Some Words I Mispronounce

1971, 2:20 min, b&w, sound

These two anecdotes are paradigmatic of Baldessari's investigations of language systems and meaning through disjunction and juxtaposition. In a strategy that recurs throughout his work, Baldessari presents the pieces as lessons, appearing first as teacher and then as student. Some Words I Mispronounce is an absurdist exercise in which he writes a series of words on a blackboard — poor, cask, bade, Beelzebub, bough, sword. The words are never pronounced. The second lesson juxtaposes two sign systems, language and music. As instructed by a foreign language lesson book (a found object), Baldessari repeats a sentence — "You tell me what I do" — according to notes on a musical scale. His intonations are exaggerated, his delivery is deadpan, and the phrase is rendered absurd. Ironically, the literalness of the phrase as articulated, and the reduction of English to basic units of sound and pronunciation, nullifies the point of the lesson — to speak the language fluently.