Musical Translation process

Updated: Apr 16, 2018



In comparison with many other academic disciplines or interdisciplines, translation studies is a relatively new area of inquiry, dating from the second half of the twentieth century and emerging out of other fields such as modern languages, comparative literature and linguistics. The very name translation studies was first proposed by James S. Holmes as late as 1972 as a better alternative to translatology and to translation science, or science of translating, according to Nida.


There are two issues that need attention here: what we actually mean by translation (this section) and what disciplines or activities fall within the scope of translation studies. The understanding of these issues has been transformed since Holmes’s tentative, yet seminal, paper. As far as the former is concerned, central to the development of translation studies, indeed canonized within its writings, is the well-known, tripartite definition of translation advanced by the structural linguist Roman Jakobson:

• Intralingual translation or rewording is an interpretation of verbal signs by means of other

signs of the same language.

• Interlingual translation or translation proper is an interpretation of verbal signs by means of

some other language.

• translation or transmutation is an interpretation of verbal signs by means of signs of

nonverbal sign systems.


Translation thus refers to far more than just the written text on the page, the product of the translation process. Defining what we mean by the word is notoriously slippery: in their Dictionary of Translation Studies, Shuttleworth and Cowie begin their entry for ‘translation’ by acknowledging this fact:

‘Translation - an incredibly broad notion which can be understood in many different ways’, while Baker and Malmkjær do without a specific entry for ‘translation’ in their longer Encyclopedia.


Translation theory is an ‘operational instrument’ which is specifically required, as well as practical, and ‘occasional’ (focussed for an occasion on a particular set of translation tasks), and therefore to be used by the translator, the student and the critical reader as a frame of reference.

Translation theory in a wider sense is usually known as ‘translation studies’, or as ‘translatology’, the comprehensive study of translation.


There have been four successive stages in translation theory.

1. The linguistic stage, up to 1950. It covers mainly literary texts, that is poetry, short stories, plays, novels and autobiography. This stage is mainly concerned with the continually recurring discussion of the merits of word-for-word, as opposed to sense-for-sense, translation. This is the ‘pre-linguistics’ stage.

2. The communicative stage, from around 1950. This stage covers non-literary and literary texts. It is concerned with the categorization of text registers, the participation of a range of readership groups (less-educated to expert), and the identification of types of procedures for translating various segments of a text. It marks the application of linguistics to translation studies.

3. The functionalist stage, from around 1970. It covers mainly non-literary texts, that is, ‘the real world’. It is focused on the intention of a text and its essential message, rather than the language of the source text. It tends to be seen as a commercial operation, with the author as the vendor, the text and/or the translation as the tender, and the readership as the consumer.

4. The ethical/aesthetic stage, from around 2000. This stage is concerned with authoritative and official or documentary texts, and includes serious literary works.


These four stages are cumulative, in the sense that they absorb without eliminating each other.

Although it is sometimes claimed that musical texts have minimal communication value (mainly because of their style), they are written for various communicative purposes. The translation itself may have different purposes as well. To provide an accurate translation, the translator must bear in mind both of these groups of purposes.


The communicative purpose of the SL text and TL text may not be the same.

Musical translation is a special type of translation involving cross-linguistic communication in the musical context. In contrast to other types of translation, musical translation tends to involve more culture specific components.


The main problem when dealing with the translation of musical texts is the fact that musical texts are not just typical special-purpose text, such as medicine or biology. He conveys the essence of musical thought, idea and concept. Therefore, it is greatly important to make sure what the actual purpose of the translation of an individual musical text.Every translator of musical texts must face and finally try to solve the tension between the need of musical certainty and the fact of linguistic indeterminacy. Knowing the concepts behind the terms is more important in musical translation than in other translational areas.Translation is a special type of communicative language use that requires language competence in two languages, the SL and TL. In addition to the language competence, musical translation requires a certain degree of understanding of music.Critics believe that the musical translator’s competence presupposes in-depth knowledge of musical terminology, thorough understanding of musical reasoning and the ability to solve musical problems, to analyze musical texts, to foresee how a text will be interpreted and applied by the culture.


Natalia Rojcovscaia

from Master Degree Thesis "Structural and Semantic Analyses of

Musical Terms in English and Russian. Russian Translation Strategy"

Institute of International Relations of Moldova


#music #language #linguistics #terms #translation #interpretation

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