Vocal gymnastics

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Another Salut Salon video — Ievan Polkka:

This version has closed captions giving the Finnish words with English translation:

And of course there's the anime and  Hatsune Miku vocaloid versions.

The first couple of verses:

Nuapurista kuulu se polokan tahti The sound of a polka drifted from my neighbor's
jalakani pohjii kutkutti. and set my feet a-tapping oh!
Ievan äiti se tyttöösä vahti Ieva's mother had her eye on her daughter but
vaan kyllähän Ieva sen jutkutti, Ieva she managed to fool her, you know.
sillä ei meitä silloin kiellot haittaa
kun myö tanssimme laiasta laitaan.
'Cause who's going to listen to mother saying no
Salivili hipput tupput täppyt
äppyt tipput hilijalleen.
when we're all busy dancing to and fro!
Ievan suu oli vehnäsellä Ieva was smiling, the fiddle it was wailing
ko immeiset onnee toevotti. as people crowded round to wish her luck.
Peä oli märkänä jokaisella Everyone was hot but it didn't seem to bother
ja viulu se vinku ja voevotti. the handsome young man, the dashing buck.
Ei tätä poikoo märkyys haittaa
sillon ko laskoo laiasta laitaan.
'Cause who's going to mind a drop of sweat
Salivili hipput tupput täppyt
äppyt tipput hilijalleen.
when we're all busy dancing to and fro!

You can find the rest here, but in case you're wondering how it turns out, here's the English:

Ieva's mother she shut herself away
in her own quiet room to hum a hymn.
Leaving our hero to have a spot of fun
in a neighbor's house when the lights are dim.
'Cause what does it matter what the old folks say
when you're all busy dancing to and fro!

When the music stopped then the real fun began
and that's when the laddie fooled around.
When he took her home, when the dancing was over
her mother angrily waiting they found.
But I said to her, Ieva, now don't you weep
and we'll soon be dancing to and fro!

I said to her mother now stop that noise
or I won't be responsible for what I do.
If you go quietly and stay in your room
you won't get hurt while your daughter I woo.
'Cause this fine laddie is a wild sort of guy
when he's all busy dancing to and fro!

One thing I tell you is you won't trap me,
no, you won't find me an easy catch.
Travel to the east and travel to the west but
Ieva and I are going to make a match.
'Cause this fine laddie ain't the bashful sort
when he's all busy dancing to and fro.

If the music sounds sort of slavic, that's because (according to Wikipedia):

The melody of "Ievan Polkka" is very similar to Savitaipaleen polkka, and in South Karelia the Ievan Polkka is also known as "Savitaipaleen polkka". The melody is also very similar to a folk dance from the area of Smolensk in Western Russia, which is known as Smolenskij gusačok ("смоленский гусачок"/"Small Gander in Smolensk").

The melody can be traced back to the Viipuri Province in the 18th century when the border with the Kingdom of Sweden ran west of the province. The number of Russian soldiers stationed in the border area outnumbered the locals for many decades.

There must be other tongue-twister songs, but at the moment I can't think of them.


  1. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 18, 2015 @ 8:38 pm

    Well, there's "Tchaikovsky", as made famous by Danny Kaye.

  2. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 18, 2015 @ 8:55 pm

    A short list of tongue-twister songs for children.

    It doesn't include "Sister Susie Sewing Shirts for Soldiers", by Herman Darewski and R. P. Weston (Wikipedia tells me). My father had Al Jolson's version on 78. What do you mean, irrelevant?

  3. christoll said,

    July 18, 2015 @ 9:01 pm

    I like the way the accordion player, at 1:39, exhorts the crowd to sing along for the final chorus…

  4. January First-of-May said,

    July 18, 2015 @ 11:28 pm

    Ievan Polkka isn't so much "tongue twister" as Finnish (well, Savo, but it's not much of a difference) phonetics being completely alien to English.
    You might just as well call something like Jozin z Bazin – or Gangnam Style – a tongue twister for much the same reason (especially the latter).

