song translation challenges

Challenges in Song Translation

Music carries universal messages. However, music translation can be tricky, especially due to differences in cultures. Songs are a product of culture, and it can be challenging to maintain the meaning and message of the lyrics within the scope of a new cultural context.  Even in a song that seems to discuss a universal topic, like love, it’s not easy to break free of language barriers to communication! Read more about how song translation is done.

Cultural Adaptation Makes Song Translation Challenging

song translation processGood Song translation produces meanings that are accessible from one culture to another in lyric form. In a 2018 cross-cultural study, the Natural History of Song, it was found that the lack of linguistic familiarity and social context for interpreting the songs didn’t interfere with the identification of them. If you hear a song sung in an unfamiliar language, but in a rhythm you’ve heard before, chances are, it’ll be recognizable to listeners from diverse social backgrounds. But the catch is this: they can’t understand its meaning!  Even if a song is recognized across cultures, it won’t be understood until its lyrics are translated and localized.

When translators are given a music translation assignment, they must pay careful attention to the cultural nuances of the source text. Their task is to translate the song so it makes sense to somebody from another culture who has limited (or no) access to the original version.   This isn’t easy because songs with implicit cultural references pose a huge challenge for translators. Cultural elements appear on all levels, from the concept and form of words, the grammar, the use of slangs and idioms, to the rhyming schemes and meter. The materiality of a song (the lyrics, melody, arrangements and instruments) must be carefully reshaped and adapted to another culture.

The process of text to song translation leads to either permanence or transformation. The interaction between two or more cultures in translation results in a form of a hybrid text.  This means it adopts some features of the text in the source culture. Of course, this is not always desirable because it’s a compromise rather than an accurate translation of the text. Because of the many complex elements, a literal translation of a song is almost unthinkable.  The usage of machine translation or music translation software wouldn’t suffice. It takes a highly specialized translator who can provide professional localization services to be able to execute a proper translation! song translation

Covers and Dubbing as Solutions to Song Translation

Two of the most popular ways to translate songs are covers and dubbing. Music covers, or cover versions, are new performances or recordings of a previously recorded song by someone who isn’t the original artist. For example, Taco Bell used a Spanish translation of Fun’s We Are Young song for their   Covers usually keep the tempo and instrumentation of the original song for recognizability.  Additionally, the singers closely mimic the intonation of the song with a more-or-less direct translation of the original lyrics. In this way, the cover song hits a familiar emotional note and, at the same time, reinforces the foreign nature of the setting itself.

Meanwhile, voice dubbing or voice over is another mode of translation commonly used for television shows.  It requires translation into a foreign language. Dubbing is a re-recording or mixing using an verbal audio track that stays relatively close to the original. Instead of using written subtitles, voice replacements are used instead.

When a dubbing company wants to market television shows, clips, films or even video games from another country, they’ll opt for the usual translation services. Theme songs, though, are much more complicated and require specialized translation and localization services. It’s very common for companies to change or replace the opening or ending theme song (instead of dubbing the original). This happens for a variety of reasons. Replacing or tweaking a song could better adapt and make the show more popular for its target audience. Some songs are also licensed and cannot be used elsewhere. North American television networks often tweak theme songs to create English dubs of anime series targeted to children. In Japan, it’s much more common to change the music entirely when translating songs from other languages.

 

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