LINGUIST List 9.928

Mon Jun 22 1998

Sum: French Song Lyrics

Editor for this issue: Elaine Halleck <>


  1. BenWoyth, French Song Lyrics

Message 1: French Song Lyrics

Date: Sun, 21 Jun 1998 10:50:44 EDT
From: BenWoyth <>
Subject: French Song Lyrics


This letter is being sent to everyone who responded to my initial question
regarding the lyrics of a song taught at my son's primary school in France,
specifically the CE1 class of Monsieur Outin at Ecole Primaire Letot in
Bayeux. The song was lifted from an album called "Chansons d'Ailleurs"
("Songs from elsewhere.") I received literally dozens of responses from
around the world, and I'm very proud to announce that there are two possible

One was first sent by Madame Marie-Claude Schehade (with the help of Monsieur
Michel Aufray) at the INALCO institute in Paris, right here in France! The
other was sent by Brent Holl, Karen Ellis of Guavaberry Books, Theresa at UWM,
and Lynn Schroeder of the Rock Springs Elementary School in Apopka Florida.
Other helpful folks were Professor Andrew Pawley of the Autralian National
University, Nikolai from St. Petersburg, Professor Jack Ward from the
University of Hawaii, and Rina Kreitman (?) of the University of Pennsylvania.
Margaret Luebs and Lynne Hewitt wrote to tell me that they had sung this song
some thirty years ago as girlscouts in the United States; they'd been told it
was an "Indian" (ie native American) song, but they'd thought it was just a
bunch of nonsensical sounds strung together to seem to be native American. I
doubt that they were in the same squad.

Madame Schehade's response:

The song as my son learned it:
epo e tai tai e
epo e tai tai e
epo e tai tai epo e tuki tuki e

Transcription according to Mme Schehade: 			
 e po i taitai e 
 e po i tai tai 
 e po i tokitoki 

Mme Schehade's French Translation:
o nuit de haute mer 
c'est la nuit et la haute mer 
c'est le milieu de la nuit

My translation of Mme Schehade's French:

Oh night of the high tide
It's night and high tide
It's the middle of the night

She said that the song is definitely "Polynesian in origin, but it is
difficult to be precise about which language it is, because the text is too
short. It very much resembles Paomotou (the Tuamotu islands) or Maori (New
Zealand)" I'm translating directly from Mme Schehade's letter which is in

The other response translates the song loosely as "There is a bull who is big
and strong with horns" (Brent Holl) or "This man is a strong man; this man
fights like a bull." (Lynn Schroeder) Mr. Holl and two other people said that
the song was accompanied by hand movements -- exactly the way my son had
learned it at school. These people said that it was a Hawaiian War chant or a
Samoan Slap dance. Another person identified the song as being "in Music and 1991 Silver Burdett." I don't know what that means. Ms Schroeder
said that the song comes from the Maori tribes of New Zealand. Professor Jack
Ward of the University of Hawaii said very definitively that the song was
neither Hawaiian nor Samoan; thus, I'm prepared to go with Ms Schroeder.

There we have it: Ms Schroeder's Maori theory vs Mme Schehade's
Maori/Paomotou theory. "Strong man" vs "High tide" By the way, are bulls
indigenous to New Zealand? Ms Schroeder sais that she has documentation.
I'll write her back to ask for copies of this documentation, and I can forward
it to those of you who are interested. 

Much ado was made about the problem of e-mail transmission of accents, in this
case accent-egu, or "acute," (the left side of a little inverted "v" hat) and
an umlaut (two dots) which got scrambled in numerous transmissions. In the
song the "e"s all have accent-egu and the "i" in the word "tai" has an umlaut.
In otherwords, the "e" sounds like the vowel sound in the word "may" and the
word "tai" sounds like "Thai." By the way, Mme Schehade spells her name with
accent-egus on the "e"s. I dare not use any accents here for fear of this
message getting garbled. The powers that be should do something about uniform
transmission of accents in e-mail transmissions if the Internet should ever
become thoroughly international, multifarious, and a bit less dominated by the

As I am not a professional linguist, the goal of this research has been more
or less achieved. I can report to my son's teacher two possible languages and
two possible translations of the song. Further research could identify
exactly to which language the song belongs, the purpose of the song (folk
song, religious, war, etc), and, perhaps most interestingly, how and when this
song arrived in France and the US and developed into a summer-camp nonsense
song. Was the song brought back by returning WW2 soldiers or does it go even
farther back? It either belongs to a culture which was close to nature,
particularly the sea, probably relying on fishing for sustenance, or a war-
like patriarchal culture. These would be inquiries for full-time linguists
like most of the people who answered my original query. Doubtless there are
many other subjects of interest pertaining to this song which a professional
linguist could identify.

In the end I wish to thank you all for your interest in this puzzle.
Naturally, I'd be personally interested if anyone has further definitive
information regarding this song. 


Ben Woythaler
11 rue Tardif
14400 Bayeux
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