There's been an interesting discussion here and there was a suggestion to pose a question at ELU as to what cultural considerations should be taken into account by music teachers deciding whether to teach a native American song in translation, transliteration, or by ear (with supplemental information given so the students know what the song is about, what imagery is used, etc.).

I was thinking about asking at ELU Meta whether such a question would fly there. But then I realized that I think that lyrics are a special critter and I'd rather ask the question here.

On the one hand, one might consider such a question extremely subjective. On the other hand, it's an important and fascinating question.

Would such a question be appropriate here?

2 Answers 2

  1. Song lyrics are explicitly listed as on-topic on Writing SE, and not on MPT.

  2. In my opinion MPT SE lyrics would be on topic if the answer requires knowledge about music. E.g. setting lyrics against the music.

  3. Even if the word is not English, I would say ELU might be a forum with the best chance of finding people competent in the topic. I would suggest to ask on their meta. Writing SE might be another candidate, I've seen questions about similar topics there.

  4. It's important to ask questions on a right forum. If a forum lacks competent users, the answers may be wrong or of poor quality and the voting users may fail to realize it. In this case the question concerns potentially disrespectful and offensive behavior. Wrong advice can result in harming people and long-term reinforcing of harmful stereotypes.

I'd like to say that Aaron's answer seems to me good and well researched, still I don't believe we are the community to answer such question.

  • Outstanding example — setting lyrics against music — of a question that would be on-topic here.
    – Aaron
    Dec 10, 2021 at 16:36
  • I really don't think it would fly at ELU. Dec 11, 2021 at 3:13

Regarding subjectivity, it's worth noting that the linked question about the offensiveness of a word was answered with referenced citations from reliable sources. "Is this offensive to you?" is subjective, but "Is this generally considered offensive" can often be answered in a factual — or at least documented — way.

Another problem is the "language usage" category. First, the word in question in the linked post is an English word, but only insofar as it was appropriated and decontextualized from its original Naragansett. So one could make a case that the post would not have been a good fit at ELU either. "This is a question about a Naragansett work, not an English word...."

And then there's the issue of the origin of the question involving song lyrics. That fact of a word's use in lyrics is not necessarily enough to make it a clearly musical question, but there's room for ambiguity.

IMO, a question like:

  • "Is it appropriate to use the English word 'X' in such-and-such song" would be a likely candidate for ELU.
  • "How can I replace the work 'X' in a song such that the rhythmic/syllabic emphasis is maintained?" might be best on Literature SE, as long as they allow for questions with multiple, possibly numerous correct answers.
  • "What are the current standards for adapting aboriginal song lyrics into English" also might go to Literature.
  • "I'm planning a performance of 'Porgy and Bess'. What is the current thinking on Gershwin's use of dialect in terms of preserving it or, if inappropriate, what are considered appropriate options for modification?" would be a good question for MP&T.
  • "Why did the Meatmen write such offensive lyrics? Was there a larger goal besides giving offense?" would go to Music Fans.
  • Thanks for this. To clarify, I want to ask about considerations when deciding how to teach a song in a foreign language. So, not just an indigenous language, and not just a potentially disrespectful word. And if the teacher decides to teach the song or just one verse or the refrain in the original language, then how to teach it. Dec 9, 2021 at 15:08
  • @aparente001 The clarification helps. I was still caught up in the discussion from the linked question. More to the point then, I think you might run into to issues with your actual question: 1) It's very broad, and 2) It comes across as opinion based. Maybe post the actual question here on Meta or in Chat and ask how to refine it so it's a good fit?
    – Aaron
    Dec 9, 2021 at 15:53
  • As the OP in the Question being discussed, I'm fascinated by this conversation. In the future, is there a way within SE for me to know when there is a meta discussion about a question of mine? As in, is there a setting that will notify me if my question is linked in meta?
    – nuggethead
    Dec 10, 2021 at 2:09
  • @nuggethead - My fault. Best practice is to make a note below the question pointing to this one. Sorry, and I'm glad you found it on your own. Dec 11, 2021 at 3:13

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