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My choir is singing a jolly french song: 'Il est bel et bon', by Pierre Passereau. It was published in 1534 in Paris.

The words are:

Il est bel et bon, commère, mon mary
Il estoient deux femmes toutes d'ung pays.
Il ne me courrousse, ne me bat aussy.
Il faict le mesnaige,
Il donne aux poulailles,
Et je prens mes plaisirs.

Commère, c'est pour rire
Quand les poulailles crient,
Petite coquette
qu'est cecy

(According to the version by Monique Rio here: http://www1.cpdl.org/wiki/index.php/Il_est_bel_et_bon_%28Pierre_Passereau%29)

Does anyone know how it should be pronounced? (i.e. would have sounded like at the time.)

And does anyone know what the words commere, corrouse, d'ung and cecy mean?

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    My guess is that it is rather compère (that would translate as… buddy I guess?) than commère (tattletale?), corrouse should be courrouce and cecy should be ceci. Dung could be “d'un” but I am a bit doubtful – Evpok Jan 17 at 17:43
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    Also is there a specific part that you would like to know the pronunciation off? If it's the whole song I fear you are better off looking for works on the phonetics of Middle French – Evpok Jan 17 at 17:49
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    A link to a pronouncing dictionary of Middle French would be most appreciated, if you have one. I can read modern french and decipher the IPA. – John Lawrence Aspden Jan 17 at 18:30
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    There's also quite a few examples on youtube such as this one from my world. – enfernette Jan 17 at 18:44
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    @jilliagre indeed, aside from the modern derogatory meaning, commère (like other similar words in other Romance languages, such as Italian comare o Spanish comadre) is originally just the female equivalent of the aforementioned compère... which is to say, either "godfather"/"godmother" (in the strict sense of "with" + "father" / "mother", someone who has become a co-parent) or more likely in the meaning of (male or female) dear friend, dear my peer. – LjL Jan 17 at 21:40
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For the pronunciation I encourage the use of Google Translate, set language as French, type the text and click on the speaker icon. It's actually pretty good at giving an accurate pronunciation.

Now, the text you study is written in Old French (kinda like the Modern English of Shakespeare), so some words are written in a way that evolved with time. Yet, pronunciation rules didn't change that much over time. For example, "Il faict le mesnaige" would be now written "Il fait le ménage", which translates to "He cleans". As a French person, I can only understand this text by reading it out loud, it's all phonetic.

  • Commère: the equivalent of "gossiper" or "good fellow" depending of the context. Here, most likely, the latter.
  • Courrousse: From the old verbe Courrousser, another word that helps you is "courroux". It means wrath. So literally, "he does not wrath me", meaning he doesn't
  • d'ung: Would be written "d'un" nowadays. In this context, "d'ung pays" means "from a/the country".
  • cecy: old version of "ceci", this/that

Hope that helps, old French ain't easy to tackle!

  • thank you! that's wonderful! – John Lawrence Aspden Jan 17 at 18:09
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    Hello Adhoc, welcome and thanks for your answer. I don't quite agree with you here :“pronunciation rules didn't change that much over time” yes they did, just for starters you'd need to trill the r's and pronounce the oy in the final as /we/ so I don't think Google's synth would actually help here. – Evpok Jan 17 at 20:39
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    D'ung pays more likely mean to "d'un village" in modern French (like du pays, du coin). – jlliagre Jan 17 at 20:58
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I would recommend this:
Il est bel et bon, commère, mon mari. => Il è bèl e boN, komèr, moN mari
Hey, tattletale, my husband is nice and good
Il estoit deux femmes toutes d'ung pays. => Il étè dö fam tut d'öN pé-i
There were two women in the village
Disant l'une à l'aultre - "Avez bon mary?" => dizaN l'ün a l'otr : avé boN mari?
asking the other: "got a good husband?"
Il ne me courrousse, ne me bat aussy. => il nö mö kurus, nö mö ba osi
He never scholds me, nor beats me
Il faict le mesnaige, => il fè lö ménazh
he does the chores
Il donne aux poulailles, => il don o pulay
He feeds the fowls
Et je prens mes plaisirs. => é zhö praN mé plézir
and I do as I please
Commère, c'est pour rire
=> komèr, sè pur rir
Hey, tattletale, it's only a joke
Quand les poulailles crient: kaN lé pulay kri
when the fowls shout
Petite coquette (co co co co dae)e, qu'est cecy?
pötit koket, kokokokodè!, k'è sösi ?
you stylish girl, kokokokoday! what is this?

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    Hello, Arnaud, what is this phonetic transcription convention you are using here? – Evpok Jan 17 at 20:40
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    Also, if I interpret the convention was I imagine it is to be interpreted, isn't this just the modern French pronunciation? For instance, it strikes me as unlikely that estoit would be pronounced as "étè" when it was being written that way. Why wouldn't at least the "oi" be pronounced /we/? I'd also imagine a lot more of the final "e"s wouldn't be silent in the 1500s. – LjL Jan 17 at 21:43
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    @LjL: Final 'e's would not have been silent in the 1500s, and you definitely need to pronounce them when you're singing (although not the ones followed by vowels, like donne aux). But generally, French spelling changed long after the pronunciation did, so you really need an expert to figure out authentic 1500s pronunciation. – Peter Shor Jan 18 at 1:01
  • I've just tried to write modern French as little ambiguously as possible, without resorting to IPA. I don't think it makes sense to imagine what it may have sounded like in the 1500s. – Arnaud Fournet Jan 18 at 9:52
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    @ArnaudFournet Well, that is what OP asked – Evpok Jan 18 at 10:42

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