Ça planait pas dans sa voix

« previous post | next post »

According to the Guardian,

The Belgian singer Plastic Bertrand has admitted that the voice that gave the world the 1977 Euro-punk anthem Ça Plane Pour Moi was not his. Roger Jouret, the man behind the Plastic Bertrand persona, had previously denied that he was not the singer on the record. But in an interview with the Belgian newspaper Le Soir, he admitted it had been another singer – and laid the blame at the door of his former producer, Lou Deprijck. His admission came a day after a linguist commissioned by a judge concluded that the singer's accent did not match the voice on the record.

To set the stage, here's a YouTube version of the song:

(A slightly less plasticized performance is here.)

Another report has Plastic Bertrand advancing a (fanciful) hypothesis about who the actual singer was, and gives a bit more detail on the dialect issue:

Plastic Bertrand n'est pas l'interprète de Ca plane pour moi selon plusieurs experts mandatés par la justice belge. Ce jugement n'a pas l'air d'avoir ébranlé Plastic plus que ça, qui a réagi hier soir sur RTL. "Tout ce que le rapport dit, c'est que c'est quelqu'un qui a l'accent ch'ti ou picard qui l'a chanté. Alors c'est Dany Boon", a-t-il déclaré.

Plastic Bertrand is not the singer on Ca plane pour moi according to several experts commissioned by a Belgian court. This judgment doesn't seem to have shaken Plastic up very much, as he responded yesterday evening on RTL, "All that the report says is that it's someone who has a ch'ti or picard accent who sang. So it's Dany Boon", he said.

Some other necessary background: the court case in question seems to be based on a lawsuit started by the record producer Lou Deprijck, apparently aimed at establishing that the voice on the hit song belonged to Deprijck himself. (More background on the song is here, including the amazing fact that it was used as background music in National Lampoon's European Vacation, Ferris Bueller's Day off, and an episode of What's New, Scooby Doo?, as well as other far-flung cultural connections including Extreme Championship Wrestling and Australian Mars Bars commercials.)

According to rtbr.be ("Plastic Bertrand reconnaît que ce n'était pas sa voix", 7/28/2010), Plastic was rather out of the loop on the whole recording process, explaining why he might still be in the position of having to guess who the actual singer was:

"Mais c'est moi la victime. Je voulais chanter, mais il (Lou Deprijck, ndlr) m'interdisait l'accès au studio", affirme-t-il. Et d'ajouter : "Le jour où j'ai quitté RKM (la firme de disques qui avait produit les premiers albums à l'époque, ndlr) pour gagner ma liberté, il a gerbé sur moi".

"But I was the victim. I wanted to sing, but he [Lou Deprijck] barred me from the studio", he asserted. And he added: "The day I quit RKM [the record company] in order to free myself, he vomited (?) on me."

However, his remark about Dany Boon was apparently a joke, referencing a comedian who starred in a recent popular movie "Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis".

Wikipedia explains that

Picard is a language closely related to French, … spoken in two regions in the far north of France – Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardy – and in parts of the Belgian region Wallonia, district of Tournai (Wallonie Picarde) and a piece of district of Mons (toward Tournai and France frontier).

Picard is known by several different names. Residents of Picardie call it picard; but in Nord-Pas-de-Calais its dialects are more commonly known as chti or chtimi, in and around the towns of Valenciennes and Lille as rouchi; or simply as patois by Northerners in general. Linguists group all of these under the name Picard.

Some questions for our Francophone readers:

What is the etymology of ch'ti(mi)?

What aspects of the singer's performance in Ça plane pour moi identify it as Picard?

What is Plastic Bertrand's own variety of French? What features does he have (or lack) that the singer lacks (or has)?

Who are the "plusieurs experts" who analyzed the accent, and is a copy of their report available?

What does "il a gerbé sur moi" actually mean? Do Belgian record producers really vomit on their musicians to express annoyance, or is this just another of the many pieces of French slang that I don't know?

And finally, why would anyone expect that someone who adopted the stage name "Plastic Bertrand" would sing his own songs?

