Take this relative pronoun with a grain of salt

Just because you have a sweet voice doesn’t mean that you won’t use a relative pronoun here and there. Or poison someone.

I’m a sucker for female singer-songwriters with a certain kind of voice.  Ingrid Michaelson has it.  Yael Naïm, too.  Regina Spektor has it, sometimes.  Carole King has it sometimes now that she’s older, but didn’t when she was younger.

Recently I’ve found a French-Canadian woman who has it in spades.  Ingrid St-Pierre is a woman from Quebec who studied psychology, then went on to become a singer.  Why she didn’t win when she competed on the Canadian equivalent of “The Voice,” I’ll never know; she has had a successful recording career, just having released her third album; gets daily airtime on Canadian radio; and is touring like crazy.

Her songs are generally serious, but she has one very funny one, Pâtes au basilic (“Basil pasta”), that is really quite cute.  See the video above–it’s about a psycho-killer ex-girlfriend.  The Zipf’s Law connection for the day: the first verse of the song uses a type of word that I’m not very comfortable with.  It can function as a relativizer, i.e. it can mark a relative clause; it can also be used to ask questions.  (Hence the fact that it is commonly called an interrogative something-or-other.)  In this case, it’s a marker of a relative object, i.e. it’s standing in for a relativized thing, and the thing that is modified by the relative clause is the object, rather than the subject, of the verb.

Enough grammatical terminology–let’s turn to Ingrid’s song.

Mon amour, je t’ai préparé des pâtes au basilic My love, I’ve made you basil pasta
j’ai pris soin d’y mélanger les trucs auxquels t’es allergique I’ve taken care to mix in all of the things that you’re allergic to
faut surtout pas t’inquiéter pour l’arrière goût qui pique  It’s especially important that you not worry about that last taste that burns
j’espère que j’ai bien dosé les gouttes d’arsenic I hope that I’ve regulated well the taste of arsenic

(Translation by me, so take it with a grain of salt.)  There are sooo many things that we could talk about just in this one verse, but let’s stick with the relative.

The word auxquels is related to the word lequel and its different gender-related and number-related forms.  For starters, let’s review those:

Masculine Feminine
Singular lequel laquelle
Plural lesquels lesquelles

 We typically see those forms when the word is being used as an interrogative (Je veux un de ces livres.  Lequel?  “I want one of these books.  Which one?”)  or as a subject relative.  However, even with object relatives, we can see this form in the feminine singular: J’aime la femme à laquelle je pense en ce moment “I love the woman about whom I’m thinking at this moment.”  When the word is being used to relativize an object, we’ll typically have a preposition in front of it, and if that preposition is à, then that undergoes the typical à + le = au and à + les = aux mergers.  So, that’s how we get auxquels in the song.  We have lesquels for trucs “things,” and we’re talking about the person being allergic “to” those things.  À plus les gives us aux, so we have les trucs auxquels t’es allergique–“The things to which you’re allergic.”  For the sake of completeness, here’s the full paradigm:

Masculine Feminine
Singular auquel à laquelle
Plural auxquels auxquelles

There’s a similar set for the situation where the preposition is de, but let’s do those another time.  In the meantime, enjoy the Ingrid St-Pierre video.

3 thoughts on “Take this relative pronoun with a grain of salt”

  1. (I’ll take a break from grammar on this last day of a pretty full year), but the video is fantastic! the text is lovely light black humour to go with her voice – with a delightful French-Canadian accent to boot! very much in the tradition of both Quebec TV LoL series and high-brow Immortel Dany Laferrière 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love her! Soooo hard to find albums of all of those wonderful Québéquoise singer-songwriters in the US, unfortunately. Speaking of which–how do you say “singer-songwriter” in French??


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