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Translation and Popular Music

Transcultural Intimacy in Turkish–Greek Relations


Şebnem Susam-Saraeva

Research on translation and music has so far focused mainly on «art music» and on issues such as quality, singability and accessibility. Studies which seek to embed translation and music within their historical and sociocultural contexts are relatively rare. This book aims to shed light on how translations of popular music contribute to fostering international relations by focusing on a case study of Turkish-Greek rapprochement in the last two decades. It provides a brief account of the thaw in relations between the two countries and then examines the ways in which translation and music have played a role in these changes. By looking at the phenomenon through the music’s various forms of materiality (on paper, in audio and through the internet) and the different forms the accompanying translations take, and by drawing on a range of disciplines (popular music studies, sociology of music, ethnomusicology, social anthropology, comparative literature and fan studies), the book aims to foreground the multifaceted nature of translation and music and their wide-ranging impact on society and international relations.
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Chapter 5: Music fandom as online activism: Translating lyrics on the net

← 132 | 133 →CHAPTER 5

Music fandom as online activism: Translating lyrics on the net

Up until this chapter, music has been discussed in two of its various forms of materiality – on paper and in audio – and during its production, distribution and promotion stages. In this chapter my objective is to look at particular aspects of the consumption of popular music on the digital platform, including how and why song lyrics from Greek and Turkish circulate in translation on internet forums, how digital communities form around these songs and their lyrics, and how the rapprochement may be reflected, advanced or contested within these communities. Without exploring the translations of lyrics on the net, the account of translation, popular music and the rapprochement I would like to present in this book would have been certainly incomplete.

The internet forums in question could be seen as attempts of ordinary citizens, this time disguised as fans, at establishing some form of direct, if virtual, communication with the other shore and the diasporas originating from the Aegean. Their efforts are a testimony to music’s role ‘as a device of collective ordering, how music may be employed, albeit at times unwittingly, as a means of organizing potentially disparate individuals such that their actions may appear to be intersubjective, mutually oriented, co-ordinated, entrained and aligned’ (DeNora 2000: 109). The curiosity of these fans of diverse backgrounds towards the unintelligible lyrics coming from the other shore have led them to request translations, and in time, to respond to requests coming from other members of the forums. Charged as the source and target languages both are politically and symbolically, the interactions among the fans occasionally and inevitably overlap with the discourse of the rapprochement.

← 133 | 134 →Research on fan translations within translation studies has so far mostly focused on video games, mangas, TV series, films and canonized or bestselling fiction. The translation of lyrics has hardly been the focus of attention. On the other hand, in fan studies, where the emphasis continues to be placed on autochthonous text production, translations are rarely addressed as part of fan textual productivity. By emphasizing the role of translations in online music fandom, this chapter intends to increase the visibility of the phenomenon within both disciplines. In addition, scholars in fan studies have been trying to go global and to ‘begin to include accounts of fan activity in “non-Western” locations’ (Punathambekar 2007: 208, see also Chin 2007). Focusing on a ‘transnational fan community’ (Punathambekar 2007: 209), this chapter therefore also addresses fan studies’ internationalization efforts.

