Monday, August 20, 2012

Trotting Rhymes & Old Languages

It seems to me that any culture that had horses has "trotting rhymes", bits of doggerel chanted by parents as they bounce a toddler on their knees. My folks had one in English ("Trot trot to Boston, trot trot to Lynn.."), but the one my siblings and I remember was "Italian". The quotes are because I came to realize long ago it was not remotely like any Italian I could find.

To start, a by- ear version as described by my sister Karen after we had been kicking it around for a while:"I do like my Boston dialect better!! ...and how I remember it as a kid...(& phonetically)"

“Trot trot cuhvalot
Soody payah Soody Mott
Boom puhng boom ving
Fahtra tahkel

Hmmm. Next- there is no chronological way to do this-- a "Piedmontese dialect" version from the Italian folklore site Filastrocche. I am going to omit their REAL Italian translation here-- suffice to say it needs one!

Trot trot cavalin,
trot trot cavalot;
sù pe i prà
giù pe i mot
fà trotaa quel bel fiulin.

Babel was unable to achieve a translation from this in either Italian or French, but from the Italian it managed this, in its entirety: “Trotta trotta cavallino, trotta trotta cavallone; on meadows down by hillocks bum ... bread bum ... wine makes trotted that beautiful child!”

Ohhhkay... But actually I had some ideas. I wrote to Karen. "Actually you-- we-- SAY it right. Except for "Fahtra tahkel" which I have been trying to figure for years—my best guess below. I have heard the various dialects called Ladin (label favored by our Swiss- Italian “relatives” in Magdalena), or simply the patois, a perfectly good French word which is what the grandparents called it -- though they didn't pronounce it very French; more like "Pahtweye". They are trying to standardize Ladin in Switzerland now, and there are TWENTY competing versions; that is, ONE of the dialects has twenty versions.

"I believe these languages pre-date the separation of the Romance languages as we know them today. Have you ever heard Catalan (southeastern Spain), or Provencal? Provencal, spoken in the southeast of France, begins to approach "our" tongue. In the 19th century there was a nationalist revival movement for the Provencal language, which everyone spoke before French, or so they say. But...

"When I was in Provence in ‘92 the old people didn't speak Provencal, which seemed an archaic or pretentious thing to do, like an ostentatious use of one of the Gaelic tongues.Instead, they spoke what they called "Provencal French". You know what it sounded like to me? Two things, actually. One was Medieval French, as written in the poems of Villon, which has lots of “ng” endings; the other was whatever the hell our grandparents spoke. Villon, my old Provencal buddy Pierre Stoyanovich (only 1/8 Slavic-- he looked exactly like Dad) and Nana and Grandpa all called wine "ving" and bread "pung". The French call wine "vin" pronounced van, and bread "pain" pronounced pan; the Italians call wine "vino", pronounced exactly like it sounds, and bread "pane".

"Different countries? Travel was slow long ago, but Ispra is only 240 miles from Orange in France, biggest town near where I was-- no distance at all in a place the size of the state I live in now. Language? The scholars who put things like our trotting rhyme on line are Italian academics and tend to spin the spelling in the Italian manner. But without French I could never translate our rhyme.

"Bum!" is of course nothing more than BOOM! But you know what I think? French for good is "bonne"; Italian is "buono"; Spanish is "bueno". What my ear heard in Provence from the old boys for “good” was something like "boong" or "boon". It ain't (explosive) “BOOM!” ving..."


Trot trot covalot,
Su de pierre ,
Giu di mot,
Buon (pronounced like “boon”) pung, Buon ving ,
Fa trot’ que bel

(For Karen's "Fahtra tahkel", I submit "Fa trotta que bel", pronounced "fah trot' que bel" FA TRO KAY BELL , which is sorta kinda French for "who trots so well or prettily", sounds like our pronunciation, and is a reasonable thing to say about a pretty young horse). And a question: what is the difference in sound & meaning of "su de" (sous de Fr.?) and "Giu de" in the ear and mind of an English speaking child?

Pierre Stoyanovich, heir of Jean- Henri Fabre, debating evolution, Vitalism, and Carbon with his old friend "The Prrriest!", Pere Henri Michel, over roe deer dinner in Provence:

Separated at birth? Joe Bodio sailing off St Croix:


Federico said...

fà trotaa quel bel fiulin

Taking in account it's not my dialect (and taking in account I don't speak my own dialect anyway), sounds it could be translated 'make the beautiful child trot', with the same uncertainty of who/what maks the child trot, i.e, is it an exhortation to the parents? or is the child trotting to get bred and wine?

Steve Bodio said...

I think there may be a couple of versions with different words-- look in the Italian site or Google-- but your guess may be better than mine!

Re "don't speak my own dialect"-- my second cousin Nives Arzeni, who lives in Ispra, speaks real Italian, and she also speaks French which we communicate in-- neither of us knows the dialect. Younger people in Provence seem to speak regular French. I think these old ways are dying out.

Reid Farmer said...

We need more linguist commenters.

Sorry, I'm just and archaeologist

Chas Clifton said...

Me, I'll stick with "Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross".

Federico said...

I don't speak my local dialect because my parents communicate in Italian -- arguably my mother speaks Italian as proper as it can be because my grandmother was from Florence, but my mum did not grow up in Tuscany (mostly). My mum uses the right words, but does not use them with a regional accent.

Incidentally, not speaking dialect is not new. My dad did not speak dialect at all growing up, and had to learn it when his family moved in the countryside to avoid the bombings during WWII -- the country kids would make fun of him for speaking Italian. Because my father learned dialect before TV existed, and because he's a linguist, he can tell you what people think is dialect nowadays is actually a mongrel language, a 'dialectisation' of Italian.

PS Assumin we're talking of Italian and not Isprian, 'bread' is 'pane', not 'panno' (that means 'cloth').

Reid Farmer said...

An archaeologist who can't spell

Steve Bodio said...

Thanks Federico-- will fix.

Anonymous said...

Dear Steve, here's is your cousin Nives from Italy, just wanted to take this happy occasion to wish you "Merry Christmas" and "Happy New Year"
As far as my version of "Trotting Rhymes" I remember my father when I was just a little girl:
"Trott Trott cavalot...giò di pèè su di Mott, salte salte bundidà...qé te dò de mangià, qè te dò um cugià de ris, bun pan, bun vin...trotte trotte ur cavalin" =^_^= Nives

Steve Bodio said...

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year Nives! Send us some photos (to I will do a new post with your words.

Readers: my cousin Nives still lives near my grandparents' home town, and looks like she could be one of my sisters!