It’s probably not an academically approved way to learn a language, and the ultimate result will probably not be a working vocabulary I can use in everyday conversation, but I gotta say: it’s great fun trying to translate Quebecois trad lyrics word by word and phrase by phrase. It’s like the songs are in CODE, and I have to break the code!
And so far I have learned the following things:
One, like most Celtic music, Quebecois trad falls into the three general categories of Whiskey, Sex, and Death. And many songs will fall into all of these categories at once.
Two, there are a surprisingly large number of ducks in these songs. This is not so strange in a song about hunting, but in a song about a wedding night?! I pointed at the Charbonniers’ “Lundi Mardi Jour de Mai“, and she explained it was a song about a wedding, and then promptly went “buh?!” when she realized the happy couple had ducks right next to their bed. Quackez-vous, baby! Quackez-vous.
Three, French makes even not-work-safe phrases like ‘va te faire’ sound awesome in front of a 69-piece orchestra. Look it up, Internets! And then just imagine the English equivalent in front of an orchestra!
Four, some tiny bits of vocabulary I haven’t hung out with since college are suddenly trying to get back in touch. Why hello there, pronouns! How’s it going, conjugation of être? And you guys have brought me a few more verbs, too! How nice of you!
And now, Internets, I give you a sampling of critical verbs I am picking up from my study of the lyrics of Le Vent du Nord, Les Charbonniers de l’Enfer, and La Volée de Castors!
- être: to be
- avoir: to have
- tuer: to kill (useful for all songs in the Death category)
- aimer: to love (category Sex)
- boire: to drink (category Whiskey)
- jouer: to play
- chanter: to sing
- danser: to dance
So yeah. I’m still at the point of most of these lyrics parsing in my brain as ‘blah blah blah’ (only prettier than that, because, y’know, French), but comprehendible phrases are starting to pop out at me. Like ‘rejoindre mon bataillon’, or ‘ouvrez, ouvrez la porte, mon père, si vous m’aimez’.
(Which is also in a fun song about a girl who apparently thinks nothing of freeloading off a young captain who takes her to a fancy hotel in Paris and wines and dines her. And she fakes her own death, and after three days begs her father to let her out of the tomb.
Either that, or else she’s a zombie. I’m not sure which!)
So yeah. Maybe not a working vocabulary, but if you need somebody to sing about what an asshole the son of the king is for shooting a shepherdess’ white ducks? I’ll be your girl!