5.1 Fandom

Studies on fandom initially emerged against the backdrop of societal and scholarly prejudices which pathologized fans as somehow deficient, deviant and dangerous members on the margins of the society (Jenson 1992) – as fanatics – and sought to highlight what is constructive and encouraging within fandom. Even today, especially when talking about the fans of popular culture, there seems to be still a residue of ‘othering’ involved, often dismissing them as ‘the Other’, while upholding the position of the ‘us’ as the more socially acceptable ‘aficionados’ or ‘enthusiasts’ of ‘high’ culture (see e.g. Gray et al. 2007b). Since its inception, however, fan studies has come a long way from redeeming what was previously viewed as pathological and presenting it as somehow inherently ‘creative, thoughtful, and productive’ (ibid.: 3). The second wave of fan studies scholars, rather than viewing fandom in such a positive light and borrowing from Bourdieu (Hills 2002: 46–64), focused on the ‘replication of social and cultural hierarchies within fan- and subcultures as the choice of fan objects and practices of fan consumption are structured through our habitus as a reflection and further manifestation of our social, cultural, and economic capital’, thus ← 134 | 135 →‘unmask[ing] the false notion of popular culture as a realm of emancipation’ (Gray et al. 2007b: 6). What could be referred to as the third-wave of fan studies then acknowledged ‘that fan’s readings, tastes, and practices [we]re tied to wider social structures, yet extend[ed] the conceptual focus beyond questions of hegemony and class to the overarching social, cultural, and economic transformations of our time’ (ibid.: 8). In this chapter, the readers will find that I have had recourse to ideas from all three stages of fan studies, as I believe the fans in question have in fact achieved a positive outcome from their interactions, while not being exempt from hierarchies both within and outside their forums, and from the social, political, cultural and economic transformations taking place in the region.

The term ‘fan’ covers a wide range of affinities, dedication, emotional involvement and, sometimes, obsession. Alternative terms such as ‘aficionados’, ‘buffs’, ‘cultists’, ‘enthusiasts’, ‘followers’ and the like do not seem to have as much currency as ‘fans’; and yet, with more and more people consuming popular culture through various degrees of fandom, the term ‘fan’ itself is allegedly about to disappear from the relevant narratives (Jenkins 2007). The fandom referred to in this study seems to be part of this normalized, everyday socio-cultural phenomenon mentioned by Gray et al. (2007b: 7), ‘being a fan has become an ever more common mode of cultural consumption’, and Jenkins (2007: 361), ‘this kind of fandom is everywhere and all the time, a central part of the everyday lives of consumers operating within a networked society’. This widespread and more moderate type of fandom is inevitably more appropriate for the case in hand. First of all, even though ‘fans, for better or for worse, tend to engage with […] texts not in a rationally detached but in an emotionally involved and invested way’ (Gray et al. 2007b: 10), any kind of actual ‘fanatism’ would have been anathema within the context of the rapprochement, which necessitates a milder and more sensible approach. Quite often, the few isolated instances of actual or potential fanatism are quickly and efficiently dealt with within the confines of the forums in question.

Second, the networks offered by the internet environment afford contemporary fans means of reaching out to the world in ways which could not have been dreamt of by previous generations. These new media and networks not only work within their own immediate societies, but also open up to the neighbouring ones and beyond, bringing together people ← 135 | 136 →from various ethnic, national, linguistic and geographic backgrounds, who may have the relevant resources and knowledge. In the forums analysed, requests for translations, for instance, come from people of various linguistic and national backgrounds: from the Balkans, the Middle East or Western Europe. The ensuing translations come from Turkish and Greek speakers spread across the world.

Third, it is not only the reach of the networks that have drastically improved, but also the technology that is available to the fans. Being able to combine the audio and visual dimensions, to use hyperlinks and to edit music and image in such a way that one can juxtapose old 78 rpms with contemporary digital recordings have all changed the perspective of contemporary fandom and are highly relevant to this discussion. Last but not least, studying this kind of fandom becomes crucial for the purposes of understanding the rapprochement since, as foregrounded by Gray et al. (2007b: 9–10):

It is precisely because fan consumption has grown into a taken-for-granted aspect of modern communication and consumption that it warrants critical analysis and investigation more than ever. […] Studying fan audiences allows us to explore some of the key mechanisms through which we interact with the mediated world at the heart of our social, political, and cultural realities and identities.

Another significant aspect of contemporary fandom is that today most fans are not passive recipients, but often highly active producers. As Jenkins’s (1992: 208) oft-quoted and considerably challenged statement goes, ‘media fans are consumers who also produce, readers who also write, spectators who also participate’. This rings particularly true for popular culture, which ‘is produced by the people out of the products of the cultural industries [and which] must be understood, therefore, in terms of productivity, not of reception’ (Fiske 1992: 37). In this particular case, while the songs in question are produced by recording companies, both mainstream and marginal, the lyrics translations all belong to the fans.

