Domestication/Foreignization

Within translation studies there are two approaches: domestication and foreignization. Domestication focuses on making the text work within the culture it is being translated into. This can mean changing phrasings that, when translated, would be awkward for the reader. Foreignization’s primary goal on the other hand is to leave the text as close to the source as possible. This means leaving phrases and words as translated so that a reader may encounter, if only through his own language, how another language operates.

Domestication and Foreignization happen all the time in music if we think about it. Taking Indian music and sampling it into a hip hop track is domestication: putting another language into a context that is familiar to an established culture. Performing period instruments to play Renaissance music is an example of foreignization. Keeping the instruments the same as they were when the music was made, the performers engage the audience on a level of authenticity.

But it never is as black and white when it comes down to it, at least not today. From classical music on modern instruments to jazz incorporating world and rock music (fusion), domestication and foreignization seem to gel together more often than not.

Perhaps instead of picking a side or being neutral we should try to be observant of which we choose during certain times of our music making: how much of what we’re doing is domestication and how much is foreignization?

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