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This paper serves as an introduction to the issues of song translation. There are many well known and notable example of such works. Some instances belong to popular culture, e.g.: example: translation of Tom Waits' songs by Kazik Staszewski; song translation done for dubbed animated films, musicals and shanties. Some other examples can be regarded as high art: translations of Wysocki's and Okudzhava's songs by many renowned Polish song writers and poets. In this work an attempt is made to briefly define song translation, and to state what its purpose and characteristics are.
The song translations are rarely of interest to the public which receives the end product of the translator’s effort and disregards the artistic process that resulted in producing the final version of the song. Translator, as usual, remains an craftsman working behind the scenes who does not attract much attention. These are one of the reasons why this most specialised and demanding field of translation receives little coverage from the academic world that does not study it closely enough.
Song translation is categorised into two major genres being: word-for-word translation and translation that results in text that can be sung. In this paper the emphasis is put on the translation that results in a real song that is actually performed. This highly specialised art is most demanding, due to problems of rhythm, syllabification, rhyme, melody and poetic value. Complex problems that one has to tackle during translation work call for devising good strategy and setting clear priorities. Due to the aforementioned translation issues only elite translators can overcome these difficulties in satisfactory manner. The song translator also has to play the role of a song writer and a poet.
Song translation is so challenging because apart from the considerations that are common to other kinds of translation, being cultural references, untranslatability of certain notions, linguistic differences between the source and the target language, the translator must also pay attention to aspects peculiar to songs.
The most important factors that have to be taken into account are rhyme, syllabication, and melodic stress. Also the poetic and artistic value of the created work should match the original piece. Some cases of song translation have even more constraints. In the case of translation for dubbed films, the song also has to bring the same emotional value to the viewer and it also matters to the plot of the whole film. The set of consonants and vowels used in the target song have to be synchronized with the lip movements of the characters.
From the linguistic point of view, peculiar differences between the source and the target language make the task even more puzzling. Different word stressing patterns limit the word choice to words that can comply with the melody of the song. Lexical problems occur frequently. For instance, in source language, there is an abundance of short and catchy words to say something, while in the other language the directly translated words are too long and cumbersome. The original song may employ a play on words, idioms or might even introduce neologisms, and incorrect words for artistic effects. Recreating the same features within a different linguistic realm is never easy.
Song translation is a craft and an art that requires from the translator extraordinary qualities and tremendous amount of effort. The methods and strategies applied by these outstanding individuals should become as subject of in-depth analysis because of the unique combination of problems that have to be solved to produce the ready song.