Fiske (ibid.) presents fans as a ‘particularly productive’ group of popular culture consumers and classifies their productivity into three broad categories: semiotic, enunciative and textual. Semiotic productivity is the interior meaning-making ‘characteristic of popular culture as a whole rather than of fan culture specifically. It consists of the making of meanings of social ← 136 | 137 →identity and of social experience from the semiotic resources of the cultural commodity’ (ibid.), such as changing one’s self-perception according to the values gathered from a particular film or TV series. Enunciative productivity, the second category, emerges ‘when the meanings made are spoken and are shared within a face-to-face or oral culture’ taking a public form (ibid.). Enunciation here is ‘the use of a semiotic system (typically, but not exclusively, verbal language) which is specific to its speaker and its social and temporal context’ (ibid.: 37–8). Be it through language, dressing-up like their favourite star or wearing the colours of their team, fans generate and circulate ‘certain meanings of the object of fandom within a local community’ (ibid.).

In examining the forums where translations of lyrics from songs in Turkish and Greek circulate, both of these categories are useful, but it is Fiske’s (ibid.: 39) third category, ‘textual productivity’, that is most relevant: ‘Fans produce and circulate among themselves texts which are often crafted with production values as high as any in the official culture’. Fiske’s arguments regarding the economic costs of such fan textual productivity, lack of access to professional equipment and narrowcasting have of course been made partly obsolete in today’s world of YouTubers; yet, his use of Bourdieu’s concepts of economic, cultural and symbolic capital still come in handy when discussing how the Greek and Turkish fans of Turkish/Greek popular music also consider ‘the accumulation of knowledge [as] fundamental to the accumulation of cultural capital’ (ibid.: 42).

According to Jenkins (ibid.: 213) fans do not only produce meanings and interpretations of their object of fandom, but also ‘alternative social communities […] building and maintaining solidarity within the fan community’. The emphasis on belonging is allegedly strong in these communities and it is not only the love of the object of fandom that strengthens the bonds between the communities’ members but also the feeling of being an insider and sharing the intimacy – if you get the joke, the reference, the implication, then you are surely part of the shared culture. In this particular case, not only being able to glean into the meaning of the lyrics through the generous help of other forum members, but also being able to pronounce them, sing them and learning or trying to learn the Other’s language, all become ways of belonging to these virtual communities, as well as metonymically belonging to the actual communities around the Aegean.

← 137 | 138 →5.2 Music fandom and online activism

Fan consumption of popular music through translational textual production is part of what Wall (2003: 107–8) refers to as metatext (see section 2.1). The fans on these forums enhance their appreciation and experience of songs through exchanging lyrics and their translations, commenting on each other’s translations and unearthing cover versions of songs. The forums offer yet another environment where the song could be further contextualized. Part of this contextualization borrows from the discourse of Turkish–Greek friendship, locating the songs within the metatext of the rapprochement; and, this is the point where music fandom comes close to being a form of online activism mobilized for longer-term peace-building purposes.

De Nora (2000: 152–3) observes that ‘music is not about life but is rather implicated in the formulation of life; it is something that gets into action, something that is a formative, albeit often unrecognized, resource of social agency’. In previous chapters, I have analysed how the producers of popular music – composers, lyricists, performers, virtuosos – have taken up their own social agency in order to foster better understanding between the peoples of Turkey and Greece. The ordinary citizen, who is the consumer of this popular music, have also participated in these efforts of peace-building, by asserting their own agency while requesting, and responding to the requests of, lyrics translations.

