Posted in English

Sara Tavares Educates Me About Spelling

I’ve been talking online lately about variant spellings, mainly in Brazil but also in other countries. I guess I was trying to pick out, from the vast soup of different spellings on twitter, which are brazilian, which are the result of fusion of portuguese and african languages and which are just street slang or just some sort of online abbreviations, memes and what-have-you, but I was listening to a specific Cape Verdean album and went down a rabbit-hole as a result.

So… I was going to try and write a post about the portuguese language in the “Palop” (Países Africanos de Língua Oficial Portuguesa) in general, but decided I wasn’t really clever enough or patient enough to do it justice. So by way of example, decided to just write about a couple of songs on the album instead because it’s good and worth listening to even without using an interest in etymology as an excuse.

Sara Tavares is a portuguese singer of Cape Verdean descent. Wait, wait, stop the paragraph because there’s a cool linguistic diversion right there: if you look her up on wikipedia you’ll see that the portuguese way of saying “descent” is “ascendência”, not “descendência”, like the two languages are looking at the family tree from opposite ends!

Anyway, she’s been active since the mid nineties and collaborated with a lot of portuguese artisits like Buraka Som Sistema, Da Weasel and Nelly Furtado, as well as recording a song for the portuguese version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. She’s won a load of awards and been nominated for a load more. A british music magazine called Taplas once said “If the sunlight had a sound, it would sound like the voice of Sara Tavares” which is a pretty great compliment.

Anyway, I’m happy to listen to her music even if I don’t understand it but I’d also quite like to understand it. Some of her songs are easier to understand than others though and there’s a reason for that.

Her latest album is called Fitxado which I think means Fechado (closed). The first song I heard from it was “Coisas Bunitas” – Coisas Bonitas (Nice Things)

Diz-me coisas bunitas 
Sussurradas ao ouvido com sabor 

Diz-me que a minha carapinha 
te faz lembrar uma coroa de rainha 

Tell me nice things, whispered in my ear with feeling. Tell me my hair looks like a queen’s crown. Why “Carapinha” for hair? It’s a specific word for thick, curly hair, particularly black people’s hair.

That’s all easy enough, but what about another of her songs, “Txom Bom”? No idea. What I think has happened is that she’s moved from portuguese to Cape Verdean Creole (Crioulo Cabo-Verdeano), which is rooted in portuguese but has become its own language. So… If Fitxado means Fechado then maybe that “TX” is equivalent to “CH” in other words too. Let’s look at the lyrics and see if there’s a clue:

Pe na txom, surrisu strela

“Pe na txom” = “pe na chom” = “pé na chão”? Foot on the floor? Well.. that makes sense. Chão is masculine so it would be no, not na in Portuguese but maybe that’s one of the areas where the two languages diverge?

And “surrisu strela” = sorriso estrela? star smile… hm… I can just believe that.

É pé na txom ki levanu fora 
É pé na txom ki levanu dentu
É pé na txom ki levanu lonji

“É um pé no chão que leva fora / É um pé no chão que leva dentro / É um pé no chão que leva longe”…? Plausible… That would make Txom Bom “Good Floor” which sounds surprising, but there’s a neighbourhood in Santiago in Cape Verde called Txom Bom, so maybe it’s like a good place, some good land… something like that… I don’t know. I should probably ask my wife who was born there but she was a baby when she left so I doubt she’d had time to pick up much of the local language. And I’m sort of content not to know; I like crosswords, and the idea that there’s a word puzzle waiting to be solved intrigues me so I’m happy to wait for the light to dawn.

The lyrics are written out here if you want to see the whole thing.


Just a data nerd

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