Posted in English

Buarque Life

Cover of the album "construção" by Chico Buarque
Cover of the album “Construção” by Chico Buarque

Continuing to fanboy about this song. Here’s a translation, highlighting the “Proparoxítono” words.

I’ve borrowed pretty heavily from some of the many versions on Lyricstranslate. They’re all by brazilians, I think, and they’ve done a great job, so I’ve cleaned up the english and made a few other changes but generally assumed they know more than I do about the point of the song. I found “flácido” really difficult to translate. It obviously means “flaccid” but that word just sounds so wrong in a song. I’ve gone for “sagging” since it fits in both the lines it’s used in. I think that’s the best I can do but this is the sort of thing that makes you realise how hard the job of the translator is.

A couple of interesting things to add:

Firstly, I didn’t notice when I heard it but the first two lines end in the same word. That’s a bit of a cheat, Chico, come on! It’s the only example of that though.

Secondly, he keeps the rest of the line unchanged almost all the time but there are a few other small changes, which I’ve highlighted in orange. The fact that portuguese doesn’t use many subject pronouns helps in this regard. In the first line, “fosse” goes from “it was” to “he was” with no need for other changes. You just get it from the context, because “única” changes gender, meaning it is now referring to the man, not to the (a) vez.

Amou daquela vez como se fosse a última
Beijou sua mulher como se fosse a última
E cada filho seu como se fosse o único
E atravessou a rua com seu passo tímido
Subiu a construção como se fosse máquina
Ergueu no patamar quatro paredes sólidas
Tijolo com tijolo num desenho mágico
Seus olhos embotados de cimento e lágrima
Sentou pra descansar como se fosse sábado
Comeu feijão com arroz como se fosse um príncipe
Bebeu e soluçou como se fosse um náufrago
Dançou e gargalhou como se ouvisse música
E tropeçou no céu como se fosse um bêbado
E flutuou no ar como se fosse um pássaro
E se acabou no chão feito um pacote flácido
Agonizou no meio do passeio público
Morreu na contramão atrapalhando o tráfego
He made love that time like it was the last time
He kissed his wife like she was the last woman
And kissed each child like they were the only one
And he crossed the street with his timid steps
He climbed the construction like he was a machine
He built up four solid walls at the next level
Brick after brick in a magical design
His eyes were crusted with cement and tears
He sat down to rest like it was Saturday
He ate rice and beans like he was a prince
He drank and sobbed like he’d been shipwrecked
He danced and laughed like he was listening to music
He tripped on the sky like he was a drunk
And he floated on the air like he was a bird
And he ended up on the ground like a sagging package
He agonized in the middle of the public pavement
He died on the wrong side of the road disrupting the traffic
Amou daquela vez como se fosse o último
Beijou sua mulher como se fosse a única
E cada filho seu como se fosse o pródigo
E atravessou a rua com seu passo bêbado
Subiu na construção como se fosse sólido
Ergueu no patamar quatro paredes mágicas
Tijolo com tijolo num desenho lógico
Seus olhos embotados de cimento e tráfego
Sentou pra descansar como se fosse um príncipe
Comeu feijão com arroz como se fosse o máximo
Bebeu e soluçou como se fosse máquina
Dançou e gargalhou como se fosse o próximo
E tropeçou no céu como se ouvisse música
E flutuou no ar como se fosse sábado
E se acabou no chão feito um pacote tímido
Agonizou no meio do passeio náufrago
Morreu na contramão atrapalhando o público
He made love that time like he was the greatest
He kissed his wife like she was the only one
And kissed each child like they were the prodigal son
And he crossed the street with his drunk steps
He climb the construction like it was a solid
He built up four magic walls at the next level
Brick after brick in logical design
His eyes were crusted with cement and traffic
He sat down to rest like he was a prince
He ate rice and beans like it was the greatest meal
He drank and sobbed like he was a machine
He danced and laughed like he was the next one
He tripped on the sky like he was listening to music
And he floated on the air like it was Saturday
And he ended up on the ground like a timid package
He agonized on the middle of the shipwrecked pavement
He died on the wrong side of the road distrupting the people
Amou daquela vez como se fosse máquina
Beijou sua mulher como se fosse lógico
Ergueu no patamar quatro paredes flácidas
Sentou pra descansar como se fosse um pássaro
E flutuou no ar como se fosse um príncipe
E se acabou no chão feito um pacote bêbado
Morreu na contramão atrapalhando o sábado
He made love that time like he was a machine
He kissed his wife like it was logical
He built up four sagging walls at the next level
He sat down to rest like he was a bird
And he floated on the air like he was a prince
And he ended up on the ground like a drunken package
He died on the wrong side of the road disrupting Saturday
Construção – Chico Buarque

The song was written in the seventies, during the dictatorship when Buarque was living in exile. There are a lot of theories about exactly wht he’s trying to do, but he hasn’t really spelled it out, preferring to let people speculate. There’s a definite shift between the three stages: the first one seems quite factual, the second sort of carefree, the third nightmarish. The social criticism is about the fact that, at the time, a lot of people were moving to the cities in search of a better life but finding that living conditions and working conditions were pretty terrible.