Punathambekar (2007: 204) invites researchers to ‘consider fan practices as a domain of political activity that does not fit within classical liberal accounts of citizenship and political representation, but one that has clear links to a politics of mobilization around linguistic/regional identity’. In the case of the forums under scrutiny, the linguistic identities have been formed around the use of Turkish and/or Greek, both by the bilingual minorities and monolingual majorities living in each modern nation-state, and by the substantial Turkish and Greek diasporas. The regional identity, as discussed in previous chapters, remained as that of the Aegean in particular and of the wider Mediterranean. In parallel, however, ‘the dream of the nation-state is alive and well among the virtual citizens of cyberspace – not all of whom have chosen to be become citizens of the world’ (Boym 2001: 350). In the forums examined, the participants remain largely as representatives ← 138 | 139 →of their own nation-states and the corresponding languages, while at the same time fostering transcultural intimacy across the Aegean.

A word of caution before discussing some of the examples found in the forums: Hills (2002: 13), in his extensive critique on scholars working on fan cultures, argues that ‘it supposedly becomes the academic’s privilege and prerogative to decide upon the political worthiness of fan cultures and practices’. It is not my intention in this chapter to claim that the fan practices discussed in relation to lyrics translation are overtly or exclusively political. Whatever politics the forum members touch upon, it remains secondary, even tertiary, to their primary goals of increasing their intimacy with the music they love, as well as with the language this music is sung in. I also do not wish to continue what Hills (2002: 175) criticizes as the transparency fallacy, i.e. ‘the rather bizarre assumption […] that the newsgroup is supposedly a perfectly transparent form of mediation [which] simply holds [an] “essence” up to the academic gaze’. Like most other internet-mediated communications, the interactions on the lyrics forums involve a strong element of performativity, which complicates any claim to transparency. Therefore the discussion that follows does try and take into account the issue of the performance of the audience and eschews any suggestion of unmediated interaction between the participants, as well as between the audience and the observer.

5.3 Lyrics forums and translation

For the purposes of this chapter, I have picked up two rather different forums. The first one is Lyrics Forum –,1 an international lyrics forum with 106,267 members (as of 12.11.13). It has 17 sub-groups of lyrics translation focusing on different languages and language families. Greek lyrics translation and Turkic2 lyrics translation are two of these sub-groups. ← 139 | 140 →The second one is a regional forum with 664 members (as of 12.11.13), called the Music Forum of the Greek–Turkish Forum (GTF).3 The home page of the GTF lists 13 items as distinct forums. The Music Forum itself is divided further into four categories: Greek–Turkish music, Greek music, international music and Turkish music. For the purposes of this research, I have concentrated on the Greek–Turkish music sub-forum, as this is the platform on which the musical links between the two countries are discussed most widely. This sub-forum had 40 topics, ranging from general ones, such as ‘Turkish-Greek Common Melodies’ to very specific but well-known singles, such as Farantouri and Livaneli’s performance of Yiğidim Aslanım [My Brave One] or Yeni Türkü’s Turkish version, Yedikule [Seven Towers Prison] of the Greek Pente Hronia Dikasmenos [Convicted for Five Years].

As for the demographics of the fans contributing to and using these sites, they seem to be based not only in Turkey or Greece, as mentioned above, but also throughout the world, coming from the Turkish or Greek diasporas. There are also fans of other nationalities requesting translations of Greek or Turkish songs’ lyrics. There does not seem to be a marked difference in number in terms of male and female members, and the age range seems to be quite wide, between fans in their late 20s and early 50s.

I chose these sites as the most active forums on the topic, although by the end of the first decade of the 2000s the GTF seemed to have come to a halt, possibly giving way to other new internet platforms such as the Greek–Turkish Friendship with Music on Facebook4 or the Kalimerhaba group on Facebook,5 where the visual and auditory elements prevail over textual ones and, therefore, the translation of lyrics is not that prominent.

The two forums, especially the, are highly organized, with members having reputation points and receiving some sort of distincton ← 140 | 141 →according to the length of time they have been on the forum: moderator, senior member, member and junior member. As Hills (2002: 182) observes, fan cultures ‘construct hierarchical forms of internal and external cultural distinction/difference while preserving ideals of the “fan community”’. As the scholars from the second wave of fan studies have observed, based on Bourdieu’s ideas, these forums too replicate social and cultural hierarchies within the fan culture they host, as the fans in question strive to accumulate cultural and symbolic capital. The more fans know about the songs, music, musicians and singers in question, the more they respond to lyrics requests and the higher they climb on the social ladder of the fandom. The same goes for producing the translations; some members of the forums are considered to be veteran translators and are usually the first to respond to translation requests.

