Scholarly article on topic 'Translation and Meaning Making: A Critical Study of a Multilingual Performance in “The Voice Russia”'

Translation and Meaning Making: A Critical Study of a Multilingual Performance in “The Voice Russia” Academic research paper on "Languages and literature"

Share paper
OECD Field of science
{Translation / "meaning making" / "multilingual performance" / Russian / Tatar.}

Abstract of research paper on Languages and literature, author of scientific article — Evgeniya Aleshinskaya

Abstract The paper explores the meaning making potential of incorporating translation in a multilingual performance. Drawing evidence from the multilingual performance of “Soldat” (“Soldier”) by Dilyara Vagapova in blind auditions of the vocal contest “The Voice Russia” (“Golos”) and ethnographic data, it demonstrates that resorting to a language unfamiliar to the audience can serve as an attention-getter, enhance the musical component of the song, and construct the performer's ethnic identity.

Academic research paper on topic "Translation and Meaning Making: A Critical Study of a Multilingual Performance in “The Voice Russia”"

Available online at


Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 231 (2016) 173 - 178

International Conference: Meaning in Translation: Illusion of Precision, MTIP2016, 11-13 May

2016, Riga, Latvia

Translation and meaning making: A critical study of a multilingual performance in "The Voice Russia"

Evgeniya Aleshinskaya*

National Researh Nuclear University MEPhI (Moscow Engineering Physics Institute), 31 Kashirskoye shosse, Moscow 115409, Russian



The paper explores the meaning making potential of incorporating translation in a multilingual performance. Drawing evidence from the multilingual performance of "Soldat" ("Soldier") by Dilyara Vagapova in blind auditions of the vocal contest "The Voice Russia" ("Golos") and ethnographic data, it demonstrates that resorting to a language unfamiliar to the audience can serve as an attention-getter, enhance the musical component of the song, and construct the performer's ethnic identity.

© 2016 The Authors. Publishedby ElsevierLtd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of the organizing committee of MTIP2016 Keywords: Translation; meaning making; multilingual performance; Russian; Tatar.

1. Introduction

The translation of songs implies not only "searching for local cultural and semantic equivalents" of foreign lyrics to make their meaning available to a wider audience (Adamu, 2010, p. 42), but also matching up the lyrics with the existing music of the original song. Translation of song lyrics poses an especially strong challenge in terms of retaining semantic closeness: according to Franzon, "a song translation that strives to be semantically accurate can hardly be sung to the music written for the original lyrics, and a song translation that follows the original music must sacrifice optimal verbal fidelity" (Franzon, 2005, p. 377). Several studies of song translations have focused on the ways songs can actually be translated (Franzon, 2005, Low, 2008). Franzon (2005, p. 390) identifies three properties of music - a

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +74957885699; fax: +74993242111. E-mail address:

1877-0428 © 2016 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (

Peer-review under responsibility of the organizing committee of MTIP2016 doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2016.09.088

melody, a harmonic structure, and an impression of meaning, mood or action, - which are particularly essential for the musico-textual fit in song translation. Low (2008) examines translations of song lyrics in terms of the rhyme, sense, singability, rhythm and naturalness ("the pentathlon principle", see below). In both studies, musical features of a song are demonstrated to play a crucial role in its translation.

Recent studies of multilingual popular songs, i.e. songs comprising two or more different languages, show that to appreciate the message of the song it is not always necessary to understand the meaning of its translated version. Davies and Bentahila (2008, p. 250) argue that since comprehension of the words is not the most important aspect of the song's impact on the audience, "it is after all quite possible to enjoy a sung performance without any knowledge of the language being used; the appeal of Italian opera to so many who do not understand a word of Italian is just one example". In other words, translation does not always fulfill its typical role of fostering understanding, but in some cases "seems to be an opportunity to bring other changes to the content, sometimes to the point of eradicating certain essential features of the original song" (Davies, & Bentahila, 2008, p. 268). In multilingual lyrics, translation may perform functions other than fostering understanding: for instance, it can be used to reflect or reinforce contrasts and/or parallels within a song (Davies, & Bentahila, 2008), to serve comic purposes (Chik, 2010) or to assert multiple identities (Androutsopoulos, 2010).

