Speak in Broken Language

Elise Chapman (2024)

Speak in Broken Language is a 50-page publication, paying homage to the duality of culture without language. Through almost exclusively hand-production methods, (including letterpress, calligraphy, screen printing, and sewn binding), I explore what it means to be raised with German culture but not with German language, also parsing the Americana context of my family’s language loss and behavior. The handmade nature of the publication is intentional in creating a full-bodied sense of care, encouraging the reader to linger on every page and to connect the dots between history, linguistic theory, and the pieces of my life. Overall, the narrative is trailing and ultimately inconclusive, mirroring the parts of my identity that were, strictly speaking, lost in translation.

In the book, the Sapir-Whorf linguistic hypothesis is printed via letterpress (Univers, 10pt) into the center of the pages, providing a literal background to my more personal anecdotes and reflections, all hand-calligraphed in blue. The calligraphy is a personal take on the larger family of blackletter, intentionally steering away from Fraktur Blackletter / Grotesk Blackletter resemblance. On some pages, I have tipped in family photos to accompany the text. Among the tip-ins however, are two text-based ephemera; the first being a typewriter reproduction of the 1918 Iowan Babbel Proclamation (a foreign language ban meant to target German) and the second being a handwritten recipe for Honiglebkuchen. On the covers, I have screen-printed a photo of myself and my grandfather and a picture of the Alps near the Stubaital glacier, intending for the compositions to mirror each other. The book is printed on 100lb. cover-weight white speckle-tone paper from French Paper, the covers are on chipboard, and bound in blue cotton thread using chain stitch.

This project was made possible with support from FRFF Grant #2024-002. Additional images can be found here.