On these forums, the prevalent approach to translation seems to be geared towards grasping the meaning of the lyrics in question, with all other issues, which relate to the translation of songs in general, such as singability, rhyme, meter, etc. ceasing to be relevant. The translations offered thus remain literal and as close as possible to the original lyrics. The most common way of presenting the translations is interlinear although some variety can be observed. For instance, a line in Turkish/Greek can be followed by the English translation in parentheses, as in the Turkish lyrics below (all translations and quotes from the forums will be copied as they are, without corrections):

Gülümse, hadi gülümse

(Smile, come on smile)

Bulutlar gitsin

(Let the clouds go)

Yoksa ben nasıl yenilenirim

(Otherwise how will I be renewed)

Hadi gülümse

(Come on, smile)6

Or the whole translation may be provided in English, with no intervening Greek/Turkish lyrics:

← 141 | 142 →Tonight when we separated

It is one day that I never want you to forget me

One white rose I give you tonight to keep, and to hold, and for you to remember me.7

Another alternative is to present Greek lyrics first in the Greek alphabet, followed by the transliteration into Latin alphabet on a separate line and finally the English translation:

Με το ίδιο βήμα θα γυρίσω

Me to idio vima tha giriso

I’ll return with the same step

Με εκείνο που έφτανα συχνά

Me ekino pou eftana sihna

With that which I was arriving often8

At other instances, Greek lyrics are quoted in the Greek alphabet or in Latin transliteration, followed by direct Turkish translations:

Anaveis foties [Gr.]

Atesler yakiyorsun [Tr.]

Anaveis ke ola ta kes [Gr.]

Herseyi yakip tutusturuyorsun [Tr.]9

[You are lighting up fires/ You are burning up everything]

The prominence of English in its role as the mediating language between the two neighbours is worth noting here. Despite the fact that the two nations have lived in proximity for about seven centuries in Anatolia, today there are relatively few people who have access to both Greek and Turkish. ← 142 | 143 →English, on the other hand, is the main foreign language taught in schools in both countries. However, if, as has been discussed in the previous chapters, the sensibility and sentimentality inherent in Turkish and Greek music are indeed obscure for outsiders, it can be argued that English language, both in its distance to the region, as well as in its associated socio-political power, would be an inadequate and inappropriate tool to be used as a mediating language. This ambivalence is reflected in some of the comments on the forums: ‘the song is great, but it sounds weird in EN but this song gets me into it everytime i listen to it’.10 However, the need for translation in a language that can be understood seems to be always greater than the awkwardness: ‘I noticed that sometimes lyrics are funny when they has translated to other languages. But i want to know what they say’.11 This overwhelming desire for the intelligibility of lyrics, even at a cost of losing their inherent sensibilities, seems to be the active force behind the interactions on these forums. While the audiences may be willing and eager to consume foreign language music without any initial linguistic mediation, as discussed in Chapter 2, in their long-term process of familiarization with these songs and their eventual fandom, there apparently comes a point when they would like to tease out the meaning of the lyrics, regardless of whether they consider them supplementary or integral to the significance of the songs.

