To translate one song into another language is very challenging. Translating an entire songbook of 135 songs is a much more daunting task.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have tackled that job and within three years have translated their entire new songbook, Sing to Jehovah, into 116 languages. An additional 55 languages have a 55-song version of the songbook. Dozens of other language editions are on the way.
Translating and Lyric Writing
Jehovah’s Witnesses are already translating Bible literature into about 600 languages, with about 400 of those available online. But songbook translation has been a unique challenge. Why? Because the melodies in Sing to Jehovah remain the same, even though the lyrics have been translated into many languages.
Composing the words to a song is not the same as translating text for a magazine. When translating the Watchtower magazine into another language, for example, translators strive to convey all the nuances of the original-language text accurately. Music, though, is a different matter.
How It Is Done
Translators of songs take a slightly different approach to the original text because lyrics should be meaningful, beautiful, and easily remembered.
The wording used in a song of praise should be simple enough for the singer to grasp the meaning and intent of each phrase immediately. In every language, the words and music need to combine and flow naturally, as if they were the words of the singer.
How do the translators achieve that goal? Rather than produce phrases translated literally from the original English lyrics of Sing to Jehovah, the teams have been instructed to write new lyrics that capture the essence of the original song. While striving to adhere closely to the Scriptural thought behind each song, translators use common expressions in their language that are easily understood and remembered.
The first step was to make a literal translation of the English song. Next, a Witness with skill in writing song lyrics worked on turning the translated text into colorful, yet meaningful, lyrics in the new language. Always conscious of maintaining Scriptural accuracy, the translation team and proofreaders then examined the work of the lyricist.
Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout the world were overjoyed to get the new songbook, and it is eagerly anticipated in many additional languages.