Singing into ambiguity

A problem which is rightly avoided by most self-respecting translators and translation specialists is the translation of songs – one of the most lowly and cumbersome activities that one can find oneself undertaking. However, the translation of songs is one of the greatest and common translation activities. Switch on the television and we see (and hear) Viva-or-MTV-like programmes attempting to interpret the poptastic croonings of the latest teen idol. The subtitled text runs speedily across the bottom of the screen mangled into incoherence or distorted beyond recognition. The muzak that is fed in usually comes out as sugar-sweet pulp. However, this is translation for the masses and it is something that every non-English teenager who has a working knowledge of English attempts to do in between oggling at their hero’s poster and buying anarchist T-shirts. The translation offers an insight into the mind of their musical hero, their pop champion. It would be both simple and foolhardy to find fault in such translation activity. Perhaps, a greater challenge is to take part in the process and raise the bar a little…

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8 Responses to “Singing into ambiguity”

  1. sexy mama Says:

    well,in my opinion, if such programmes as MTV or Viva want to translate the lyrics of song, they should think of a good translation, I mean, the one you could sing, a version in a particular language that still would resemble a song

  2. Iza N Says:

    I have to admitt that I’ve never seen a good translation on MTV or Viva. Most of lyrics’ translations somehow resemble the original song but usually they are so simple and literal that teens while reading it doesn’t get the message. Of course, I agree that the translation should be comprehensible and simple as it is directed at young people but it shouldn’t be translated word-for-word. A good translator knows that not only the words are important but also the message of the song and it’s atmosphere.

  3. transubstantiation Says:

    Does this mean that the form is more important than the content if we focus on creating a text that can be sung?

  4. transubstantiation Says:

    Songs are translated by a great many people. Amateurs. However, the translation of (some) songs should be treated like the translation of poetry.

  5. Michael W Says:

    Personally, I don’t think that anybody on MTv or Viva care about the song translations.. I read some translations in Bravo or something like that – they were terrible. I don’t like these songs anymore. Music televisions should work a little more on translations for the sake of people who watch them..
    The guy who will translate a song keeping its meaning and form would be a real master for me! I mean, hey it’s so difficult! 😉

  6. Magda Gołoś Says:

    I don’t understand why the translators don’t want to translate lyrics…It’s understandable if it’s about “cheap” songs for masses. But what if it’s about a top song of a well-known artist…?Maybe some translators are afraid? Some authors of the lyrics write pure poetry and what’s more the translated text must go together with the original music (so it’s not just about the meaning and sense of the words)- sometimes the top songs are played in the target language. Consequently, translating top songs may be even more difficult than translating poetry.

  7. transubstantiation Says:

    Carelessness is one of the biggest problems in amateur translation and it is probably also the most difficult factor to deal with.

  8. transubstantiation Says:

    Translators do not want to translate lyrics/songs etc simply because the people who actually work on the translation of songs are themselves not professionals. It is difficult leaving a mark on a market which is full of amateurs.


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