The Utter Joy of Irregular Verbs: Tu Canción

It’s a beautiful thing when a songwriter chooses and places a word so perfectly that its shape becomes physical sensation in the mind of the listener.

In Tu Canción (Your Song) you don’t need to know what the word ‘siento‘ (si-yén-to) means. Its sound alone (about 35 seconds in) will make your heart dance. The sliding ‘s‘, the elastic ‘y‘ sound, the soft landing of the ‘n’ and the final, neat step sound of the ‘to‘: a collection of sounds perfectly placed to swing you into a romantic waltz. Thank heavens for Spanish Irregular Verbs:

‘Siento’ means ‘I feel’, in every sense that ‘I feel’ carries in English: the emotional and the physical. ‘Siento que bailo por primera vez’ means ‘I feel that/as if I’m dancing for the [very] first time’.

Rául Gómez and Sylvia Santoro wrote the song for the young singers, having watched them meet and fall in love during the twelve week televised music competition OperaciónTriunfo 2017. Rául Gómez has said that he wanted Tu Canción to embody the hopeful, magical innocence of the beginnings of love.

Siento, married to the music of Tu Canción, is a word that rises on tiptoe, ready to dance. When Rául rehearses with the singers for the first time, he can’t stop himself acting out the swoop of siento. They’re concentrating so hard on getting the words and tune right that it takes them a while to relax into the pure sound of the words:

‘Siento’ is a lucky gift to the songwriters. It holds that magical, uplifting ‘y‘ sound because the Spanish verb sentir (to feel) is beautifully irregular. If sentir had been born to follow the standard rules of Spanish -ir verbs, ‘I feel’ would be ‘sento‘. Try making ‘sento’ sound like the first happy step of a waltz. It’s too heavy and too short. It has no lift, no width and not much life. It’s a marching word, not a dancing word.

But ‘siento’ has a spring to its step. As the rehearsals continue, Amaia Romero & Alfred Garcia, put more and more elastic into that first ‘y‘ sound. They move outside its Spanish dictionary meaning and pace siento so that it becomes a motor for the song.

‘Eres’ is another irregular verb gift. ‘Eres’ means ‘you are’. But it only exists as a songwriting option because its mother verb, ‘ser’ (to be) is wonderfully and wilfully irregular. If ‘ser’ behaved like ordinary -er Spanish verbs, ‘you are’ would be ‘ses‘. Goodbye to the central ‘r’ of ‘eres’ which hinges the word and lets it rock gently from side to side. Ses‘ would be a single-syllabled buzz of sound. Over in an instant. You wouldn’t be able to extend it, as you can with ‘eres’.

The chorus runs on irregular verb energy: Siento que bailo por primera vez/Eres el arte que endulza la piel. ‘Siento’ and ‘eres’ are the ‘get ready to waltz’ words. Each word rises up and steps on into the dance. There’s even a pleasing mirror image in the way one word begins with an ‘s’ and the other ends in an ‘s’. One word ends in a vowel, the other begins with a vowel. It all adds to the round-and-round feeling of the chorus.

There’s a reason why the verbs we humans use the most, in love and anger, became irregular. Emotion stretched and bent them into the shapes we want, not the shape grammar dictated.

Irregular verbs are the words that sing in every language.


6 thoughts on “The Utter Joy of Irregular Verbs: Tu Canción”

  1. “If ‘ser’ behaved like ordinary -er Spanish verbs, ‘you are’ would be ‘ses‘. Goodbye to the central ‘r’ of ‘eres’ which hinges the word and lets it rock gently from side to side.” Oh, how I LOVE your insights into sound and language! Thank you for this uplifting post.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Heide. I do love the way that irregular verbs, in any language, have been shaped by the force of daily, emotional use. Like metal on a blacksmith’s forge. Especially the verb ‘to be’, whose shape has to contain every toddler’s need for self expression and every teenager’s need to find a comfortable version of certainty, then every adult’s need to define their space in our shared world and to frame their opinion of those around them, day by day and day after day.

      Siento struck me as a perfect word in a perfect place when I heard Amaia and Alfred’s duet. Eres as well. In song, siento is like a little rollercoaster of sound. As a foreigner, I recognise the meaning, but the sound hits me first.

      By the way, Amaia won the Operación Triunfo contest last night, singing Miedo by M Clan. And it struck me that miedo is another one of those words that carries its meaning within its sound – a sticky, heavy, stretchy sound. It’s the mouth-halting m and the weight of the d that seem to hold miedo still, while the ie at the centre gives it enough movement to let it seep and pollute. I know you read Spanish, so you might find an article about the writing of the original song interesting. The writers speak about working on the song until they found the right word: una palabra corta, contundente, que elevase la canción por completo Miedo was the word they needed. Here’s Amaia singing Miedo in the OT 2017 Gala:

      Liked by 1 person

      1. What a marvelous article — thank you so much for sharing it! Sometimes the story behind the song is as intriguing as the song itself, isn’t it? In this case it really helps you appreciate the hard work that goes into crafting something that — to the casual listener, anyway — sounds so effortless.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Good, isn’t it? Glad you enjoyed it. I suppose it’s unusual for a songwriter to spend a long time consciously searching for, and then finding a single, particular type of word: the ‘one word to rule them all’ experience. I imagine songwriting is usually a bit more liminal. A to-and-fro interplay between meaning, imagination and the needs of the music, until it sounds ‘right’.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with Heide. It’s that combination of sound and language, the way you make us think about the interaction between both, that is so new and thrilling to me too.
    I wonder what you think about ‘sos’. ‘Sos’ is used in different Spanish speaking areas instead of ‘eres’, but it still sounds beautiful, especially in tango’s etc. It is a short as ‘ses’ but doesn’t feel the same.
    Un abrazo desde Colombia.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Rosa – thank you for that. I didn’t know sos. It sounds like a soft, cosy word. A word that hugs. It’s the time it takes to shape your mouth to make that o in the middle, isn’t it? It gives roundness and emotional seriousness to the sound. An e in the middle would be so quick to form that it would leave the two s sounds too close together, leaving ses sounding like the hiss of a snake. Do they use sos in Colombia?

      Thank you for reminding me of Juan d’Arienzo when you spoke about tango. Here in the chilly February of a British winter, we always need reminding of tango. I’ve always enjoyed this waltz:

      Un abrazo fuerte

      Liked by 1 person

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