humour implicit in every page . . . [the book] is filled with a sense of wonder, gazing at languages that neither the writer nor reader understands . . . THE BABEL MESSAGE was such fun that I even went out and bought a Kinder Surprise Egg.