This study explores the pragmatic effect and additional meanings of translation in the multilingual performance of "Soldat" ("Soldier") by Dilyara Vagapova (ethnic Tatar from Kazan, the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan within the Russian Federation) in blind auditions of the vocal contest "The Voice Russia" ("Golos")1. In addition to Russian and English, which appear in the original song by "5'NIZZA", Dilyara Vagapova's performance offers translation of the Russian lyrics into the Tatar language. This paper aims at demonstrating how the incorporation of a translated fragment in a multilingual performance may serve as a way to gain attention, construct the performer's identity, and highlight some essential features of the original song.

2. Research setting

"The Voice Russia" ("Golos") is part of the international syndicated show "The Voice", which has local (national) versions in over 60 countries of the world. The aim of the singing contest is to find the best voice - a versatile talented singer - through a series of rounds (blind auditions, battles, knockouts, and "live shows", including quarterfinals, semifinals, and a finale). The contestants' performances are evaluated and discussed by four coaches, who are successful performing artists in various musical genres. The coaches give contestants professional advice on what songs to choose for their performance and how to sing them in order to reveal their vocal abilities. The coaches also act as judges during the show. In blind auditions, the coaches select vocalists who will join their teams and proceed to the next rounds of the contest. Blind auditions are particularly exciting, as the coaches sit in chairs facing away from the stage and listen to contestants without seeing them. If one of the coaches likes a performance and is interested in working further with the contestant, they press a button on the chair and turn to face the contestant. No wonder, the first and foremost wish for all of the contestants in blind auditions is to produce a memorable performance to make at least one of the coaches press the button.

A distinguishing feature of the Russian "Golos" is its special international status, which is expressed in a wide geography of participants from the republics within the Russian Federation (Tatarstan, Chuvashia, Chechnya, North Ossetia-Alania, Kabardino-Balkaria) to the CIS states (Belarus, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kirgizstan, Latvia, Estonia) and from countries farther afield (the USA, the UK, France, Italy, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Uruguay, Brazil, the Maldives, Cameroon). In order to impress the coaches and demonstrate their individuality, contestants of the show employ various strategies. These strategies include singing original and fresh interpretations (or cover versions) of famous songs, performing famous songs from different countries (or cultures) in different languages, and combining different languages in their performance. In this respect, the vocal competition

1 An ideological analysis of this multilingual performance is presented in Aleshinskaya & Gritsenko, forthcoming: Language Practices and Language Ideologies in the Popular Music TV Show The Voice Russia, in Language & Communication, Language Ideologies in Music, edited by Eeva Sippola, Britta Schneider, Carsten Levisen.

"Golos" provides a rich source of material for the investigation of multilingual practices in the Russian popular culture domain (Gritsenko, & Aleshinskaya, 2015).

3. Methodology and study material

Theoretically, the study is based on "the pentathlon principle" (Low, 2008, p. 5), which includes 5 different types of criteria for evaluating a song's translation: rhyme, sense, singability, rhythm and naturalness. According to Low (2008, pp. 6-11), rhyming in song translation can be flexible in the frequency and quality of rhymes, as there exist other (e.g., musical) ways of retaining the shape of the original phrases. In terms of sense, the primary task of a song translation is to reproduce the general spirit and mood of the original song. As Golomb puts it, "semantic approximations and loose summaries [...] can be accommodated on the microlevel in MLT [music-linked translation], especially if sacrifices of this type earn the text such values qualities as rhythmical elegance, witty and effective word-music alignment, immediate communicability etc." (Golomb, 2005, p. 133). In terms of singability, translation should permit "the actual performance in the target language of foreign songs with their pre-existing music" (Low, 2008, p. 2). In particular, vowels should match the needs of the original melody (e.g., long vowels are suited for long notes and melisma), or the key words in translation should be placed where the music highlights them. In the rhythmic pattern of a translated version, the emphasis should be on the perfect syllabic fit (when a translated phrase contains a fixed length of a phrase with the same number of syllables as in the original) and syllabic prominence (when accented vowels or long syllables in translation match correspondingly emphasized notes in the music) (Low, 2008, p. 13). Naturalness is particularly essential in song translation, and this is considered a normal requirement for a good translation.

