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Eyes Wide Shut was a very strange movie. Whether it was good or not is a much more divisive question, and one which I will leave up to the reader. However, what caught my attention more than anything else was the score used in the infamous masked orgy scene. Having purchased the soundtrack, which I determined to be mediocre overall, I learned that the piece was entitled “Masked Ball” and was composed by British violinist, Jocelyn Pook.

Creepy, isn’t it? One reviewer called it the scariest piece of music since “Ave Satani.” I disagree, as I find “Masked Ball” much more disturbing.

Of course, the music is nothing special; its nothing more than a series of string chords (whether they’re played by a synthesizer or an ensemble I’m not entirely sure.) What makes this piece so menacing is the chanting. One of the most brilliant ideas used in the film was to pace the ritual in such a way as to make it appear that the chanting was being done by the high priest character (the actual footage is extremely not safe for work, and thus will not be included here.)

So what is the secret behind that chant? What language is it in? How did Ms. Pook come up with such an idea?

A bit of research reveals that the ominous chant is actually an Orthodox mass performed in Romanian and played backwards.  The original excerpt is as follows:

Zisa domnului către ucenicii săi,
Poruncă nouă dau vouă.

Domnului să rugăm pentru mila viața pacea sănătatea mântuirea cercetarea lăsarea și iertarea păcatelor rubilor lui Dumnezeu.
Închinatori miluitori și binefăcatori ai sfântului lăcașului acestuia.

…which, in English, means:

God said to His disciples
A new commandment I give to you

We still pray for the mercy, the life, the peace, the health, the salvation, the scrutiny, neglect and forgiveness of the sins of God’s servants, worshipers, almsgivers, benefactors of this holy site.

I want to take the time here to point out Pook’s genius here. What better way to express a blasphemous evil than to literally invert a Christian mass by playing it backwards?

But this is supposed to be an article on language! Ever since I saw the film, I had wondered what the chanters were saying, and even when I learned they were speaking backwards I still wanted to know what the actual phonemes were. Thus finding the original Romanian transcribed was a wonderful revelation. The good news is that Romanian, like its relatives, Spanish and Italian, and unlike English, features a very close relationship between phonetics and spelling, irregularities being very rare. The bad news was that every transcription I could find left the (very important) diacritics out entirely! I found the marked version in, of all places, the comments section of a YouTube video (again, not linked due to nudity.)

The Romanian Alphabet, is, like its sisters French, Spanish, and Italian, based on the Latin alphabet but with several letters marked to indicate a different sound. The relevant marks are explained below:

  • ă indicates a schwa sound, similar to the first and third o‘s in “photography.”
  • î and â both indicate a sound which is not considered notable in English. It is similar to ă but pronounced higher in the mouth, similar to the i in “sir.” ă and â are difficult for English speakers to differentiate, but are important in Romanian. î is used only at the beginnings of words, while â is used in the middles and ends of words.
  • ș represents the sound English speakers represent through the combination sh.
  • ț represents the combination ts, which is considered a single sound in many languages.
  • Also of note is the Italian derived convention where c and g are softened to sound like the English ch and j when followed by an i or an e. Like Italian, i and e are occasionally used solely for the purpose of softening a c or g. Also like Italian, the digraphs ch and gh are used to indicate that the consonant is not softened.
  • Other consonants may be “softened” (aka, palatalized) in the same manner as c and g, a feature common in the neighboring Slavic languages, which influenced the development of Romanian from Latin. This palatalization is indicated at the end of words by a final i, an actual final i sound being indicated by a double i. My transcription mostly ignores this.

For the most part, transcribing the film version is a simple case of writing the words backwards, because of Romanian’s high degree of correlation between spelling and pronunciation (as distinct from French’s vowel abuse and English’s downright chaotic spelling.) That said, the result would be phonetically inaccurate and downright unreadable. The most important consideration is the reversal of soft c and ț. English speakers have grown up with the ch sound being treated as a single sound all their lives, and so it surprises most non-linguists to learn that ch is actually two sounds: t and sh pronounced in rapid succession. Thus this must be taken into account when reversing a word featuring these sounds. ț -> st; ce -> eșt. ge does not appear in this excerpt, but if it did it would reverse to ejd (Romanian j corresponding to the s in the English word “pleasure.”)

In writing the final transcription, I decided to use the Romanian alphabet, with the addition of two obsolete letters: ĭ and ŭ, used to represent the sounds equivalent to English y and w. In one case a reversed st was changed to ț, and an initial î  was changed to â because it was now at the end of the relevant word.

The end result is:

Ăŭov ŭad ăŭon ăcnurop
Ĭăs iștineștu ertăc ĭulunmod azis

Aĭuțeșta ĭulușacăl ĭulutnâfs ĭa
Rotacăfenib iș rotĭulim rotanicnâ
Ŭezunmud ĭul rolibur roletacăp aeratreĭ iș aerasăl
Aerateștreșt aerĭutnâm aetatănăs aeștap astaĭv alim urtnep măgur en ăs ĭulunmod.

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