Maman, les p’tits bateaux…
mah-MAH, lay pTEE baa-TOH… Click below to hear the song–both pronunciation and tune!
Maman, les p’tits bateaux qui vont sur l’eau…
Ont-ils des jambes?
Mais oui, mon gros bêta,
S’ils n’en avaient pas,
Ils ne marcheraient pas!
mah-MAH, lay pTEE baa-TOH kee vaw sewr lo…
aw-TEEL day ZHAH-buh?
may wee, maw gro bay-TAH,
seel nah NAA-vay PAH,
eel nuh maar-SHRAY PAH!
Mama, the little boats that go on the water…
Do they have legs?
Of course, my big silly,
If they didn’t have any,
They wouldn’t walk!
One of the many childhood songs of France…with a grown-up pun!
If they didn’t have legs…they wouldn’t walk! What on earth is this mother feeding her child? Do boats walk? Glad you asked…
The verb marcher has several meanings. It does indeed mean to walk. If the boats have legs, the child assumes that they walk on the water. But marcher also means to work, in the sense of being operative. The fun is that Mom perpetuates the child’s misconception by answering “yes” to the naïve question, thus opening the the opportunity for the pun.
The song is born of the beloved custom of sailing toy sailboats on the basin of the fountains in the many Parisian parks. Of course, any child who has tossed a sailboat into a bathtub knows the answer to the question: no legs. Not even the rubber duckies have legs (which, by the way, are properly called pattes–pat, paws or animal feet). But rationality is not the point. It’s about the fun of the internal logic of the language, isn’t it?