Today’s guest video is a little different from normal,
so be prepared for music, emoji and being told you’re hot,
as Alex from Play the Mind takes on song translations.
Alex, take it away.
♫ Give your heart and soul to me
♫ and life will always be
♫ La Vie En Rose. ♫
You just heard a contrafactum.
That’s when the lyrics of the song are changed, but the music stays the same.
Parody songs are a good example of contrafactum and so are song translations.
But as opposed to parodies, song translations give the false impression
of remaining faithful to the original.
what I just sang is part of the English version of the French song
La Vie En Rose by Edith Piaf.
The French lyrics of what I sang are,
"Et dès que je l'aperçois alors je sens en moi, mon cœur qui bat."
The meaning of these words has nothing to do with what I just sang.
As a matter of fact, the whole English version ends up becoming short, bilingual,
gender-neutral and sung directly to the loved one,
which are characteristics not present in the original French version.
And this song isn’t the only case where this happens.
When dealing with any song translation,
there’s a conflict between the meaning of the lyrics and the way they sound when spoken.
If you were to translate a song purely based on meaning,
you would end up having lyrics with beats following on syllables,
which naturally don't RE-ceive an ac-CENT when spo-KEN.
So, somewhere, you need to sacrifice some meaning in order to preserve good sound.
And who’s to blame for making song translations so darn complicated?
The phonology of a language is like its musical DNA
and it has a primordial influence
on how the melody of a song gets written in a certain language.
Even the particular way a baby cries has to do with how its mother speaks.
There are two things to consider in phonology.
The phonemes are the vowels and consonants that make up speech
and the prosody of a language is the way the phonemes are put together
into syllables, words and sentences and their intonation
in order to convey meaning.
It’s the prosody of English that makes the difference between saying,
“Hey, you’re HOT,” and saying, “Hey. YOU’RE hot.”
But, back to music.
It’s the phonological system of a language
which shapes the melody of a song originally written in that language.
And when translating that song into a language
with a completely different phonological system,
something ends up sounding bad.
For instance, some languages, like Hindi or Italian,
are more favourable to melismatic singing,
where you have multiple notes sung over just a few vowels.
Here’s an example in English:
♫ If I...
♫ should stay... ♫
That was Whitney Houston.
And other languages, such as German or Polish,
are more favourable to syllabic singing,
where you have one note per syllable.
♫ Freude schöner Götterfunken
♫ Tochter aus Elysium! ♫
That was Ludwig Van.
Therein lies the crux of the matter.
Setting the text of a syllabic language to a melismatic song
or vice-versa, sounds forced, artificial.
I’m fully aware that no language is purely syllabic or purely melismatic,
but I am emphasising these extremes in order to drive my point home.
A song translation can either sound good, but be inaccurate in meaning,
or it can be accurate, but sound bad.
Take your pick.
But, how important are song translations nowadays?
Well, think of this.
Roughly 80 million people speak Korean worldwide, yet to this day,
the video on YouTube with most views is the Korean song ‘Gangnam Style’
with more than 2.5 billion views.
This means most of the audience probably didn’t understand a word that was being sung.
Go subscribe to Play the Mind for all sorts of videos about music theory and acoustics,
including one about the very first mic drop.
Next time, in the last guest video of the run,
we have something in the ever-popular genre of
"that thing you’re eating isn’t what you think it is".
See you then.