The study follows a multimodal perspective, which implies that translation solutions are built on information interpreted from the combination of different modes in a multimodal text (Ketola, 2016). Musical performances on the show "Golos" are multimodal as alongside with the verbal language (song lyrics) they involve a number of nonverbal elements such as images, gesture, action, music and sound (O'Halloran, 2011). In other words, the verbal language in the musical performance is embedded within (and interpreted in relation to) the musical context (the melody, harmony, and rhythm of the song). The study considers how different modes (e.g., the verbal language and musical elements) exist in combination and work together to produce certain meanings (Kaindl, 2013).

The material for the study was drawn from the videos of the performance "Soldat" by Dilyara Vagapova available on the official website of Channel One ( and the Voice Russia Channel on Youtube ( The translated fragment in the Tatar language is explored with regard to the rhyme, sense, naturalness, singability and rhythm of the translation from Russian into the Tatar language. A special focus is made on the order in which the fragments in different languages appear in the multilingual performance which incorporates three languages (Tatar, Russian and English), as well as the pragmatic effect and symbolic/indexical meanings conveyed by the different languages in the multilingual performance. The critical analysis of the song lyrics and language alternation is combined with elements of ethnography, including observation of the coaches' behavior, exploration of the discussion between the contestant and coaches after the performance, and viewers' comments relating to the performance by Dilyara Vagapova on Youtube (Golos/The Voice Russia, 2014).

4. Analysis

In the blind auditions of Season 3 (2014), Dilyara Vagapova (an ethnic Tartar) performed a famous song by the group "5'NIZZA" called "Soldat" ("Soldier"). The original version of the song by "5'NIZZA" comprises verses and choruses in the Russian language and a short coda "I'm a soldier" in the English language. Unlike in the original version, Dilyara Vagapova started her performance with a verse and a chorus in the Tatar language:

Verse 1 (in Tatar)

Min soldat Ukenech

Vakytta kalganda ber gens patron

I'm a soldier [Russian: soldat] It hurts me

When I have only one bullet [Russian: patron] left

Yaki ul yaki min

In artky vagon bez bit kup

Min dsülst million

Min soldat

Atyrga min tiesh

Bu mina tanysh esh

Pulya doshman tsnens elsgergs tiesh

Shushy raga siga sniem

Sugysh kaichan tuktar

Only it or me

In the last wagon [Russian: vagon] of a train There are a million [Russian: million] like us I'm a soldier [Russian: soldat] And I know my business My business is to shoot

So that the bullet [Russian: pulya] hits the enemy

It's a joy for you

Mother war, are you happy now

Chorus 1 (in Tatar)

Min soldat

Sugyshnyij tashlangan balasy Min soldat Qni yaralarny tazart Min soldat

Nik bezne onnytyq sin Hodai Min geroi

Qitegez nindi romannan

I'm a soldier [Russian: soldat]

A premature baby of war

I'm a soldier [Russian: soldat]

Mother, heal my wounds

I'm a soldier [Russian: soldat]

A soldier of a godforsaken country

I'm a hero [Russian: geroi]

Tell me, of what novel [Russian: roman]

The first verse and chorus in the Tatar language are a word-for-word translation from the original Russian-language text. Interestingly, the Tatar lyrics in this song has Russian insertions like soldat ('soldier'), patron ('bullet'), vagon ('wagon'), million ('million'), geroi ('hero'), roman ('novel'). These words do not have Tatar equivalents. Moreover, some of them (e.g. patron, vagon, million) are retained in the same places within the verse as in the original and serve as the rhyming points of the verse (Sarkar, & Winer, 2006):

