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Submarine Channel’s “Unspeak” zeroes in on the power of language to obscure reality as much as it explains it, with a series of shorts that deconstructs today’s ubiquitous bits of jargon.

2013 Tommy Pallotta
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“Every day there are these new terms that you see that are really manipulated in different ways… so we thought it would also be a really good concept to take on as a transmedia project.”

Femke Wolting, Producer, in Nederlands Film Festival

Words describe the world around us, but the words we choose and the phrases we’re fed everyday are shaping our world as well. The interactive documentary Unspeak examines how, by trapping our perceptions of certain issues within carefully chosen terminology, words we think we understand are functioning as words that hold back our understanding. When the news media inundates our screens with the phrase “The War on Terror,” how does it solidify our understanding of global conflicts? How are our feelings about the financial crisis managed by governments’ calls for “Austerity Measures”? This interactive piece aims to examine the meaning—and at times, the meaninglessness—behind the words.

Unspeak is based on the book of the same name by British journalist Steven Poole, whose subtitle invokes the notion of “words as weapons”—this became the titular concept at the heart of the first of six shorts that make up the core of Submarine Channel’s examination. In addition to the short films, the interactive project uses data visualizations of actual uses of various “unspeak” words and phrases. It also includes a participatory aspect in the form of a public dictionary, where users can add new words to the “unspeak” lexicon.

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