[Update — in a comment below, fabienne quotes from "Plastic a-t-il les oreilles qui sifflent?", Metro 7/27/2010:

Selon Lou Deprijck, l'auteur compositeur, le rapport d'expertise est formel… "Les bandes 24 pistes de 1977 et de 2006 ont été analysées, piste après piste, minutieusement par les experts. Le rapport (…) révèle qu’avec les terminaisons de phrases relevées sur les bandes, on ne peut attribuer la voix qu’à un Ch’ti ou un picard" a-t-il expliqué au quotidien belge "La Dernière Heure". "Or, Plastic Bertrand est Bruxellois, et moi je suis du Nord"… souligne l'homme qui se revendique comme le vrai chanteur du tube. Paraît même que c'est flagrant sur la prononciation du mot "gouttière", un fait linguistique irréfutable… Faîtes chanter vos amis "ch'tis", comparez… De quoi passer une gentille petite soirée.

According to Lou Deprijck, the producer, the experts' report is categorical… "The 24-track tapes from 1977 and 2006 have been analyzed, track after track, throughly by the experts. The report […] reveals that with the phrase endings revealed on the tapes, the voice can only be attributed to a Ch'ti or a Picard", he explained to the Belgian daily La Derniere Heure. "Now, Plastic Bertrand is from Brussels, whereas I'm from the north [from Nord-Pas-de-Calais]" … emphasizes the man who claims to the real singer. Apparently it's especially clear in the pronunciations of the word "gouttiere" ["gutter"], an irrefutable linguistic fact… Have your ch'ti friends sing it, compare… How to spend a pleasant evening.

You may or may not have any "ami ch'tis" to rely on, and none of us have the 24-track tapes, but here's the relevant segment of the song:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

The lyrics are approximated below, in case you can't follow their somewhat Dylanesque thread. The segment reproduced above is in red, and means something like "as for me, worn out, bullied, I had to sleep in the gutter":

Ouam! bam! mon chat splash
git sur mon lit a bouffé
sa langue en buvant tout mon whisky
quant à moi peu dormi, vidé brimé
J'ai du dormir dans la gouttière

Où j'ai eu un flash
Hou hou hou hou
En quatre couleurs

I wouldn't have noticed anything special about "gouttière", but I have no ear for French accents.]


  1. Giovanni said,

    July 29, 2010 @ 6:16 am

    The wikipedia page for Picard in French reports a couple of folk etymologies.
    Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis is the name of a very funny movie directed by Dany Boon.

  2. Thierry said,

    July 29, 2010 @ 6:33 am

    Q :What is the etymology of ch'ti(mi)?

    A : http://www.pas-de-calais62.fr/unpeudechti.html

    "Origine du langage ch'ti :

    Le mot chti ou chtimi, a été inventé durant la Première Guerre Mondiale par des poilus qui n'étaient pas de la région, et qui désignaient ainsi leurs camarades qui étaient originaires du Nord-Pas-de-Calais.

    Ce mot a été créé à partir des mots ch'est ti, ch'est mi (c'est toi, c'est moi)"

  3. Thierry said,

    July 29, 2010 @ 6:41 am

    Q : What aspects of the singer's performance in Ça plane pour moi identify it as Picard?

    A : 2 sources
    I heard that the evidence was based – entre autres – upon the pronunciation of the word "gouttière"

  4. Antoine said,

    July 29, 2010 @ 6:46 am

    "Ça NE planait pas dans sa voix" . But "planer …dans"' makes no sense . "Ça ne planait pas pour sa voix"' or "Sa voix ne planait pas"

    [(myl) Prepositions are hard, but "makes no sense" seems harsh. As for "ne", te casse pas la tête, mec.]

  5. Moacir said,

    July 29, 2010 @ 6:48 am

    "gerber" also means to bind up wheat into a pile, so it might mean that on the day PB quit to free himself, he found himself bound up by Deprijck.

    A google image search on "gerbe" provides both photos of heroic vomit and wreaths/bouquets.

  6. Thierry said,

    July 29, 2010 @ 6:49 am

    Q : What does "il a gerbé sur moi" actually mean? Do Belgian record producers really vomit on their musicians to express annoyance, or is this just another of the many pieces of French slang that I don't know?

    A : from "vomir sur quelqu'un" to "vomir quelqu'un" (cf. http://atilf.atilf.fr/dendien/scripts/tlfiv5/advanced.exe?8;s=2389795230;
    from 1.a) to 2.a)

  7. Alexandre said,

    July 29, 2010 @ 6:57 am

    Sending this to Julie Auger, whom did research on Picard.
    Seems to me, thanks in part to the «Ch'tis» movie, that Picard has gained notoriety. As you probably know, French language ideology is focused on a single standard, with regional varieties taken to be "accents" or moribund languages. Surprising for a place which, according to some stats, was made of only 50% of native French-speakers in 1900.

