Lingli Xie
Wed 21 Oct 2015, 16:30 - 18:00
David Hume Tower Lecture Theatre A

If you have a question about this talk, please contact: Hephzibah Israel (hisral)

All Welcome

It is commonly assumed that music can break down national barriers and that the incomprehensibility of lyrics in an unfamiliar language does not necessarily conflict with the listener’s enjoyment of the song. However, the fact that many songs have been translated into different languages throughout the world does raise a pertinent question: how important is it to translate songs and how translatable are songs across languages and cultures?


Against such a backdrop, my presentation looks into the practice of song translation, which occupies a relatively peripheral position in translation studies. Foreign songs enjoy enormous appeal in China, where different methods have been adopted to translate them with the aim of enhancing listeners’ full reception. In particular, the practice of writing Chinese lyrics anew and setting them to the foreign tune regardless of the semantic relationship between the source text (ST) and the target text (TT) has proliferated over the past decades. Some of the songs capture the gist of the original lyrics omitting minor details, whereas others take too many liberties and sever their semantic relation with the original. This blurs the boundaries between translation, adaptation and rewriting lyrics. Another noticeable phenomenon is the emergence of self-organising communities, whose involvement in translating song lyrics and circulating subtitled music videos on the Internet cannot be overlooked in today’s digital landscape.


Adopting a case study methodology, my presentation intends to present an in-depth analysis of China’s song translation activities over time from both a microscopic and macroscopic point of view. To translate a song from one language into another invariably involves the losses and gains of certain elements, given its semiotic richness. On the one hand, I will exemplify how the interplay of different meaning-making modes in a song has been dealt with by different agents under various circumstances through close examination of the relationship between STs and TTs. On the other hand, following a Bourdieusian perspective, song translation can be understood as a field with its own “rules of the game”, where various agents deploy their own specific type of capital to compete with each other. This will allow a better understanding of the production, circulation and reception of song translations in respective historical, ideological and social contexts.

It is hoped that my presentation can draw a comprehensive and diverse picture that characterizes and reflects different facets of song translation activities in China, thereby enriching our understanding of ‘translation’ in relation to music.