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Sung language vs spoken

 Language Learning Forum : Music, Movies, TV & Radio Post Reply
Senior Member
United States
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153 posts - 174 votes 
Speaks: French

 Message 1 of 2
18 July 2014 at 4:06am | IP Logged 
I don't have much experience with actually knowing what I'm listening to in a foreign sung language as I have only recently gotten enough French under my belt to understand opera and what not, and that is usually fairly easy to pick out the words. However, I've also got a decent knowledge of Russian, and I have to say, that I couldn't tell I was listening to Russian until I got to the point they were rolling their r's. Even then I could barely understand it. Maybe I was listening to a recording where the person didn't know how to actually speak the language? Or is this typical when you're listening to another language?
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Joined 3999 days ago

60 posts - 104 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: German, Scottish Gaelic

 Message 2 of 2
18 July 2014 at 3:29pm | IP Logged 
I dare say it depends a great deal on the genre, performer and the specific song/piece, and to a lesser degree the language itself.

In my experience singing can mask an awful lot of differences between languages as vowels tend to be emphasised (they're usually the sounds that are held), many of which become interchangeable when sung loudly as the shape of the mouth has to change to produce the sound at high volumes. Some differences, such as the presence or absence of nasals, aren't really affected by this, so tend to remain. There's also the fact that grammar, sentence structure and spoken rhythm often take a back seat to rhyme and musical rhythm.

It's not even particularly uncommon for lyrics to be difficult to decipher in one's mother tongue; I'm sure most people have "known" a song for years only to realise later that they had been singing the wrong lyrics.

Some genres will be worse than others for this. For example, country and various similar forms of folk tend to be slow and a lot of the time are lyric-focused so I imagine picking out the language there wouldn't be too hard. Strong accents may hinder comprehension though. Rap on the other hand is often faster and largely monotone and is a lot more about the rhythm (although lyrics are also important) so would be harder. Extreme forms of heavy metal are often largely incomprehensible in any language, so identifying the language it's sung in would be tricky. I could go on but I'm sure you get the idea.

Edited by Alphathon on 18 July 2014 at 7:22pm

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