None Legible.

A reader sent me this three-minute track from an ancient recording, asking “Any ideas on the language here?” Nope, so I turn the question over to the Many-Tongued Reader. It’s scratchy, but if you know the language I’m sure it’s recognizable. Thanks, Mik!


  1. I do not recognize the language/dialect, but it sounds like something Romance from the Italian peninsula.

  2. I first thought it was Middle Eastern, then decided it was probably from India. Mystery!

  3. Sounds Subcontinental to me. Listen to the beat, that bass drum especially.

  4. David Eddyshaw says

    Sounds Indic to me, too. I notice a lot of clauses seem to end in something like /e:/, which would fit the hypothesis …

  5. “L.P. have been copied to have the more friendly filenames.” Gee, I wonder what the old filenames were.

    There are 4261 audio items in the archive with name “None Legible”; many are in fact legible e.g. this Russian one has a very comprehensive label

  6. That’s very odd.

  7. I guess someone finds a stack of discs in the storeroom of a defunct recording company, donates them to the Internet Archive, which pays someone minimum wage to feed them into a recorder, photograph the label and use cheap OCR for metadata.

  8. Hat, Alex K, David Eddyshaw: I thought of the Indian subcontinent too, but I could not pick up any obvious retroflex/dental contrast, which is what brought my mind back to a part of Europe I have some knowledge of…

  9. PlasticPaddy says


  10. Gavin Wraith says


  11. Roberto Batisti says

    I can sort of see why it could almost sound Southern Italo-Romance in some places, but in the end it does sound Indic to me — the language as well as the music.

  12. hindi

  13. The URL ends in gbia0360089b ; the adjacent indexes may be from the same source:- gbia0360088b and gbia0360090a. The first of these has a spoken intro.

  14. hindi

    That was my thought as well, but I don’t know any of those languages, even superficially, enough to make an informed guess.

  15. The review on that page leads to a Twitter thread with a bunch of replies, that are about as definitive as our thread has been thus far – many people suggesting it sounds Indic.

    It’s soothing and hypnotic. I’m letting it autoplay each version in succession.

    I think the “more friendly filenames” are the ones that detail which recording method and equalization strategy has been used in each version.

  16. Thanks, I didn’t even notice the Twitter thread, where Anu Moorthy writes:

    Definitely Indian, translates to “True guru came” (Sadhguru Aayaa).

    For what that’s worth.

  17. I did see that reply, but unless the h is syllabic, I’m not catching Sadhguru Aayaa, so I didn’t know what to make of it. Is that reliable, or just the normal Rorschach test when listening to music we don’t understand. And “Definitely Indian” seemed a surprising way to put it if she truly recognized the language and understood the lyrics (not “Hindi” or “Gujurati”?) Is Anu Moorthy someone whose name you recognize?

  18. No, and I had the same reservations you did, hence my “For what that’s worth.” I just thought it might help point someone with more knowledge in the right direction.

  19. I hear “gúru áhyah éh á-hah a-háh” and, towards the end, “hindi yah.” Whatever it means. Depending on the genre, singing pronunciation may differ from everyday speech.

  20. Agreed – maybe “dukiya hindiya” or the same with -yah.

    The latter, of course, would mean they’re singing Judean names circa 7th century BCE.

    It’s a much older recording than we thought.

  21. To my ears, this is very definitely Indic, and almost certainly from a film soundtrack. The style of the music is identical to filmi songs from the 30s and 40s. I have dozens of films with songs that sound musically indistinguishable from this one, both in instrumentation and structure. After typing that, I note that some in the Twitter thread had said similar things.

    I hadn’t picked up “sadhguru” but right from the start of the recording I thought I was hearing “aaya re” repeated, and another phrase repeated a couple of times sounded to me like “aaj tak” – “until today”.

  22. Is the item pictured the recording in question? If so, is that writing below the upper left green spindle?

  23. Good question. If so, it looks like it might be Perso-Arabic-based (Urdu?).

  24. Yeah, that was my layperson’s guess. It looked kind of like an Arabic-adjacent script.

  25. Is the item pictured the recording in question? — Yes

    If so, is that writing below the upper left green spindle? — No; it looks like it was originally the same Presto label as gbia0360090a I linked above, or gbia0360091a

  26. i agree with robin: based on the music, i’d be very surprised if this wasn’t from the arab/turkish/persian musical world: the way the vocal/instrumental alternation-as-melodic-repetition works; the way the trills and bends fit into the melody lines; the mostly unharmonized melody; etc.

    i can’t make much meaningful out of the language – assuming that what i heard as “sadagora” is more likely to be “sadhguru”* – but as an overall flavor it sounds more like urdu/hindi than farsi, arabic, or turkish to me. which also matches how i’m hearing the music: more like the eastern zone of that musical space. but i wouldn’t be stunned to find out it was persian, afghani, or kurdish either.

    * i ~think~ i’d’ve heard if the ruzhiner hasidim have music like this, but you never know…

  27. When did 78s go out of regular issue? I believe only 33s (LPs) and 45s were being pressed in my youth in the 70s and 80s.

    Would that have varied much country to country? Not that it will help solve the mystery. Just curious.

  28. “When did 78s go out of regular issue?”

    When my father’s family left Karachi in Jan 1948 after Partition, their large collection of 78s was likely one of the heaviest parts of their baggage. That might be one more reason why I’m inclined to think of the song as “filmi Hindi” – which tended be slightly de-Persianized/re-Sanskritised Urdu with a lot of Panjabi influence.

  29. “When did 78s go out of regular issue?”

    In the US and Western Europe, 78s were phased out around about say 1953. That is, companies may have still been issuing 78s in 1955, but they were an increasingly small market segment by that time. For example, early Elvis songs came out on 78s as well as 45s. 78s did linger on longer in places like Africa and Asia.

    78s had the advantage that you could play them on a wind-up gramophone and you didn’t need electricity. I knew someone who grew up in the Western Isles of Scotland in the 1960s, and he listened to a wind-up gramophone because they had no electricity. He gave a very comical account of their dances–when the gramophone ran down, the dancers would freeze in position until someone wound it up again.

  30. Reviewer: brewster – favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite – October 20, 2021
    Subject: discussion of what this record is

    Parul Bedi
    Replying to
    its in Punjabi language and its about Sikhism. In this song they are welcoming the sat-guru (Guru Nanak Ji) and they are thanking him (Guru Nanak Ji) to show them the right path of life and showering blessing on them. I am from punjab and this is very old recording on gramophone

  31. Sounds like we have a winner! Thanks for finding and quoting that.

  32. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    Another advantage of wind-up gramophones in the 1950s is that you could let children play with them without much fear of what they might do. We used to play Abdul Abulbul Amir over and over again. (We didn’t have many other records.)

  33. John Cowan says

    Thurber tells of how his family’s recording of “No News, or What Killed The Dog” would get stuck at a certain groove from overplaying, thus: “ate some burnt hoss flesh, ate some burnt hoss flesh, ate some burnt hoss flesh, …”

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