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Batiscafo Katiuscas

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This is Batiscafo Katiuscas, a song by the Mallorcan band Antònia Font, one of the biggest hit-makers in the Catalan language. First of all, do yourself a favor, and simply listen to all of it. (The video is not official. A nice amateur person on YouTube made it. The images roughly follow the lyrics.)

It is a kind of a Catalan “Space Oddity”. Here’s my attempt at translating the lyrics:

Batiscafo monoplaça,
Es teu focus a s’abisme
De ses aigües insondables
Només tu les averigües.
Single-place bathyscaphe
Your focus is on the abysm,
Its profound waters,
Only you investigate them.
Batiscafo socialista
Redactant informe tràgic
“Camarada maquinista
A institut oceanogràfic.”
Socialist bathyscaphe
Editing a tragic message
“Comrade engineer
To the oceanographic institute.”
Batiscafo solitari
Dus un ruting planetari.
Solitary bathyscaphe
You are carrying planetary routing.
“Retxes de sol atravessen blaus marins,
Ses algues tornen verdes
I brillen ses estrelles, que ja s’ha fet de nit
I es plàncton s’il·lumina
I cantes ses balenes a trenta mil quilòmetres d’aquí.
“Rays of sunshine penetrate the marine blues,
The algae turn green,
And the stars sparkle, it’s the night already
And the plancton illuminates itself
And the whales sing thirty thousand kilometres from here,
Retxes de sol atravessen blaus marins,
Ses algues tornen verdes
I brillen ses estrelles, que ja s’ha fet de nit
I es plàncton s’il·lumina
I canten ses sirenes aproximadament per no existir.”
Rays of sunshine penetrate the marine blues,
The algae turn green,
And the stars sparkle, it’s the night already
And the plancton illuminates itself
And the sirens sing approximately for not existing.”
Batiscafo socialista
Redactant informe tràgic,
Catedràtic Yuri Puscas
A institut oceanogràfic.
Socialist bathyscaphe
Editing a tragic message
“Professor Yuri Puscas
To the oceanographic institute.”
Batiscafo Katiuscas
Fas un atles visionari.
Bathyscaphe Katiuscas
You are making a visionary atlas.

Some curious notes:

  • I don’t know where do the names Katiuscas and Yuri Puscas come from. My guess is that the author tried to make Soviet names. They came out more Lithuanian than Russian, but than can still be Soviet.
  • You can easily notice the es articles, commonly used in Mallorca – es teu, s’abisme, ses aigües, etc. Antònia Font use them quite consistently in their songs. The Catalan band Glissando* performed a cover version of this song with el articles: el teu, l’abisme, les aigües.

  • Another easily noticeable Mallorcan property is the pronunciation of aigües “waters” as aigos.
  • The spelling retxes for “rays”, which appears in the CD booklet, is quite unusual. It’s pretty certain that the author refers to “rays”, but the standard spelling would be raig in singular and raigs or rajos in plural. The spelling retxes is probably a colloquial Mallorcan variation, but I couldn’t find in any dictionary.
  • The author uses at least two Spanish words: “averiguar” to investigate” and “atravesar” to cross, penetrate”. For the second word the corresponding Catalan word is travessar without ‘a’, but it is nevertheless spelled in the Catalan manner with double-s. For the first word there’s no direct correspondence. There’s probably nothing too deep about it: Even though this band only performs in Catalan, it is not really purist, but simply uses words naturally as they come, “barbarisms” or not.
  • I don’t quite know what “planetary routing” is. It may even be translated incorrectly. The original word is ruting, which sounds like an English loanword, but could refer to a lot of things.

Most importantly, it’s a great song. The odd intro has disparate notes that collect themselves into an arpeggio over a minute, and this arpeggio becomes the songs main hook. On the CD the intro is actually a separate track. The guitar climax in the second chorus, as simple as it is, is a wonderful rock moment.

Finally, I have a sweet personal memory of listening to this in a lesson in my 2010 Catalan summer course, right there in Mallorca – it was, in fact, part of the curriculum. Now that’s a good way to teach young people a foreign language: Rock’n’roll.


Written by aharoni

September 28, 2014 at 20:55

Treballar in Valencian

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As i was driving around Catalonia i listened to iCat.fm all the time. They play great music, and the lovely accent of the DJ’s on that station was probably the main reason that i decided to learn Catalan seriously.

They played a lot of Catalan music there, and i didn’t remember any artists names, except for Mazoni. They are a modern pop-rock band, quite similar to Super Furry Animals, but without most of the Furries’ sonic tricks. Their album “Si els dits fossin xilòfons” (“If Fingers Were Xylophones”) was one of the CD’s that i bought in my last day in Barcelona. There’s one song there, called “La granja de la Paula”, which is a translated version of Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm”. There’s an excellent music video for this song, which is available on YouTube: Mazoni – La granja de la Paula. (Seriously, this is the best music video that that i saw since Radiohead’s “There There” from 2003.)

Now, if you search YouTube for “La granja de la Paula”, the first result is original Mazoni’s video, and the second result is a goofy video of a guy called Ganxito lipsynching to the song in a record store: Ganxito – La granja de la Paula.

Now, finally, the linguistic part: The first line is “No penso treballar a la granja de la Paula mai més” (“I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more”). When Ganxito sings this line, he clearly pronounces the word “treballar” (“work”) as /treβa’ʎar/, while Mazoni’s singer Jaume Pla pronounces /trəβə’ʎa/. Ganxito’s pronunciation appears more intuitive to people who know some Spanish or Italian, but haven’t studied Catalan, because the e is pronounced as the Spanish e and both a‘s are pronounced as the Spanish a, and he also pronounces the final r as in Spanish. However, Pla’s pronunciation is the one that is taught as the standard literary Catalan pronunciation, which is based on the speech of Barcelona. In this standard pronunciation non-stressed a‘s and e‘s both sound as /ə/ and the final r of infinitives is not pronounced.

At first i thought that Ganxito’s main spoken language is Spanish, and he just pronounces Catalan incorrectly, reading it from a lyrics sheet as if it was written in Spanish. I quickly dismissed this thought, because it appeared that he writes a lot of Catalan at his website. My next thought was that he lives in an area where the pronunciation is different from that of Barcelona, most likely Valencia. Since he didn’t write where he lives, i just asked him through a comment on the video. And he replied! And yes, he lives in Valencia!

Not bad – after less than half a year of studying this language, without any formal training in its dialectology, and without ever having met anyone from Valencia, i pulled a Professor Higgins and guessed the origin of his accent.

This phenomenon is somewhat similar to the contrast of “okanye” and “akanye” in Russian and its sister languages. This refers to the pronunciation of non-stressed o: When a word is supposed to have an /o/ sound for etymological reasons, but the syllable is not stressed, the vowel of that syllable tends is. So in standard Russian the word that is written борода (beard) is pronounced /bara’da/, as if it was written барада, but it is pronounced /boro’da/ in some dialects of Russian outside of Moscow. In standard Ukrainian this word is written the same way as in Russian, but pronounced /boro’da/, and in Belarusian it is written барада and pronounced accordingly, as in standard Russian. (I don’t mean to say that Ukrainian and Belarusian are dialects of Russian.)

Written by aharoni

March 18, 2008 at 22:56