Thursday, February 16, 2012

Chant Révolutionnaire (von den Brigadas Internationales)

Between 1936 and 1939, some 35,000 foreign volunteers from fifty-three different countries came to Spain to fight against Francisco Franco's Nationalist Army. They were drawn by the ideological struggle against fascism, and backed by socialist, communist, and democratic movements. They became the International Brigades of the Republican Army, and this is one of the songs that they sang:

This scan is from Legions of Babel: The International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War by V.B. Johnston. My friend Jonathan found this book when we were at the Library of Congress in DC. I count five languages in the song: English, German, Spanish, French, and Russian. It was published by The Volunteer for Liberty, the newspaper of the International Brigades of the Republican Army during the Spanish Civil War, which was published in French, German, Italian, Polish, and English.

What I love most about the mishmash of languages in the song is all the spelling and grammar mistakes. I think most of them are intentional; the anarchic grammar gives a colloquial feel to the song that enhances the feeling of international brotherhood. As Jonathan pointed out, spelling  'comment ça va' as 'comment savar' and 'working shirt and pants' as 'woiken shoit and panties' makes it sound like this is being sung by a New Yorker who is just now getting a handle on all of these languages being spoken around him.

Because I apparently have nothing better to do, I decided to translate the song (preserving the grammar mistakes as best I could). Black is English, Red is FrenchOrange is SpanishBlue is GermanGreen is Russian:

The Internationalist

I came to Spain in January
I speaks only English
But now I say Comment Ça Va
Wie gehts, Que Tal, Comrade

I driving with my ambulance
In woikin' shoit and panties
I have no time for romance
And work much harder than before

When evening comes I say good night
My blankets all lost
I'm very cold, but I am told
This is war, dat's the war, there's a war on

But other things I has learned
That eats is not much
Our meat is sometimes burned
With garlic, also oil

But one idea is above all
An idea very profound
We'll work hard for Franco's fall
And the United Proletariat Brothers of the whole world

Here multilingualism is used to underpin the message of international solidarity. It strikes me as counter to the Esperanto Movement, which views linguistic confusion as a source of international discord and seeks to propagate a single international language. 

1 comment:

  1. Like you, I like this poem - and you've done a good job with the translation. I don't see it as counter to the Esperanto movement. I see it as expressing a good-hearted ramshackle approach to communication between people of different mother tongues. Esperanto offered a more structtured approach. I quote from a webpage of young British Esperanto speakers "As fascism spread across Europe in the 1930s, Esperanto was used in the struggle for freedom. It was used in Spain during the Civil War, to encourage international volunteers to fight for the Spanish Republic. The language was banned and Esperantists were persecuted by many of the totalitarian regimes."

    Your phrase "propagate a single international language" is misleading, since it does not make clear that Esperanto was intended as an auxiliary language, a second language for us all. A very worthy goal, I feel.