Exploring the intersection of translation and music: an analysis of how foreign songs reach Chinese audiences
The thesis looks into the practice of song translation, which occupies a peripheral position in translation studies (TS) despite its commonplace occurrence and significant impact on the global spread of songs. 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 tunes regardless of the semantic relationship between the source text (ST) and the target text (TT) has proliferated over the past decades. Some translated songs capture the gist of the original lyrics omitting minor details whereas some sever their relations 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 (MVs) cannot be overlooked in today’s digital landscape. Song translation can be understood as a field with its own “rules of the game” and exchange of different forms of capital following a Bourdieusian perspective. Adopting a case study methodology, the thesis investigates the particular field of song translation with special reference to the translation practices of a veteran song translator named Xue Fan 薛范, online amateur translators, and a professional lyricist from Hong Kong called Albert Leung 林夕. These case studies have been conducted for providing an in-depth analysis of China’s song translation activities through time and the dynamics of the power relations in the field. To translate a song from one language and culture into another invariably involves the losses and gains of certain elements, given the song’s semiotic richness. Against this backdrop, the thesis attempts to examine 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. 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 the thesis can provide new insights into our understanding of ‘translation’ in relation to music, and further shed light on how translation evolves at the convergence of music and technology in the globalisation era.