    On actual tongue-twister songs, there's a fairly large variety from Bryant Oden (ranging from songs that are simply very fast to the nigh-unpronounceable Five Fruit Flies).
    And of course there's the classic Modern Major General song (and multiple later variations on it), as well as Yakko's World (the one with all the countries).

  5. John Laviolette said,

    July 19, 2015 @ 2:15 am

    Well, there's "Fionnghuala", which the liner notes on a Bothy Band album described as " Gaelic mouth music". Here's a video of the song as performed by a different performer.


  6. Boursin said,

    July 19, 2015 @ 10:17 am

    The translation isn't actually line-by-line as given above, because liberties are understandably taken to make it fit the rhyming scheme.

    Ja viulu se vinku ja voevotti doesn't correspond to 'the handsome young man, the dashing buck' (which doesn't appear in the Finnish lyric at all), but 'the fiddle it was wailing' ('… and a-whining away').

    Salivili hipput tupput täppyt äppyt tipput hilijalleen are actually just nonsense syllables, except for hilijalleen 'little by little', 'step by step'.

    – 'When we're all busy dancing to and fro' is the end of the previous line: kun myö tanssimme laiasta laitaan or sillon ko laskoo laiasta laitaan.

    At least to this native speaker of Finnish (born and raised in the same dialect area), the "Salivili…" bit is actually quite tongue-twisting, although the rest of the lyric isn't.

  7. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 19, 2015 @ 11:00 am

    January First-of-May: "…hipput tupput täppyt äppyt tipput…" looks like a deliberate tongue-twister or at least play with repeated sounds.

    I wouldn't call the Major General's Song or any of Gilbert and Sullivan's patter songs tongue-twisters, since they're not deliberately hard to say. "Five Fruit Flies", on the other hand, would qualify.

    By the way, I miswrote the title "Sister Susie's Sewing Shirts for Soldiers".

    John Laviolette: I too thought of mouth music, also known as puirt a beul and other spellings, though I don't think that's quite the same thing.

  8. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 19, 2015 @ 11:02 am

    "…hipput tupput täppyt äppyt tipput…" looks like a deliberate tongue-twister or at least play with repeated sounds.

    Sorry, that's what happens when I make a phone call in the middle of posting.

  9. K. Chang said,

    July 19, 2015 @ 2:16 pm

    Here's S.H.E., a Chinese girl pop group doing "Zhong Guo Hua" 中国话,combo tongue twister and pop song, and it's even on the right topic. :)


  10. maidhc said,

    July 22, 2015 @ 2:15 am

    John Laviolette: That's not maybe the best version of Eilean nam Bothan, but there don't seem to be many available online.

    This is the Bothy Band version that made it popular:

    Here's one that is a bit different:

    A good chunk of the words are the names of different kinds of fish.

    That Finnish song is pretty cool even if you don't speak Finnish.

  11. January First-of-May said,

    July 23, 2015 @ 10:26 pm

    One thing I forgot that I really dislike about Ievan Polkka: everyone seems to be quoting a particular "Russian version" (usually among many other non-Russian variations).
    Except the supposed Russian version says something entirely unrelated to the original (it's basically about a girl who went to the forest and met some kinda monster who took and ate her cake). It also has a (mildly) bad ending.
    I really hope someone would, if not actually make a proper Russian version, then at least mention that the existing version has nothing to do with the Finnish original (other than a vaguely similar melody).

    @maidhc: it's really weird to listen to this while looking at the lyrics… Irish spelling has so little to do with pronunciation that it's almost like a completely different language, and the tempo doesn't help either.

  12. Yuval said,

    July 24, 2015 @ 9:50 pm

    Thanks Jerry, now I finally get the origin of Arik Einstein's recounting of almost every player in the 1990 World Cup games.

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