5.4 The gift of music and translation

Sometimes, the fans on these forums offer the translations of popular songs’ lyrics of their own accord: ‘I really love this song – here is my humble translation of it!’ or ‘Kardes [brother in Turkish], you get a free translation ← 143 | 144 →for being an Ahmet Kaya fan’.12 Most of the translations are nevertheless presented upon the request of other forum members: ‘Hello everybody. I want the lyrics of Mustafa sandal and natalia doussopoulos duet, the greek parts, please. Thanks a lot!’13 In either case, when the translations are offered, the passion for the music and songs in question is evident in the fan’s comments. A Turkish-speaking fan, Seda, notes on her translation of Aksu and Alexiou’s Gidiyorum Bu Şehirden: ‘I’m very glad to translate this song. I think it’s one of the most special duets and songs. I love it so much’.14 At another instance, Seda, this time responding to a request of translation for Aksu’s Gülümse [Smile] says: ‘I’ll translate it with pleasure because it’s a very special song for me’.15 In other cases, enthusiasm for the activity of translating itself might act as the reason for offering the translations, as in the case of senior member Neslihan, who states ‘ben bu siteden emekli olmaya karar vermistim ama turkceye tercume istegini gorunce yine dayanamadim!! :) [I had decided to retire from this site, but when I noticed the request for a translation into Turkish, I couldn’t help myself!!]’.16

A desire to reciprocate the efforts of other members, who are as prolific in producing translations, might also act as a trigger. Replying to a translation request from the Greek-speaking moderator, Seda states: ‘of course my sweet and quick maria! you just want, I do it:) here it is’.17 Like the majority of online fandoms, lyrics forums work on the basis of a gift economy (Turk 2014, Hellekson 2009), which has been widely recognized, both by the fans themselves and by those who carry out research on fandom. ← 144 | 145 →Some researchers argue that the gift exchange itself is ‘part of what makes it possible to experience and analyse fandom as a community’ (Turk 2014: online). The value attributed to these gifts is correlated with the time, skill and effort that go into their making. Finding out the lyrics of a particular song (and sometimes a particular version of this song), transcribing them, translating them, finding relevant hyperlinks to their music videos, finding out the originals of cover versions and offering information on the shared musical history, are all tasks which take up the time of the fans who offer them. And amongst these tasks, translation emerges as the main activity which requires the greatest skill and linguistic knowledge.

Turk (ibid.) notes that ‘we can better evaluate the relationship between fandom and production if we attend to not just the giving but the receiving of gifts’. The appreciation shown towards the efforts of those fans who offer their lyrics translations is worth mentioning here. Alper, praising the translations of Seda, another Turkish senior member of the forum like himself, notes: ‘u know its a great site … n lots of very helpful and nice people here … so everyone tries to help each other without the thought of taking back … its great … and i like your translations …:)’.18 Ceyda thanks Neslihan, who has translated from Greek into Turkish: ‘[Tr.] Neslihan gercekten tek kelimeyle harikasin […]. Tercumelerin icin cok cok tesekkur ederim [Neslihan, you are really, truly great […]. Thanks a million for your translations]’.19 Sometimes, the appreciation is indicated in the language of the Other: ‘NARDY BERNAL mou!!! Efxaristo pwly … [Gr.: My NARDY BERNAL!!! Thanks a lot …]’20 or ‘Bravo re kata [katastrof, alias of a Turkish member of the forum]. Such a wonderful song. Thanks kardes [brother in Turkish]’.21

← 145 | 146 →These translations, offered for free and often without the expectation of reciprocation, and their enthusiastic reception put into perspective the otherwise widespread and rather negative imagery that tends to go together with translation in other contexts and which has been widely lamented about within the discipline of translation studies, such as issues of invisibility (both of translations and translators), translations as derivative text (re)production and lack of prestige for the translators despite their hard work. Within the context of lyrics forums, translations are highly valued gifts and the people who produce them are usually treated with due respect, at least within the confines of these lyrics forums.

Unlike many other fan sites, where the ‘gifts have value within the fannish economy in that they are designed to create and cement a social structure, but they themselves are not meaningful outside their context’ (Hellekson 2009: 115), the translations of lyrics offered on these forums remain as gifts to the outsiders as well as to the fans themselves. They continue to be meaningful and valuable beyond the context of the fan forums. In principle, anyone with the slightest interest in the songs concerned can look up the lyrics in question and would then be rewarded with the full literal translations, even if they are not devoted fans of either Turkish or Greek music, let alone fans of particular genres, musicians or singers within these musical traditions. In Turk’s (2014: online) words: ‘gifts within fandom are not simply given but distributed – and potentially, via links and reblogs, redistributed, sometimes well beyond the corner of fandom in which they first appeared. Fandom gifting is not just one-to-one but one-to-many’, and therefore cannot be reduced to an economy based on reciprocation.

