Keith Kahn Harris

Saturday 24th - 17.00


A thrilling journey deep into the heart of language, from a rather unexpected starting point. Keith Kahn-Harris is a man obsessed with something seemingly trivial – the warning message found inside Kinder Surprise eggs: WARNING, read and keep: Toy not suitable for children under 3 years. Small parts might be swallowed or inhaled. On a tiny sheet of paper, this message is translated into dozens of languages – the world boiled down to a multilingual essence. Inspired by this, the author asks: what makes ‘a language’? With the help of the international community of language geeks, he shows us what the message looks like in Ancient Sumerian, Zulu, Cornish, Klingon – and many more. Along the way he considers why Hungarian writing looks angry, why no one actually speaks Arabic, and the meaning of the heavy metal umlaut. Overturning the Babel myth, he argues that the messy diversity of language shouldn’t be a source of conflict, but of collective wonder. This is a book about hope, a love letter to language.

Keith Kahn-Harris is a sociologist and writer, based in London. He currently holds posts at Birkbeck College, Leo Baeck College and the Institute for Jewish Policy Research. The author of six books, Keith has written for publications including the Guardian, Times Literary Supplement, New Humanist and many more. Keith started his career with a PhD at Goldsmiths College in the sociology of ‘extreme metal’ music scenes in the UK, Sweden and Israel. His research formed the basis of his first book EXTREME METAL: MUSIC AND CULTURE ON THE EDGE (Berg 2007). He continues to write about metal to this day. From his metal roots, Keith has branched out to writing about other subjects and publishing outside of academia. His book DENIAL: THE UNSPEAKABLE TRUTH (Notting Hill Editions 2018) confronted the pathologies of the post-truth era and STRANGE HATE: ANTISEMITISM, RACISM AND THE LIMITS OF DIVERSITY (Repeater 2019) intervened in the controversial question of modern antisemitism.