Original text (in Russian)

Mne obidno

Kogda ostayotsya odin patron Tol'ko ya ili on Posledniy vagon samogona Nas takih million

Translated version (in Tatar)


Vakytta kalganda ber gens patron Yaki ul yaki min In artky vagon bez bit kup Min dsulst million

Even if the Tatar text is a word-for-word translation of the original lyrics, the actual understanding of the lyrics in this performance does not seem important. The focus in the performance is not on the actual meaning of the song (the protagonist's attitude to war), but on some other aspects of the song and the performers identity. All that is required from the coaches and the audience is to realize that they are listening to a translation of the Russian-language hit and to identify the language used in the first part of the song. I will try to show how the incorporation of the fragment in the Tatar language (which is unfamiliar to the coaches and the majority of the audience of "Golos") helped the vocalist to convey additional meanings in her multilingual performance.

Interestingly, after the performance Dilyara Vagapova confessed she did not speak the Tatar language and apologized to Tatars for the way she used the language. The viewers' comments on Youtube (Golos/The Voice Russia, 2014) point at the lack of naturalness of her performance in the Tatar language:

• "Thepronunciation is wrong" (Kamila Black);

• "This is not real Tatar, i.e. not Tatar at all, but still it's cool! " (Bulat Sagdeev);

• "Well done Dilyara beautiful performance)) but although I'm a Tatar and speak Tatar fluently, I could not comprehend all the words)) " (Alexei Asabin).

On the other hand, despite the unnatural pronunciation of the lyrics in Tatar, the performance in the target language sounds perfectly in line with the music. The contestant later explained to the coaches that she had shifted the stress and syllable boundaries of Tatar words in order to fit them into the rhythmic pattern of the original song, thus making the translation singable. In this respect, the multilingual performance of "Soldat" ("Soldier") provides an interesting example of an innovative and unconventional use of language as a creative resource and an instrument of pop music aesthetics (like musicality and/or rhythm). In this performance, rhythm is the most essential feature, and Dilyara Vagapova chose to adapt the translation to the original music (Franzon, 2008) and especially its rhythm: she reinforced the sharp syncopated rhythm of the original song by the sound of the Tatar lyrics. Both the coaches and the audience praised her performance very highly, specifically pointing out the rhythmicity and musicality of the Tatar language:

• "I even felt sorry that Tatar is not a language that is accepted as a major one for singing here. It is so rhythmic — just stunning! It made my mouth water " (Leonid Agutin, coach);

• "I enjoyed the way she sang) And the song sounds really great in Tatar!" (Ohico999);

• "In Tartar, this song sounds fantastic, I don't know this language, but it seems to be very musical :) and s uch 'friendship ofpeoples' in music is always interesting" (Catherine S.).

The order in which the fragments in the Tatar and Russian languages were used in the performance was also strategically important. The melody of the song "Soldat" ("Soldier") is well-known to the coaches, and they easily recognized it from its opening chords. However it is obvious from the videos that, as soon as the contestant started to sing in Tatar, the coaches became surprised and started to listen to the unfamiliar language with some intensity. Eventually the strategy of incorporating Tatar at the beginning of the performance lived up to the contestant's expectations: one of the coaches - a famous pop singer Dima Bilan - pressed his button and turned to Dilyara at the end of the first chorus in the Tatar language.

In addition to the pragmatic effect, resorting to a language unfamiliar to the majority of the audience also helped the singer assert her ethnic identity and show her local affiliation with Tatars. Some of the comments expressed respect for the performer's language and ethnic origin, e.g.: "So positive, a real patriot of her city and her republic!" (Marina Abramova). Moreover, some viewers, obviously native Tatar speakers, were pleased to hear their native tongue on the show:

• "Cool performance, I enjoyed that it was in Tatar, perhaps because I am a Tatar myself, in a word it was awesome!!!!!!!)))) " (Smash Channel);

• "It's great it was in Tatar!!! " (Gayaz Gumerov).

