Translating Song: Lyrics and Texts (Paperback) book cover

Translating Song

Lyrics and Texts

By Peter Low

Series Editor: Prof Kelly Washbourne

© 2017 – Routledge

132 pages | 12 B/W Illus.

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This engaging step-by-step guide prescribes effective strategies and tactics for translating a wide range of songs and other vocal music, from classical to contemporary. Focusing on best practice and with a variety of language examples, the book centres on four key themes:

  • translating songs for a range of recipients and within different contexts (skopos theory)
  • translating songs for reading on paper or on screens (surtitles and subtitles)
  • "singable translations" and the Pentathlon Approach
  • translating expressive texts.

With a substantial introduction, six insightful chapters, further reading and a glossary of key terms (also available at and on the Routledge Translation Studies Portal), this lively and clear student-friendly guide is essential for students, researchers and practitioners involved in or studying the practice of translating music. This will also be an engaging read for musicians and all those interested in the study of music.

Table of Contents

List of figures

List of tables


1. Introduction: Song in Human Culture.

Songs have words and sometimes the words really matter.

2. Looking Closely at the Source Text

What features can make songs hard to translate?

3. Translations to Read.

The need to convey the verbal dimension of songs performed in the source language.

4. "Downstream" Difficulties

Problems of devising the target text. What is lost in transit?

5. Singable Translations (A) — Like a Pentathlon

The five main criteria for TTs to be sung to existing tunes.

6. Singable Translations (B) — Rhythm and Rhyme

Two troublesome considerations

7. The Place of Adaptations

The option of deviating from Fidelity

About the Author/Editor

Peter Low is senior adjunct fellow in the School of Languages at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, and a council member of the New Zealand Society of Translators and Interpreters. As a translator of vocal music, he has placed over 150 translations on the LiederNet Archive (, has devised surtitles for six operas, and has made singable translations of dozens of songs, both classical and popular.

About the Series

Translation Practices Explained

Translation Practices Explained is a series of coursebooks designed for self-learners and students of translation. Each volume focuses on a specific aspect of professional translation practice, in many cases corresponding to actual courses available in translator-training institutions.

Special volumes are devoted to well consolidated professional areas, such as legal translation, medical translation, or European Union texts, to areas where labour-market demands are currently undergoing considerable growth, such as screen translation in its different forms; and to specific aspects of professional practices on which little teaching and learning material is available, the case of revising and editing, or electronic tools. The authors are practising translators or translator trainers in the fields concerned. Although specialists, they share their expert knowledge and know-how in a manner accessible to the wider learning public. These books start from the recognition that professional translation practices require theoretical insight and flexible methodologies. They are located close to work on authentic texts, and encourage learners to proceed inductively, solving problems as they arise from examples and case studies.

Each volume includes activities and exercises designed to enable self-learners to consolidate and apply their knowledge; teachers will find these useful for direct application in class, or alternatively as the basis for the design and preparation of their own material. Updated reading lists and website addresses will also enable individual learners to gain further insight into the realities of professional practice.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LANGUAGE ARTS & DISCIPLINES / Linguistics / General