    About Plastic Bertrand, he's been in this situation for a while. I remember, years ago, how meekly he tried to defend himself while participating in a variety show, here in Quebec.

    As for «gerber», it can have many other meanings, I think. The first thing I thought, reading this, was that Lou yelled at PB but it may be a more general idea of causing harm,. In Quebec, we have «chier dessus» for something similar, and «chier dans les mains» for a failuremto meet expectations. As is probably obvious, these two Quebec expressions are considered very vulgar and are only used in some specific registers.

  8. Adam said,

    July 29, 2010 @ 7:12 am

    I don't know about the etymology of ch'ti, but the beer is nice.

  9. Geraint Jennings said,

    July 29, 2010 @ 8:44 am

    One of the features of both Picard and Norman is the palatalisation that results in phrases like "ch'est" (it's) that French speakers, who say "c'est" find distinctive. We have "ch'est-i'…?" (is it?) and "ch'tî" (this, as in ch'tî-chîn – this one – and ch'tî-là – that one). One of the distinctive features of Picard not shared with Norman is the masculine definite article "ch'" (short form) or "èch" (long form), plural "chés". To a French ear, Picard can seem to have an awful lot of shushing in it . Conversely some palatalisations that occurred in French didn't affect Picard or Norman (north of the "ligne Joret" isogloss) – hence we say "chutte vaque" (this cow) as compared with French "cette vache".

    None of this is at all apparent in the song which would presumably otherwise have ended up in a Picard version as "Cha planne pour mé".

  10. Terry Collmann said,

    July 29, 2010 @ 9:27 am

    In case Adam's comment appeared obscure, you can see la bière Ch'ti here. It's made in a style known as bière de garde, which comes from the Pas de Calais area, and it takes its brand name, indeed, from the name given to the local dialect. And it is, as Adam says, a fine beer.

  11. language hat said,

    July 29, 2010 @ 9:45 am

    Gerber can also mean 'to ejaculate,' if you prefer that image.

  12. Laura said,

    July 29, 2010 @ 9:48 am

    Plastic Bertrand is from Brussels. I don't know what different features he therefore has, though.

  13. Alan Palmer said,

    July 29, 2010 @ 9:51 am

    @ Terry: I hope that beer is indeed fine. At 2,30€ for a 25cl bottle, it had better be!

  14. fabienne said,

    July 29, 2010 @ 11:22 am

    Q: Who are the "plusieurs experts" who analyzed the accent, and is a copy of their report available?

    from http://www.dhnet.be 26.07.2010:

    "l'expert judiciaire, un professeur de l'Université de Mons (FUCAM), fait état d'accent régional du Nord de la France ou du Tournaisis, ce qui fait penser au Ch'ti ou picard. (…) Lou De Prijck [the producer], originaire de Lessines, connaît le picard. "

    [there are two universities in Mons, the catholic one, the facultés universitaires de mons (this is the 'fucam'), and the neutral université de mons hainaut. From what i know, there is no professor of phonetics (and even no linguistic department) at the fucam, whereas there is a laboratoire de phonétique in the umh, cf. http://w3.umh.ac.be/compa/, so it might be that the expert is from the umh contrary to what the dernière heure suggests]

    from metrofrance.com 27.07.2010

    "Paraît même que c'est flagrant sur la prononciation du mot "gouttière", un fait linguistique irréfutable…"

    from what i understand, the singer "chuinte" (swishes?) more on the "t" of "gouttière" than a typical speaker of bruxelles would do.

  15. KevinM said,

    July 29, 2010 @ 12:33 pm

    Saying it's a Picard accent does not "Make it so."

  16. Rodger C said,

    July 29, 2010 @ 1:11 pm

    Is that Picard article related to Eastern Catalan es, sa? (As in the name of someone we all know, Sol Saporta.)

  17. Jesse Tseng said,

    July 29, 2010 @ 1:32 pm

    @Rodger C: The Picard article is derived from a demonstrative form cil/cele (< Latin ecce + ille), while the Balearic article comes from Latin ipse.

  18. M Parker said,

    July 29, 2010 @ 1:50 pm

    I taught English to French high schoolers for a year in Caudry in the Nord-Pas-De-Calais region, and they said that Ch'ti was a mix of Spanish, Dutch, and French from the eras when the Netherlands belonged to Spain and their part of France was very much contested by the various colonial powers.

