Edith Piaf's pronunciation of rolling "r" in her songs

Discussion in 'French-English Vocabulary / Vocabulaire Français-Anglais' started by Frenchnoob, Jul 20, 2007.

  1. Frenchnoob

    Frenchnoob Member

    English Australian
    Moderator note: multiple threads merged to create this one

    Hi all,

    I've noticed that in Edith's songs she tends to flap her R's as opposed to the usual pronunciation of R in french.
    I've also noticed some other french singers do this also such as Charles Aznavour.

    So my question is: why?
    Is it easier to sing this way?
    Was it simply a style choice?
    Was it an old fashion way of singing?

    Help in curing my curiosity appreciated.

    Merci d'avance.

  2. tilt

    tilt Senior Member

    Nord-Isère, France
    French French
    It's above all an old fashion way of singing.
    But I wouldn't say Charles Aznavour does it so much, contrary to Mireille Matthieu who is much more outdated that him, even if younger, in my humble opinion! :p
  3. Niock Member

    Edith Piaf est d'origine italo-kabyle par sa mere.
    Charles Aznavour est d'origine arménienne.
    Edith Piaf a lancé avec succès la carrière de Charles Aznavour.

    Peut-etre un debut d'explication...
  4. Sickduck Senior Member

    Montreal, Quebec (Canada)
    French - Canada
    Is it how it's called: flapping one's Rs? I always thought it was "rolling one's Rs"
  5. pieanne

    pieanne Senior Member

    Nice Hinterland
    Singers belonging to the "older" generation tend to do that.

    "Flapping"? (I share Sickduck 's wondering)
  6. wildan1

    wildan1 Moderando ma non troppo (French-English, CC Mod)

    I hear Piaf's pronunciation as an uvulaire roulé - uvular trill - not as a trill of the tongue (alveolar r)

    J'ai toujours pensé que ses r était un produit du parigot pur sang plutôt que d'une descendance italo-kabyle

    Suis-je donc bête et sourd à la fois ?
  7. pieanne

    pieanne Senior Member

    Nice Hinterland
    I'm out!
    (Don't know anything about the vocabulary about the "r" pronunciation, sorry, guys!)
  8. tilt

    tilt Senior Member

    Nord-Isère, France
    French French
    I've no idea about "uvularities", neither about Wildan's ears and brain, but I second the point about the (outdated) Parisian accent.
    And this way to say the R's is different from rolling them. I don't know if flapping is the word to be used, but rolling isn't. And I'm realising I even don't know how to say it in French!
  9. doodlebugger Senior Member

    In French we simply say rouler les "r".
    It was quite usual not so long ago and you can still hear it in the country side.
    Some singers and politician still roll their r's.
  10. archijacq Senior Member

    french France
    grasseyer: prononcer les "r" en faisant vibrer la luette ("uvula") contre la partie postérieure de la langue
  11. mally pense

    mally pense Senior Member

    Cheshire, England
    England, UK English
    I'm aware that officially one "rolls" one's "r", but when I read Frenchnoob's "flap" it made me smile - it seemed so appropriate! Sorry!

    But is it just an old fashioned way of "singing"? Having recently come back to French after many decades away, I'm surprised how little 'arse-rolling' (as one of my French teachers used to call it!) I'm hearing. Is it just me, or has the degree of rolling diminished in everyday speech too?
  12. wildan1

    wildan1 Moderando ma non troppo (French-English, CC Mod)

    The sound represented in writing by the letter R can be pronounced four ways in French--all are allophones (meaning using any one of them doesn't change the meaning of the word--it just provides some variation in the person's accent)

    1. r fricative uvulaire sonore
    2. r fricative uvularie sourde
    3. r uvulaire roulée (celui d'Édith Piaf)
    4. r battu alvéolaire voisée (comme l'italien, ou chez certains paysans francophones)

    1 & 2 are used by most native European French speakers. The only difference is whether the voice is used (sonore) or not (sourd). Sometimes people vary between one and the other--and probably don't realize they are doing it.
    3 is what you hear when Édith Piaf or Mireille Mathieu sing (they are "rolling" their uvulas, not their tongues)
    4. isn't heard very much anymore in Europe except in the countryside and usually just older people. African French speakers often use it, and I think it is used in some regions of Québec as well.
  13. mally pense

    mally pense Senior Member

    Cheshire, England
    England, UK English
    Thank you wildan! I suspect that part of the reason why I'm hearing or imagining it to have diminished is that French sounds less foreign to me now than it did then. I think that happens as one becomes tuned in to a language perhaps. Is this a common experience?

    The other factor may be a certain amount of exposure to your no. 4 sound from French speaking Mauritanians (if indeed they are included amongst the people who use this variant). Possibly I'm hearing 1 and 2 as less extreme* by contrast?

    * for want of a better word, no disrespect intended.
  14. tilt

    tilt Senior Member

    Nord-Isère, France
    French French
    I may have been wrong all my life, but "rouler les r" has always been refering to #4 for me! :confused:
  15. wildan1

    wildan1 Moderando ma non troppo (French-English, CC Mod)

    yes, but in fact that way of speaking is not rolled/roulé, but flapped/battu (only one touch of the tongue, not many). I am using this in a technical, phonetic sense. Only #3 is truly "roulé" with more than one flapping of the uvula
  16. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    If by roulé you mean "trilled", then both 3 and 4 are roulés. The sounds are as follows:


    None of the four is a flap. See also this article.
  17. wildan1

    wildan1 Moderando ma non troppo (French-English, CC Mod)

    The article you cite isn't completely correct--not unusual for Wikipedia! But you or I could easily improve on it if we wanted.

    the only r roulé (trilled r) as a native speaking French allophone is #3. The trill is made by the uvula, not the tongue

    the #4 r is a tongue flap like the r in Spanish pero (and the #4 in French I described)
    an alveolar trill is like the r in Spanish perro (and doesn't normally exist as a native speaking French allophone)
  18. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Oh, I see. In that case you're right.
  19. Albert 50 Senior Member

    Montreal QC and Dallas TX
    Canada: French and English (bilingual)
    The degree of use of the "r roulé" (no 4, AKA "the flap") is a real phenomena, accelerated by TV, mobility, a sense that the "r roulé" is old-fashioned etc.

