Que Sera Sera

… whatever will be, will be.

You might know the song. And you might know the language the title is in. Or you might think you might know…

Is it Italian?

No, because that would be Che Sarà, Sarà. Che sounds like que does in the song, true, but that’s the only similarity.

French then, surely?

Well, that’s closer, but still not quite it. It is spelled Que Sera, Sera in French, but the pronunciation of que is quite different, like kuh. And it could also be Ce Qui Sera, Sera, if you take what to be the subject.


Again, close! You could translate it as Que Séra, Séra, but it would be strictly correct to say Lo Que Séra, Séra.

Portuguese maybe?

O Que Será Será.

So, if it’s none of those languages, what is it then?

Well, nothing really. It looks and sounds like a Romance language, true, but it’s not actually an example of a grammatically-correct phrase in any language. Why does it exist then?

The song was made famous in 1956 when it was performed by Doris Day in the Alfred Hitchcock film The Man Who Knew Too Much (a remake of his own earlier film). It was written by the songwriting team of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. Livingston had seen the film The Barefoot Contessa, which featured a fictional Italian family with the motto Che sarà, sarà. He immediately wrote it down as a possible song title, and when the duo got round to writing the song, they made the words look a bit more Spanish, because “there are so many Spanish-speaking people in the world.”

OK. That’s pretty straightforward, and almost makes sense considering the prevalence of Spanish in the United States compared to other languages. Still, it’s an odd thing to do, when you think about it. To just take a phrase in a language and change it to make it look “better,” more like an image in your head. It’s a very monolingual thing to do, I think. A very English-language thing, if I’m honest. Not that speakers of other languages don’t use English in ways that might confuse or infuriate a native speaker. But I think as most English speakers aren’t regularly exposed to a second language, we’re more likely to look at an Italian phrase and think, Well, t’s pretty good, I guess. But couldn’t we Spanish it up a bit?

It’s inevitable really that most English speakers are going to see the world in terms of the English language only, and not consider that it might be just a little arrogant to change other languages whatever way we want. At least we’re becoming more and more connected as communication becomes easier. Will this lead English speakers to become more sensitive to other languages? Che sarà, sarà, whatever will be, will be. The future’s not ours to see, che sarà, sarà…

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