LANGUAGE. Jean-Pierre Gorin says in the beginning of his 1979 documentary on twins Gracie and Ginny Kennedy that "you can only be a foreigner in a language other than your own." These beautiful little girls became famous overnight for inventing their own language.

I fell hard for this French guy's lovingly pieced-together portrait of two little girls. A tale of immigration, linguistic idiosyncrasies, and twins in isolation.

"Pinit, putahtraletungay." (Finish, potato salad hungry.)
"Nis, Poto?" (This, Poto?)
"Liba Cabingoat, it." (Dear Cabengo, eat.)
"La moa, Poto?" (Here more, Poto?)


In order to understand their language you have to listen to the voices that dominate their lives.

MOTHER: Christine is German and she speaks a heavily accented English. She wanted to marry an American man because they put family first. Wears many wigs, cooks schnitzel.

"Two dingalings that are pretty alive."

FATHER: Tom is American, he speaks English. He used to introduce himself as "Tom Kennedy, like the President" or "I am from Georgia, like President Carter." He met Christine at Octoberfest in Munich. He is an unsuccessful real estate agent, an Air Force man in a Navy town.

"The only way to ever get rich in life is to help other people get rich."

GRANNY: Paula is German. Granny only speaks German. This is the voice they had heard the most. She makes all of the girls clothes and eats her dinners in the kitchen. I believe she may also wear wigs.

"They'll probably end up forgetting German altogether."




Overall development language and motor skills DELAYED.

The twins tend to be rather repetitive in the things that they talk about.


Dr. Elissa Newport, linguist: "What they seem to be doing is producing a lot of distortions in the normal sound patterns of English. Once you ignore the sound changes that they are producing the syntax is English with some kinds of constructions that they don't seem to have mastered."

Their output varies tremendously from one day to the next and that variation is not systematic.




Jean-Pierre does not know about kids


Listening to him comforting Ginny at the zoo makes me wish I had a French documentary filmmaker as my babysitter.

Ginny is terrified of showers because she was once told that she had water in her brain.

Jean-Pierre takes them to the book store and Gracie buys the VW repair manual and Ginny buys a treatise on astrophysics. Books are objects to touch, feel, & bang.

Granny hadn't seen the sea in 4 years. They all go over to Jean-Pierre's rental house. He shows them cucumber seeds and teaches them how to boil eggs and peel garlic.

"Their story wasn't with me but back home with their family."

The camera, held by LES BLANKS, captures many interactions. My favorite scene is a real estate practice conversation between Chris and Tom. Tom just got back a training session and asks Chris in front of the camera to role play with him. The conversation is carried by Chris and her pretend family. His pretend house doesn't live up to her expectations; there just isn't enough room and she needs a guarantee that the plumbing won't break.

Also, dinnertime and roaming the neighborhood.

The mystery was solved by the linguists. But what was going to happen to them?

They moved to a new house in a nicer neighborhood.

Gracie and Ginny had their own rooms and their chatter seemed lost in this big house.

The media doesn't care to follow up on the story that they had distorted.

The twins had lost their language and every day were becoming part of the real world.

Jean-Pierre is getting the feeling that everyone in this story will be left high and dry.

Ginny and Gracie were put in separate schools.

3 months after they stopped filming the documentary the Kennedy's couldn't make the rent. The twins stopped going to therapy. I will let you google their names to find out the rest.

Criterion just released the DVD of Poto & Cabengo in January. You can also find it on Hulu. It's such a good film. SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA DREAMSCAPE ORAL VISUAL SPECTACULAR.

G: whoopsido

V: boodaypoo


  1. this is such a thorough blog post, i feel like i dont need to see the movie. but i want to. miss you.

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  6. Dear TellYaWhat,

    I stumbled on this blog years (YEARS!) ago, and it has so many of my favorite things on (in?) it - Poto and Cabengo, Richard Brautigan (I have a framed copy of that San Francisco Weather Report broadside now, and it's my favorite thing I own) amazing photos, weird stuff, etc etc. Are you blogging somewhere else on the internet, five years later?

    Hope all is well. I come back here sometimes, just to poke around and see if there's anything new.

    xx Lindsay