Lou Rawls said: Music is the greatest communication in the world. Even if people don’t understand the language that you’re singing in, they still know good music when they hear it. Nevertheless, the melody sometimes rather repulses than attracts us or it is limited to the background beat. Just as if the composer hadn’t got on well with Polyhymnia or she has played a trick on him. Therefore, you simply turn the radio off in order to protect your ears and no to get crazy with endless text manifestly lacking in melody. But don’t forget that the song is not only the music! To record an evergreen you need something more than a catchy tune and a good singer that has chemistry with the audience. It is also the lyrics that make the song what it is.
It is especially important in the case of poetic songs when the vocal is from time to time more similar to whisper or talk. Of course, nothing can replace a good original version in which all the allusions, metaphors and word plays are preserved and compiled with the performer’s personal appeal. But on the other hand, most of the greatest hits that are fundamental for the culture we know would not have achieved such a big success unless they had been translated. The translation of musicals, like the blockbuster La La Land, doesn’t need any additional justification.
But the question of how to translate a song well remains…
Some researchers call the process constrained translation, as the translator has to keep in mind not only the text, but also various not purely linguistic elements, like the rhymes, the syllabic composition, the rhythm, the rhythm and he should adjust all of them without the loss of meaning. It would be strongly advisable that the translator has received his training in the music area to better understand the importance of note- values, harmonies, stresses… which simply would help him to create a ‘singable’ translation.
City of stars
Ciudad de las estrellas,
Noc pełna gwiazd, czy to dla mnie świecisz tak? Księżyca blask… którą drogę
In the table above, we have a short sample, of how The city of stars, the emblematic song of the blockbuster La La Land gains (or loses) a new life in translation. You don’t need to be Einstein to see that something is not quite right here, even though you don’t catch the sense of single words or expressions. Whoever ventured to sing the Spanish or French version should have got a Grammy award!
So, the recipe for failure is as follows:
- word-for- word translation:
Eng. ‘The city of stars’→ Spa. ‘La ciudad de las estrellas’
- not counting syllables:
Eng. 3→ Spa. 6
- loss of rhymes:
Eng. ‘rush’⁓ ‘touch’, ‘glance’⁓ ’dance’ vs Fre. ‘l’adrénaline’‖ ‘un regard’‖ ‘une caresse’‖ ‘une danse’
or Spa. ‘un subidón’‖ ‘una mirada’‖‘una caricia’‖ ‘un baile’
- loss of meaning (as a result of word-for-word translation):
Eng. ‘send it reeling’ (= to make something move so fast through/ across something) vs Spa. ‘enviarlo temblando’(what doesn’t make sense, as this expression doesn’t exist in Spanish and looks like a cut sentence which can evoke negative associations due to the verb ‘temblar’ polysemy).
As you see, sometimes it is better to rearrange a phrase in order not to harm the vocalist, the listener and one’s own reputation.
Have we stimulated you to complete the list of potential mistakes or, just the contrary, to translate a song? Let’s show it in your comments!
By Karolina Dabek
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