The combination of elements from different languages in a multilingual performance also bears a symbolic message: "The fact that two languages are combined in a single artistic work may in itself symbolize the meeting and merging of two cultures and two identities, while translation can be perceived as a marker of mobility or convergence" (Davis, & Bentahila, 2008, p. 266). The combination of the Tatar and Russian languages in Dilyara's performance symbolizes merging of the Tatar and Russian cultures, and can be verbally expressed in the Soviet-time metaphor druzhba narodov (friendship of peoples): "Such 'friendship of peoples' in music is always interesting " (Catherine S.).

5. Conclusion

The findings demonstrate that rather than being used to foster understanding, the use of translation in a multilingual performance may cause the listeners (viewers) to confront an unfamiliar language, offering them an experience of "not being able to understand" (Davies, & Bentahila, 2008, p. 268). The lyrics of the translated fragment in an unfamiliar language becomes more meaningful in combination with the original language of the song: translation acquires symbolic and indexical meanings in a multilingual performance, which is crucial to a full appreciation of the song. Drawing evidence from a multilingual performance in the vocal contest "The Voice Russia" ("Golos"), the paper reveals that singing in a language unfamiliar to the audience can serve as an attention-getter and a means to articulate the performer's ethnic identity, as well as enhance the musical characteristics of the song.


I am grateful to Natalia Aristova from Kazan National Research Technical University named after A. N. Tupolev for providing insights into the Tatar language.


Adamu, A.U. (2010). The music's journey: Transcultural translators and the domestication of Hindi music in Hausa popular culture. Journal oof

African Cultural Studies, 22(1), 41-56. Androutsopoulos, J. (2010). Multilingualism, ethnicity, and genre: The case of German hip-hop. In M. Terkourafi (Ed.), Languages of global hip

hop (pp. 19-44). London and New York: Continuum Press. Chik, A. (2010). Creative multilingualism in Hong Kong popular music. World Englishes, 29(4), 508-522.

Davies, E.E., & Bentahila, A. (2008). Translation and code switching in the lyrics of bilingual popular songs. The Translator, 14(2), 247-272.

Franzon, J. (2008). Choices in song translation: Singability in print, subtitles and sung performance. The Translator, 14(2), 373-399.

Golomb, H. (2005). Music-linked translation (MLT) in Mozart's operas: Theoretical, textual and practical perspectives. In D. Gorlee (Ed.), Song

and significance: Virtues and vices of vocal translation (pp. 121-161). Amsterdam, the Netherlands/NY: Rodopi. Golos/The Voice Russia. (2014). Dilyara Vagapova "Soldat" - Blind auditions - Golos - Season 3. Retrieved 15 May, 2016 from

https :// Gritsenko, E. S., & Aleshinskaya, E. V. (2015). Translanguaging in music: Conceptualizing modes of interaction in global contact zones. Voprosi

kognitivnoy lingvistiki [Issues in Cognitive Linguistics], 4(45), 73-80. Kaindl, K. (2013). Multimodality and translation. In C. Millan & F. Bartrina (Eds.), The Routledge handbook oof translation studies (pp. 257-269). London: Routledge.

Ketola, A. (2016). Towards a multimodally oriented theory of translation: A cognitive framework for the translation of illustrated technical texts.

Translation Studies, 9(1), 67-81. Low, P. (2008). Translating songs that rhyme. Perspectives: Studies in Translatology, 16(1-2), 1-20.

O'Halloran, K. L. (2011). Multimodal discourse analysis. In K. Hyland & B. Paltridge (Eds.), Continuum companion to discourse analysis (pp.

120-137). London/New York: Continuum Press. Sarkar, M., & Winer, L. (2006). Multilingual code-switching in Quebec rap: Poetry, pragmatics and performativity. International Journal oof Multilingualism, 3(3), 173-192.