Translating Song : Lyrics and Texts book cover
1st Edition

Translating Song
Lyrics and Texts

ISBN 9781138641792
Published November 9, 2016 by Routledge
132 Pages 12 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

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

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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.

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