Thursday, April 14, 2011

Fansubbing Song Lyric Translations

It was Şebnem Susam-Sarajeva of the University of Edinburgh, an authority on music and translation, who first aroused my awareness of fans translating popular song lyrics. She asked me if I had any information about it; to see the posts, enter sebnem in the Search box to the right. That was back in 2009, and I had nothing to offer her. Since then, however, translation crowdsourcing has expanded greatly and has become a significant method of translating for the public, along with professional translation, machine translation, etc.

So the other day, I came across just the kind of thing Şebnem was looking for. It's the web platform Lyrics Translate. It offers "42,849 lyrics translations in 63 languages". (There are some surprises among the languages, like Scots.) It has sections for "Request new lyrics translation" and "Translation help needed." In this last it issues an invitation: "Become a translator, help others, get respect and gratitude." So this is not for professionals per se: the reward is kudos, not money. Obviously it's fansubbing, and all bilinguals are welcome to try.

Taking a quick look at some of the products, my impression is that these are translations that give the meaning of the original words and hence are helps to understanding, not adaptations that would fit the music and be singable. Two different purposes. Here's a sample. It's from Edith Piaf's Padam Padam.
Cet air qui m'obsède jour et nuit
Cet air n'est pas né d'aujourd'hui
Il vient d'aussi loin que je viens
Traîné par cent mille musiciens

This tune which haunts me day and night
This tune wasn't written today
It comes from as far away as I come
Trawled around by a hundred thousand musicians
Apart from the lyrics themselves, this website offers something that's particularly valuable for research, namely a brief 'Profile' of many of the translators. Some of them actually are Professional Translators – taking time off to do translate something more amusing than their daily fare, I suppose. For example, 'melaron90', who's in her second year as a Linguist in the United States Marine Corps, whose native language is English, who's fluent in Russian and Spanish and has also studied Arabic, German, Italian and Japanese.

The Profiles have a classification into several levels. However, the levels seem to be based on the number of translations submitted, not their quality or the qualifications of the translators. The highest category – and by implication, I assume, the most experienced – is Translation Deity. After that, in descending order, come Senior Translator, Translator, Junior Translator and Novice.

I'm particularly interested in the category Junior Translator, which seems to be used often for translation students. For example, 'Chantrisse' from Northern Spain, whose real name is Silvia Sánchez López and who's a translation student at the provincial town of Soria, where there's a university school of translators that I happen to have visited. Translation school students form a transitional category of translators, more savvy than Native but not yet Expert.

The provenance of the translators is as wide as their backgrounds. To take a random couple of examples, there's 'jumpiol', real name Omar Pinto, a Senior Translator who's a software engineer in Culiacan, Sinaloa, Northwest Mexico and is fluent in Spanish, French, Italian and Russian. Or ‘rakiuzo’, real name Hüseyin Avni Dağlı, a Translation Deity, who translates from Russian to his native Turkish.

They may be 'hobby translations', but for some it's a serious hobby. 'Birdman', who did the Padam Padam translation above, has posted translations of 20 songs and that's typical. Yet it's nothing compared with 'Lady_A' from Bucharest, whose main occupation is financial specialist and who's done 580 translations. So it’s not surprising that her category is Translation Deity.

There seems to be a great deal of data to be mined in the Profiles by a researcher who has the time to do it.

Şebnem Susam-Sarajeva (ed.). Translation and Music. Special issue of The Translator, vol. 14, no. 2, 2008.

Lyrics Translate.

Silvia Sánchez López. Chantrisse!... she says I began to sing long before I could talk....

Image: Photo of Edith Piaf from Lyrics Translate.

Hobby translation. This is a manifestation of something I've called attention to several times on this blog, namely translating just for the pleasure of doing so (enter pleasure in the Search box). In the case of child Natural Translators, we called it ludic translation. However, it's worth a term of its own, and this one can be used for adults and Experts.


  1. Have you read about Alexia Sloane?

    And thank you for your comments!

  2. Thank you for the link. I'm thinking of doing a post about her.

  3. Wow! I happened to search my name on the Web and found this about me! Thank you so much for your mention and your link!
    By the way, I quitted Translation, it wasn't my thing.
    Hugs and kisses!