Original Research

An inter-semiotic approach to translation: Leonard Cohen in Afri-Kaans

Suezette Opperman, Marlie van Rooyen, Kobus Marais
Literator | Vol 39, No 1 | a1458 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v39i1.1458 | © 2018 Kobus Marais, Marlie van Rooyen, Suezette Opperman | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 10 November 2017 | Published: 15 October 2018

About the author(s)

Suezette Opperman, Department of Computer Science and Informatics, University of the Free State, South Africa
Marlie van Rooyen, Department of Linguistics and Language Practice, University of the Free State, South Africa
Kobus Marais, Department of Linguistics and Language Practice, University of the Free State, South Africa


Whether or not song lyrics should be translated has been debated by researchers, translators, artists and audiences. Some are of the opinion that songs should not be translated as singing in translation produces a weak version of the source text, while others argue that a song in the language of the audience fosters better understanding. The translation of song lyrics goes beyond linguistic aspects and includes musicological aspects such as the melody, rhythm and mode of presentation. Because of the interaction between the music (the melody) and the lyrics, the music in some cases obscures the lyrics and in other cases prolongs the lyrics. Therefore, the song translator faces a constant negotiation of inter-semiotic elements with regard to, among others, functionality and singability. This study provides an overview of the musicological aspects of song translation, with reference to Low’s pentathlon and Franzon’s layers of singability. As an illustration, this article provides a discussion of the translation of a Leonard Cohen song into Afrikaans by a South African gospel singer and preacher, Koos van der Merwe. The data have been collected from an original Leonard Cohen CD and the translated versions thereof from the Van der Merwe CD (Leonard Cohen in Afri-Kaans).


Song translation; Intersemiotic translation; Low’s Pentathlon; Franzon’s layers of singability


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