Posted in English, Portuguese

Buarque Ode

I’ve really got quite evangelical about this Chico Buarque song, you know. I insist that everyone should learn Portuguese so they can appreciate its greatness. Here’s something I wrote about it in WritestreakPT, and this probably won’t be the last time I mention it either!

Acabo de ler um capítulo do meu livro (“Idiotas Úteis e Inúteis” de Ricardo Araújo Pereira) no qual o autor descreve uma canção do cantor brasileiro Chico Buarque chamada “Construção”. A letra da canção tem um ritmo ligeiramente diferente do que o padrão. Porquê*? Seguindo o Ricardo, é por causa de… Hum… uma palavra desconhecida. Ainda por cima, mal consegui pronúnciá-la! Estava a ler na cama e o dicionário na mesa de cabeceira também a desconhecia, portanto tive de aguardar até hoje de manhã.

A palavra era “Proparoxítono”**. Significa que a palavra tem o acento tónico na antepenúltima sílaba. Todas as palavras de cada linha são proparoxítonas. Em resultado disso, a canção soa muito diferente de qualquer outra canção portuguesa que já ouvi.
Que colheita boa! Num único capítulo, aprendi uma nova palavra, ouvi falar duma nova canção (que é mesmo bonita – acreditem!) e ganhei um novo ponto de vista sobre a língua.

* miraculously the corrector found only one single error in this entire thing except that they thought this should change to “por quê?”. This surprised me a bit because explanations of the various types of por/que usually have only 3 forms and “por quê” is not one of them. According to ciberdúvidas it can be used if you are asking “for what?” but it doesn’t mean “why” according to Elsa Fernandes’s book so at the risk of sounding arrogant, I don’t think the corrector was quite on the mark here. [UPDATE – A better corrector came along and agreed that yes, I was right about Porquê, but they have also pointed out some other mistakes which I have since corrected in the text above. It wasn’t terrible…]

** Amazingly there is a second word for this. Two words meaning “having the accent on the antepenultimate syllable”! It’s like the Eskimos and snow! The other word is Esdrúxulo.

And finally if you’re wondering what you call words that have the stress on the final or penultimate syllable they are oxítono and paroxítono respectively.

Posted in English

Proparoxítono

This 👇

Is exactly the sort of thing I love. The writer is Ricardo Araújo Pereira, comedian, columnist and all round good guy (well, as far as I know) Anyway, in the passage above, he’s describing a song I don’t know and saying that if a foreigner were to hear it, although they would rightly spot that it sounds lovely, they probably wouldn’t understand it and certainly wouldn’t notice that the last word of every line is “proparoxítona”* and nor would they understand that the word “proparoxítono” itself is proparoxítona**. And he’s right: it is a lovely song and when I read this in bed last night I had no clue what Proparoxítono meant but I knew I had to find out as soon as I woke up.

First of all, let’s hear the song

Oh my god, that is the good stuff alright. I know it’s Brazilian Portuguese, not Portuguese Portuguese but Jesus Christ it’s good. Inject it directly into my veins! There is something slightly strange about the rhythm of the verse though isn’t there? And I never would have spotted what it was.

Before I get I to it, let’s lay a bit of groundwork by thinking about where the stress falls in a Portuguese word.

The vast majority of words in Portuguese put the stress on either the final syllable (if the last letter is r, l, z, m, u, i or n) or the penultimate one (basically, all other letters). Any exceptions to the rule need an accent to be added as a hint to the reader. So for example there are a lot of words that end in – ável or – ível that are pronounced with the stress on the a and the i respectively. If the accent wasn’t there you’d have to say incrivEL and confortavEL. But it’s pretty easy and you get used to it, and before you know it, you’re just used to the rhythm of Portuguese speech without even being conscious of it.

Proparoxítono means that the stress falls on the antepenultimate (last-but-two) syllable. These always have to have an accent because they break the normal rules, like bêbado (BÊ-ba-do) and mágico (MÁ-gi-co) and sábado (SÁ-ba-do) and última and único and tímido and… Well, and every other word he finishes a line with in the song, which is why you get this effect that’s really unusual in a Portuguese song, where the last two syllables of every line are unstressed.

Oh my god, that’s so satisfying. I love it! It’s the most value I’ve ever got out of a single paragraph, I think: a new word, a new song and a new way of noticing the rhythm of Portuguese music.

Anyway, if you want to know more, this video has some good analysis. It’s in Brazilian Portuguese too, so be warned if you’re trying to avoid the dialect. It’s worth making an exception for though.

*it has an a in the end here, unlike in the title, because its an adjective and palavra is feminine

**Now I know what you’re thinking: “Isn’t that the stuff Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying think should be used to cure Covid?” Close, but no, it’s not that either.