  19. Rodger C said,

    July 29, 2010 @ 3:00 pm

    @Jesse Tseng: Thanks.

    @M Parker: I'm skeptical on principle. Dialect speakers have all sorts of just-so stories based on the notion that the standard is "pure" and everthing else must be the result of "mixture."

  20. Julie Auger said,

    July 29, 2010 @ 3:22 pm

    Interesting debate. I have listened to the song, but not distinguish the accent in it from a Walloon or Bruxellois song.

    One thing I can say about the determiner is that its origin is the demonstrative determiner. In the Vimeu variety of Picard, the one I am most familiar with, "chu/chol/chés" is the most common form of the definite determiner. If you want to express a demonstrative meaning, you have to add "lo" or "chi" to the noun phrase. E.g., "chom maison" (with regressive assimilation of the /l/) is 'the house', and chom maison-lo" is 'this/that house'.

    As for Alexandre's comment: it is true that the movie has helped improve the prestige of Picard, but the trend started much earlier. Many artists sing, play, and write in Picard. The Picard edition of "La rentrée gauloise" sold 150,000 copies. Since then, 2 other Astérix volumes have been translated into Picard.

  21. Melissa Fox said,

    July 29, 2010 @ 3:44 pm

    If I ran across a word that translated as "vomit" and that reading seemed unlikely, I'd probably downshift to something like "loogied".

  22. Geraint Jennings said,

    July 29, 2010 @ 4:15 pm

    @M Parker: The "Spanish myth" raises its head once again. Faced with the fact that some Picard words resemble Spanish cognates more than French ones, is the non-linguist to guess that:
    a) certain historic sound changes affected French, but not the Oïl languages to the north nor the Romance languages of the Iberian peninsula
    b) it's down to the influence of the Spanish Netherlands?

    The clincher, of course, which should slay the Spanish myth (but, alas, doesn't) is that the same supposedly "Spanish" forms are generally shared with Norman (and the Normans haven't been under Spanish rule).

    But it is true that Picard has borrowed some Germanic vocabulary through contact with neighbouring languages.

  23. SSK said,

    July 30, 2010 @ 3:32 am

    What a prijck!

  24. oliverio said,

    July 30, 2010 @ 5:16 am

    Hi, for using the "Trésor de la lague française informatisé"(TLFI), the dictionary that's behind the atilf and linking to a definition.
    It is better to use the website at :
    CNTRL lexicography portal.
    The definition for "gerber" for instance is at :

    And for "gerber" in the context of what Plastic Bertrand said it is to receive a lot of insults.
    The TLFI dictionary was compiled during the seventies by the CNRS and put on the web in the early 2000's without any updating of the definitions.

  25. Achim said,

    July 30, 2010 @ 8:53 am

    Now I'm lost:

    certain historic sound changes affected French, but not the Oïl languages

    I thought that French actually is the langue d'oïl, opposing it to Provençal etc. being the langue d'oc.

    Someone to enlighten me?

  26. Lazar said,

    July 30, 2010 @ 9:38 am

    @Achim: You misread the sentence:

    "certain historic sound changes affected French, but not the Oïl languages to the north"

    Geraint is referring to the öil languages that lie to the north of French; he's not saying that French isn't also an öil language. It's as if you referred to "the Germanic languages to the north of German" or "the Spanish-speaking countries north of Peru".

  27. Lazar said,

    July 30, 2010 @ 9:39 am

    Sorry, I typed öil instead of oïl for some reason. D'oïl!

  28. Johanne D said,

    July 30, 2010 @ 2:27 pm

    To my Québécois (and musical) ear, the word gouttière certainly doesn't sound like standard French. I don't know IPA, so I'll try to explain this way: I don't hear gou-tyèr'; I hear gou-tchyér'.

  29. JMS said,

    July 30, 2010 @ 2:59 pm

    I find that "gerber" is pretty much interchangeable with English "spew" in most contexts—here, he spewed insults.

    I have only a medium-good ear for French accents, but it seems to me that the "Ça" is very "sah" despite the "gouttière" being "gooch-yair" so evidence for Picardie is a bit ambivalent.

    there are two universities in Mons, the catholic one, the facultés universitaires de mons (this is the 'fucam'), and the neutral université de mons hainaut.

    "Secular" would be more idiomatic English than "neutral" in this context, fabienne. The English usage of "neutral" is very confusing, alas.

RSS feed for comments on this post