Speak to us of drinking, not of marriage

The feeling was like what gay friends have described to me when they first learned that they weren’t the only guys in the world who wanted to have sex with other men.

A Basque joke about the alleged difficulty of the Basque language: The Devil wanted to tempt the Basques to sin, so he decided to learn to speak Basque.  He quit after seven years, only having learned the word “no.”  The Devil did better learning Basque than I’ve done learning French, because I still don’t know how to say “no” in French.  My stumbling block: the second clause in a contrast.  My father speaks Portuguese, but I don’t.  We have pinot noirs in Oregon, but not Brouillies.

Jean Girodet’s magisterial Pièges et difficultés de la langue française to the rescue.  According to Girodet, the issue comes up in what he calls ellipticals.  In this situation, he says that literary language tends to prefer non, while the spoken language tends to prefer pas: 

Dans les tours élliptiques, la langue littéraire préfère en général non, la langue familière pas.

He gives these examples:

Non Pas
Veut-on réformer la société ou non Qu’il travaille ou pas, je m’en moque !
Il néglige son travail, moi non. Elle aime le ski, moi pas.
Cette parole est d’un marchand et non d’un prince. J’irai en voiture, pas à pied.
Il habite une villa, non loin de Cimiez. Il tient un café, pas loin d’ici.
Il veut créer un art tout nouveau, pourquoi non ? Partir tout de suite ? Pourquoi pas, après tout.

OK, good so far: you can use either, with non sounding more literary, and pas sounding more casual.  But, why do you occasionally run into both of them together??  Here’s a clear elliptical in Girodet’s sense of the word: the refrain of the song Parlez-nous à boire, “Speak to us of drinking (not of marriage).”  There are many recordings of it available (sometimes with minor differences in the lyrics), but my favorite du moment is this one from the film Southern Comfort.  Lyrics follow, from CajunLyrics.com:

Oh parlez-nous à boire, non pas du marriage
Toujours en regrettant, nos jolies temps passé

Si que tu te maries avec une jolie fille,
T’es dans les grands dangers, ça va te la voler.

Si que tu te maries aves une vilaine fille,
T’es dans les grands dangers, faudra tu fais ta vie avec.

Oh parlez-nous à boire, non pas du marriage
Toujours en regrettant, nos jolies temps passé

Si que tu te maries avec une fille bien pauvre,
T’es dans les grands dangers, faudra travailler tout la vie.

Si que tu te maries avec une fille qu’a de quoi,
T’es dans les grands dangers, tu vas attraper des grandes reproches.
Fameux, toi grand vaurien, qu’a tout gaspillé mon bien
Oh parlez-nous à boire, non pas du marriage.

Source: cajunlyrics.com

Native speakers, can you help this poor, lost anglophone?  (Note: I’m guessing that jolies temps passé should be jolis temps passés, but what do I know?)

My source for the Basque joke: I don’t remember, but it’s probably one of Mario Pei‘s many books.  Pei was a linguist who wrote tons of popular-press books about language between the 1930s and the 1970s or so.  Running across one of them in a used bookstore  was the first time I ever heard of “linguistics.”  After a lifetime of mostly keeping quiet about my unending obsessions with language, the feeling was like what gay friends have described to me when they first learned that they weren’t the only guys in the world who wanted to have sex with other men.

6 thoughts on “Speak to us of drinking, not of marriage”

  1. You know these Basques are something special in Europe, but maybe even in the world . More and more searchers are telling loud the hypothesis that their language could be the language soken by the locals before ANY antiquity invasion, Celtic, Germanic, Roman . They found links with geographical terms ( river, mount, etc…) coming from lost indigenous languages in Poland, Finland, Hungary, Ireland … The idea is the basque could be just speaking an evoluated version of what our Neolithical ancestors spoke ! And I became amazed : are these guys the only ones in Europe who stood there, where they belonged, and preserved a living link with our prehistoric Homo Sapiens ancestors ? The European Abos !
    I live very close, I meet them frequently, and I’m seeing them differently because of that . It’s true we all know some Basque jokes, but none of them can be said everywhere 😊.
    About the song, where does the written translation come from ? The language is archaic AND not well educated, a typical regional countryside French, but there also are mistakes in the text . You’re right, it has to be “les jolis temps passés”, but also it”s not “ça va te la voler”,which makes no sense, but ” “on” or “Il” va te la voler (difficult to hear any details) .

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Yes, it’s difficult to hear. When I’ve heard the recording off of the album whose picture (which’s picture??? Truly, I’m not sure what the possessive relative is for something that would normally take “that” as its relative marker) I used in the post, it sounds like “ils vont te la voler.”


  2. Cette chanson est acadienne, à des oreilles de francophone de France métropolitaine, ça ressemble à un dialecte d’oïl de l’ouest de la France.
    Pour le « non pas » c’est archaïque en français moderne de France

    Liked by 1 person

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