    In French-speaking Canada, when I was a child most people used no 4, "le r roulé". The "r uvulaire" (we called it "r grasseyé) was used by a minority, mainly around Quebec City, the region called "le Sagueney", and in villages in Manitoba. It was probably an 80/20 split...

    Nowadays this has changed a lot in Canada. The "r roulé" is still dominant in Montreal but is diminishing in many other areas, it seems. Even in Montreal many young people are using the "r grasseyé" when their parents at home still "roll" theirs...

    I lived in Belgium for several years and noticed there that (in many families) the parents "rolled their r's" which was very "wallon", while their teen-agers and adult children had adopted the "r grasseyé" (the so-called "throaty" r).

    In my own family in Manitoba my step-mother rolled her r's but all of her children used the "r grasseyé"... Interesting...

  20. Nicomon

    Nicomon Senior Member

    Français, Québec ♀
    Make that 2. Apical ou roulé, according to this petite histoire de r.
    Here's an extract:
    I can confirm that many Quebecers pronounce their R somewhere between a "pero" flap and a "perro" alveolar trill, and I say that they "roll" them... while I don't.;)
    I agree with archijacq. If the "trill" is made by the uvula, then it's grasseyer (which Robert& Collins translate as "guttural").

    Edit: I just read Albert 50's post above. Though I was born and raised in Montreal - and alas can't consider myself "young" - my R is usually "grasseyé"... but I can make it roll if I want to.
  21. wildan1

    wildan1 Moderando ma non troppo (French-English, CC Mod)

    Bien intéressante, cette historique du phonème r !

    Mais elle ne parle pas (et moi aussi je l'ai oublié) d'une autre variante :
    le r des Antilles (Martinique, Guadeloupe, Haïti) qui s'approche du w...
  22. itka Senior Member

    Nice, France
    I just want to say that I completely agree with Wildan1.
    Wildan, your explanation is great and perfectly right !

    Modern singers usually pronounce the consonant "r" just like when they speak : uvulaire fricative sourde ou sonore (généralement ce sont des variantes contextuelles).

    I think that people interested by this thread have a good knowledge of french so I continue in this language, a lot easier to me !

    Edith Piaf parlait un français absolument sans accent étranger (elle est née et a toujours vécu en France) et en parlant produisait la plupart du temps des "r" légèrement grasseyés comme on peut les entendre chez les locuteurs qui ont un accent parisien. En chantant, elle avait en effet tendance à prononcer des "r" vélaires, mais attention, pas toujours et de façon très discrète, si on la compare avec les chanteurs du début du XXe siècle !
    Mireille Mathieu imite Edith Piaf et donc tout naturellement, elle reproduit les mêmes sons.
    Quant à Charles Aznavour... je dois dire que je n'ai jamais rien noté de semblable dans sa prononciation. Il me semble que ses « r » sont les mêmes que lorsqu'il parle... mais peut-être ne l'ai-je pas bien écouté...

    Voici deux liens qui vous conduiront vers de vieilles chansons françaises où vous pourrez entendre beaucoup plus clairement ces « r ». D'ailleurs vous pourrez entendre à peu près toutes les possibilités de « r », car chez un même interprète, des « r » différents coexistent !

    Autrefois, disons au XVIIe siècle, les « r » étaient habituellement des « r alvéolaires, roulés ou battus (?) » ce qui demeure sensible dans certains parlers dits « paysans » et qu'on retrouve dans l'accent québécois qui a conservé les traits de cette époque (encore que selon Albert50, il soit en train de se modifier).
  23. Nicomon

    Nicomon Senior Member

    Français, Québec ♀
    Je viens de lire le post d'Albert50, et d'éditer le mien (#20). Il est juste que beaucoup de québécois prononcent des « r alvéolaires, apicaux, roulés ou "battus" », et que c'est plus évident à Montréal. Mais le R grasseyé n'est pas si récent. Je prononce les miens un peu comme Bourvil et Ray Ventura.

    Widan: Bien vu, pour le R "w" des Antilles, qu'on entend aussi chez les jeunes enfants. Il y a aussi le phénomène de "lallation", plus fréquent chez les asiatiques, qui consiste à prononcer les R comme des L.
  24. Ninon Member

    Am attempting one of her songs and would like to know how to get those amazing rolling "R's." Are they are far back in the throat as the normal French R, or more forward on the tongue like the Spanish?

  25. chauvejean

    chauvejean Senior Member

    English - Ireland
    They are forward on the tongue like the Rs in Spanish, Italian, Arabic etc, but with a French accent ;)
  26. Pie Crust

    Pie Crust Banned

    England English
    Dear Edith Piaf - one of my all-time favourites.

    The rolling "r" sound is produced at the very back of the throat. Try gargling as you sing - you may surprise yourself!
  27. Ninon Member

    If I gargle when I sing, I'll surprise everybody!
  28. Rauketropman New Member

    Spanish - Spain
    Also, in operatic french (le chant lyrique), the 4th one is used as well.
  29. JiPiJou Senior Member

    The original question concerned the pronunciation of the "r" when singing.

    Even today, in French amateur choirs, one is asked to roll (softly) the "r", whatever the language of the text. It is very difficult for an amateur to sing correctly a guttural "r" without it sounding very harsh.

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