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Grammelot (also known as Gromalot[1]) is a style of language used in satirical theatre, a gibberish with macaronic and onomatopoeic elements, used in association with mime and mimicry. The format dates back to the 16th century Commedia dell'arte, and some claim Grammelot to be a specific universal language (akin to Lingua franca) devised to give performers safety from censorship and appeal whatever the dialect of the audience.


In an essay entitled “L’art du grommelot” (Le Figaro, April 20, 2006), French scholar Claude Duneton suggests the word (not the technique) – in its French form, grommelot – has its origins in the Commedia dell’arte-derived French theatre of the early part of the twentieth century. Duneton studied briefly with Léon Chancerel (1886–1965), who was a major figure in this branch of theatre. Chancerel in fact uses the word in his book, Le théatre et la jeunesse (Paris: Bourrellier 1946:47). Others, such as theatre scholar John Rudlin in Commedia dell'arte: An Actor's Handbook (London: Routeledge 1994:60), suggest this origin as well.

While the historical origin of the term is unclear, it has been particularly popularized by the Nobel-winning Italian playwright Dario Fo. His 1969 show Mistero Buffo ("Comic Mystery Play") was a satirical touring performance involving sketches based on mediaeval sources, told in Fo's own grammelots constructed from archaic Po Valley dialects and phonemes from modern languages (he has coined separate Italian, French and American grammelots). In his Nobel lecture, Fo referred to the 16th-century Italian playwright Ruzzante's invention of a similar language based on Italian dialects, Latin, Spanish, German and onomatopoeic sounds.[2]

Another notable modern Italian exponent is the Milan actor/writer Gianni Ferrario.[3] Mainstream comics have also used Grammelot-like language: for instance, Stanley Unwin. The Canadian circus and entertainment troupe Cirque du Soleil uses in its routines similar forms of language; journalists often term them "Cirquish",[4] but Cirque du Soleil's own staff use the word "Grommelot".[5]

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