Ai Ai Brazilian English? Some thoughts!

Posted on January 18, 2012. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

Michel Telo’s (sorry my keyboard won’t type out the accent on ‘o’) explosion of a song “Ai Ai Se Eu Te Pego’ shows that in other parts of the world, the lyrics do not necessarily need to be translated. Whether it is pop or opera, commercial gains mean that to reach the American market some businessmen feel an English translation is needed.

Without going into the merits of this new English version or the naivety of the businessmen behind Michelo, lessons can be drawn on why the translation should never have been made. It was clearly done by someone who is more inclined towards ‘Brazlish’ (Brazilian English) than a more native speaker form. For this reason, the English version may not be quite a hit as the original and Telo will not sell as much as the song has in his native language.

‘Delicious’

Maybe it will catch on but calling a girl ‘delicious’ is not a common description for a sexy looking woman. In Brazil ‘Gostosa’ fits perfectly, and why not? Foreigners who know Brazil can appreciate how great the food is as well as the beautiful women. Delicious is a Brazilian slang and frequently used expression to appraise the seductive behaviour of someone you are attracted too. Words like ‘fit’, ‘fine-looking’ and many others, are all different adjectives which are synonyms of the Brazilian ‘delicious’.

Unless it catches on, the word ‘delicious’ will continue to mean something you eat to the people in the English-speaking world. I’m sure in the rhythm and context of the song most people will clearly understand its meaning but there will be a slight confusion at first which is normal when you are listening to English spoken in another culture.

As English is now considered the Lingua Franca in the world there has to be an allowance for cultural differences because communication is paramount. This is also important between non-native and native communication but the idiomaticity of English can be a challenge.

Let’s take Telo ‘s ‘if I catch you’ line in his song. This is probably the most important line in the song. Why was the word ‘catch’ used? Shouldn’t it have been ‘get’? When you chase someone you can both ‘catch’ and ‘get’ someone. Also ‘have’ may also be possible. It is a matter of choice. It also is the strength of meaning that is important for someone who is still learning English than a person who is already proficient.

Let’s see some other simple example:

Drink a coffee v have a coffee

Wash the dishes v do the dishes

Drive the car to work v take the car to work

Which of the phrases above have clearer meanings? The first of course as the verbs state the action of the person. Verbs like ‘have’, ‘do’ and ‘get’ have very little or multiple meanings. They are not so easy for learners of English to use or understand. They are idiomatic in nature especially when combined with other words as the examples above. For the native speaker these empty or delexicalised verbs are naturally expected to be used, so for them the first phrases can sound strange. Should the more meaningful verbs be used then some adjustment would be needed as with the word ‘delicious’ above.

“Ai Ai if….’

The translation of ‘If I catch you’ is predominantly based on meaning. This is from the perspective of the non-native speaker and not – especially for those who will be listening to this song in the USA – the expected language of the native speaker.

The song will seem funny or strange and very very foreign. The Carmen Maranda ‘ai ai ai’ doesn’t help either. However, it may catch on for this very reason but will not be taken seriously for its artistic value.

Therefore, it will be difficult for Telo to have his work taken seriously in the US. We can see how very few artists, who don’t dominate the language have been taken in by the American public. Certainly no Brazilians have reached the heights of artists like Celine Dion and Shakira who are examples of accepted non native foreign artist. It was perhaps their domination of the language that allowed them to be accepted by the American music buying public. For marketing reasons they have to communicate their work to the media and sing lyrics that seem natural.

Let’s hope Telo has a hit in the US with his English version but if longevity and recognition is his aim it will be a little longer before he and any other Brazilian artist makes a real breakthrough without a high level of English performance. A good English course is the key for Michel and Brazil has some of the best teachers.

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2 Responses to “Ai Ai Brazilian English? Some thoughts!”

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Hello Shaun,
I keep wondering if we somehow misunderstood the original version. Maybe he was running through the woods?
Just kidding. I do agree with you and native speakers are definitely more likely to see this as a joke rather than a good, `respectable` song. But then, this type of music is usually played in bars and after a couple of drinks nobody cares.

A lesson to be learned from the English version is what we already know: don’t trust anybody, learn (Eglish) for yourself.

Agreed Mila. I also this song could have a Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood as the protagonists. if I catch you, delicious, that’s where you’re going to kill me.


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