Video Fix: Bob Dylan, when music can be translated

November 2, 2016 10:00 am

“I consider myself a poet first and a musician second. I live like a poet and I’ll die like a poet”.

If we ask for Bob Dylan everybody will be able to tell us something about this artist: their favourite songs, text, even which has been the best translation of one of his songs. Dylan’s lyrics has influences in so many different areas such as politics, philosophy and literature. A well-known musician (and poet) who has won (but still hasn’t accepted) the last Nobel Prize in Literature and who is not even returning calls from the committee.

The following song has received the Academy Award for Best Song from a Motion Picture in 2001 being part of the official soundtrack of the film Wonder Boys.

He is one of the most powerful singer-songwriters of the 20th century whose career started in the sixties with songs that chronicled social issues like war and civil rights. As a curiosity, he was born as Robert Allen Zimmerman and attending college, he began performing folk and country music, taking the name  of “Bob Dylan”. Let’s take a look at some interesting facts about his career regarding translation as a main character.


A language is a crucial part of Dylan’s success. It is not necessary to write books to win an award as we can now sing and words will arrive worldwide because music is a universal language. However, songs that are translated in different languages must be not only translated but also adapted. And it is hard because it all depends on the song. The lyrics mix with the notes of the song in a special way and it is so complicated to find this connection in a different language with a translation. We have to know that we aren’t only playing with music but also with a cultural connection of a specific language which is almost impossible to translate so, in the majority of cases, we will just lost this cultural property. There are many different translators who work adapting lyrics from one language to another and there are even papers studying this complicated process. After our research, this is our proposal of some curious facts about Dylan:

  1. Dylan’s songs has been translated in several languages such as Spanish, Italian, Romanian, French, Jewish, Bengali, Arabic and Dzongkha (the language of Bhutan) among other tongues.
  2. There is a Norwegian paper about “Translators’ voices in Norwegian retranslations of Bob Dylan’s songs” written by Annjo K. Greenall from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
  3. In 2015, Francesco de Gregori, an Italian singer-songwriter, has translated a whole album of Dylan’s songs. He is the second artist who has translated songs in Italian as the first one was Tito Schipa Jr. in 1987.
  4. There is a book in Spanish entitled “Letras 1961-2001” where we can find his songs translated into Spanish with curiosities and observations of the author of the book.
  5. Dylan has composed more than 522 songs (being also co-author of a large number of them). Filip Łobodziński, a Polish journalist and translator has translated and adapted more than 130 Dylan’s songs into Polish. Łobodziński has even recorded an album of some of his translated songs.
  6. Franco’s regime in Spain has pushed Catalan authors to sing and interpret Dylan’s songs as a protest. There are so many translations into Catalan which are still interpreted up to the present day in different song festivals, concerts and events.

Maybe you could share with us some interesting facts about Dylan’s songs translated in other languages? Do you know any curiosities that you want to explain us? Please feel free to send us your proposals, it would be much appreciated. As Dylan’s said:

A song is anything that can walk by itself.
Thank you for helping us to walk together discovering other translations.

Written by Olga Jeczmyk: Translator-Interpreter, Social Media and Content Manager as well as Communication and Terminology Trainee. Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament in Luxembourg.


  • Brzozowicz, G. (2016) Bob Dylan – twórca nieznany. Available at: (Accessed: 27 October 2016).
  • Danton, E.R. (2014) ‘From another world’: Hear Bob Dylan translated into Bengali (Song Premiere). Available at: (Accessed: 27 October 2016).
  • EFE. (2007) ‘Letras 1962-2001’, las canciones escritas por Bob Dylan en inglés y castellano. Available at: (Accessed: 27 October 2016).
  • Froeliger, N. (2007) Nothing’s Been Changed, Except the Words: Some Faithful Attempts at Covering Bob Dylan Songs in French. Available at: (Accessed: 27 October 2016).
  • Nerín, G. (2016) Les versions catalanes de Bob Dylan. Available at: (Accessed: 27 October 2016).
  • Papageorgiou, D. and Trost, M. (2014) The joy and agony of translating song lyrics. Available at: (Accessed: 27 October 2016).

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