They’ve Translated My Song, Ma: Shifts in Song Translation




Song translation, singability, Melanie Safka, socio-translation studies, translation studies


In 1970 American singer-songwriter and First Lady of Woodstock Melanie Safka released her third album Candles in the Rain, which included a song lamenting the music industry: What Have They Done to My Song, Ma. That same year the song was translated by renowned lyricists Maurice Vidalin and Mogol into both French and Italian respectively, to be performed by Dalida. The following year saw the release of a German version written by Miriam Frances and performed by Daliah Lavi. The song that started as a folk ballad thus travelled from language to language and from genre to genre, from the hippie counterculture to a more middle of the road audience. 

The article deals with this journey and the people involved. It aims at highlighting the shifts that took place on both the textual level as well as the change of genre linked to the different performers. It follows and presents the results of a four-step comparative analysis: the first step explores music and performers; the second additional actors involved, their positions in the respective field and their contribution to the product; the third looks at the textual level (this includes aspects such as the structure of the song, singability and prosody); the fourth deals with genre conventions. The article is rooted in Translation Studies, but draws on the interdisciplinary nature of the field and connects the discipline with others such as Popular Music Studies or Sociology, thereby contributing to interdisciplinary research.

Author Biography

Stefanie Barschdorf

Stefanie Barschdorf is an independent researcher, who completed her PhD at the University of Vienna. Her doctoral research focused on the translation of popular music using the example of French chansons in post-war Germany.


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