Sunday, August 02, 2009

Carla Bruni's Russian Tongue-Twister

Click on images to watch the video

The French President wife's name is Carla. They have a dog called Clara.

And there is a Russian tongue-twister based on the names of Karl and Klara. In the rhyme they steal similarly sounding things from each other. It goes something like this:

Off Klara Karl cleared the corals,
Off Karl Klara cleared the clarinet

(read phonetically transcribed Russian verse below)

No matter how hard you try, you end up mixing Klara into Karla, or Karl into Klar. Which is exactly what happened to a French journalist at the recent interview with Carla Bruni. Her dapper husband President Sarkozy 'accidentally' walked into the room and, for want of something to say, decided to present the dogs to the journalists.

'This is Clara, the second one is Dumbledore and the third one - oh, it's just ran off somewhere...'

The journalist, looking somewhat dazed, tries to remember who is who. 'So, that one is Dumbledore, and this one is Carla'

'No, no, Carla is her-is me' Sarkozy and Bruni say in unison. 'The dog is Clara'.

Perfect to learn to roll your 'R-s' this tongue-twister is also one of the most difficult.

I have always thought that it was difficult only to a Russian tongue - because of pleophony (full-voicing), a feature of Russian, Ukrainian and Belorussian languages where, in most words, consonants are naturally wrapped-up in vowels, i.e. consonant and vowels always come one after another.

But now I see that it can be equally difficult to West Europeans.

While the tongue-twister has been popular in Russia for generations, I could find no attributions to any known authors. It seems likely that the verse was composed in 1920-1930s when names of foreign revolutionaries, particularly German, were popular with internationally minded young Soviet generation. Karl could be Marx, but I think it is more likely to be a reference to Karl Liebknecht, leader of German left-wing social-democrats, who was killed in the failed communist attempt to seize power in 1919. He became one of the biggest figures in the Soviet Pantheon of revolutionary heroes. And Klara is definitely a reference to Clara Zetkin, also a German social-democrat and one of the leading figures in women's rights movement from 1880s to 1930s. Liebknecht and Zetkin were often mentioned together. As a friend of both Liebknecht and Lenin, and a communist leader in Germany at the time in 1920-1930s when Hitler's nazis by no means had the upper hand, she became an iconic figure in Russia. After Hitler banned the communist party she went into exile to the Soviet Union and died in Moscow in 1933. Streets, factories, ships were named after here in Russia.

Or it could be Karl Radek, a prominent revolutionary in Germany and Russia. Radek and Zetkin were both high up in Comintern, and Radek is also credited as the author of numerous jokes, including jokes about Stalin.

Phonetic transcript of the Carl-Clara rhyme:

Karl ooh KlAry ukrAl corAlly
KlAra ooh KArla ukrAla clarnEt

Please let me know if you know of any other English language versions of the Carl-Clara tongue-twister.
(read it in Russian here)

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