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Bellsybabble is the name of a fictional language of the Devil, mentioned by writer James Joyce in the following postscript to a letter (containing the story now known as "The Cat and the Devil"), which he wrote in 1936[1] to his four-year-old grandson:[2]:15–16

The devil mostly speaks a language of his own called Bellsybabble which he makes up himself as he goes along but when he is very angry he can speak quite bad French very well though some who have heard him say that he has a strong Dublin accent.

The name "Bellsybabble" is a pun on Beelzebub, "babble" and Babel. Bellsybabble has variously been called a poly-language,[3] a pluridialectal idiom[4] and a ludic creation.[5]:35


For Giorgio Melchiori, it is suggestive of the idea that in literary texts, there is not a single language, but a multitude of languages, a different one for each reader of the text.[2]:16 It has been compared with the language of Joyce's novel Finnegans Wake,[6] and has also provided the inspiration for C. George Sandulescu's study of Finnegans Wake, entitled The Language of the Devil.[7]:vi

Linguist John Haiman compares Bellsybabble to ordinary language in the way it continually shapes, and is in turn shaped by, the utterances spoken within it.[8]:178 This challenges the rigid separation between code and message. On one hand, the language determines the presupposed content and boundaries of possible messages, as shown by the concept of linguistic relativity. On the other hand, the message may also affect the code used by that very message.[9]


  1. ^ Milesi, Laurent (2003-07-24). James Joyce and the Difference of Language. Cambridge University Press. p. 60. ISBN 978-1-139-43523-9.
  2. ^ a b Melchiori, Giorgio (1992). "The Languages of Joyce". In Rosa Maria Bollettieri Bosinelli; Carla Marengo; Christine van Boheemen (eds.). The Languages of Joyce: Selected Papers from the 11th International James Joyce Symposium Venice 1988. John Benjamins Publishing.
  3. ^ Hodgkins, Hope Howell (2007). "High Modernism for the Lowest: Children's Books by Woolf, Joyce, and Greene". Children's Literature Association Quarterly. 32 (4): 354–367. ISSN 0885-0429. ProQuest 232430503.
  4. ^ Mihálycsa, Erika (2013). ""Writing to the self-accompaniment of a tongue that is not mine": The Figure of Translation in Beckett's Work". HJEAS : Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies. 19 (2): 343–374, 483, 487–488. Retrieved 2016-05-17.
  5. ^ Cronin, Michael (1998). "After Bellsybabble: Transformation, Invention, and Resistance in Translation". Parallèles. 19: 35–44.
  6. ^ Ferris, Kathleen Richard (1989). "James Joyce, Wandering Jew". United States -- Georgia: Emory University: 60. ProQuest 303794530. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  7. ^ Sandulescu, Constantin-George (1988). The language of the Devil : texture and archetype in Finnegans wake. Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire: C. Smythe. ISBN 978-0-8023-1284-6.
  8. ^ Haiman, John (1998). Talk is cheap : sarcasm, alienation, and the evolution of language. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-511524-6.
  9. ^ In English, this can happen in sentences of the type "A is B", where "A" differs from "B" in person or number. Here the grammatical pattern that requires a verb to agree with its subject can give way, allowing agreement with whatever is asserted to be identical to the subject. Thus in the sentence "Our Father, who are in heaven," it is only the use of "Our Father" as a term of address that allows the verb "are" to be in the second person. (Haiman 1998, p. 177)
This page was last edited on 11 February 2021, at 23:59
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