In some cases, the gifts do not actually come from one person, but are clearly the fruits of joint endeavours. Upon a request from a fellow compatriot for the translation of two different songs from Turkish into Greek, Maria, the moderator, hesitates: ‘Hmmm I don’t know turkish well and I can’t understand completely these songs. If a turk could translate them into english, I’d be glad to translate them in greek’ [sic].22 With the help of two Turkish ← 146 | 147 →speakers providing interlinear English translations, Maria then comes up with the Greek translation, as well as the transcription into the Latin alphabet.

5.5 Community, benevolence and the rapprochement

Turk (2014: online) points out the obvious asymmetry involved in fan communities: ‘most fans receive far more gifts than we give’ and the gift economy that is invoked in relation to these fan forums is ‘not just an accumulation of contiguous reciprocal relationships between individuals but a complex system in which the reciprocation of gifts, and by extension the reward for labour, is distributed across the community rather than concentrated in a single transaction’. How would this asymmetrical giving of music and translation to and beyond the community fare within the context of the rapprochement? As Hellekson (2009: 115) observes, ‘[w]hen the fan work is proffered, it is taken into the metatext. The individuality of that piece is lost; it becomes a part of something greater’. The concept of metatext (Wall 2003: 108, see section 2.1) emerges here once again. While the fans translate and request translations mainly for their own individual consumption of music, the metatext that emerges through their interactions encourages the songs to be consumed principally within the discourse of the rapprochement. Even if some of the songs in question might date back to a pre-rapprochement period, they are nevertheless listened to with the contemporary thaw in relations in mind. This relatively more positive atmosphere nurtures a particular benevolence amongst the contributors to the forum, enabling not only the smooth circulation of translations-as-gifts, but also ensuring that the apparent imbalance in the offering and receiving of these gifts does not prove detrimental to the thriving of the digital community in question. This metatext of the rapprochement can be detected in three different but interrelated domains of semiotic and enunciative productivity of the fans on these forums, which will be discussed in detail below: the use of certain expressions, aliases, signatures and images which clearly aim at mediation between the two nations, the order maintained ← 147 | 148 →and the politeness displayed by the forum members, and the efforts towards learning the Other’s language.

5.5.1 Aliases, signatures and images

Some Turkish-speaking members of the forums chose aliases that would be familiar to the Greek speakers, as well as being intelligible to the Turkish ones, cultivating transcultural intimacy through naming. For instance, koukla, a Greek word (Turkish counterpart would be kukla) means ‘doll’ in both languages, but in Greek the connotation is, as in English, that of a beautiful woman – a fact further highlighted by the fan’s choice of the accompanying signature photo, which is that of a model who resembles Angelina Jolie. Another fan uses the alias katastrof, based on the Greek word katastrophy [catastrophe, in Turkish felaket], which could nevertheless be understood by the majority of Turkish speakers. Paparizou_Fan is another example, singling out the Greek singer Elena Paparizou as the main object of this Turkish fan’s music fandom.

Spartan King, another Turkish fan, with an alias alluding this time to ancient Greece, uses the following signature, placed after the lyrics of the anonymous Turkish folk song Kalenin Bedenleri [Walls of the Castle]: ‘Race after all is made up. Its yet another tool humans use to create separatism. We always look for differences amongst each other rather than similarities’.23 Another Turkish fan’s signature reads as follows: ‘Even though our friendship is hidden in the distant kilometres, we’re friends as long as we share the same sky’.24 Yet another fan, kvk1, always concludes his postings with a photo of Turkish and Greek flags unfurled at the bottom of the sea by two anonymous divers. The photo is followed by a quote from John F. Kennedy:

← 148 | 149 →Where nature makes natural allies of us all, we can demonstrate that beneficial relations are possible even with those with whom we most deeply disagree, and this must someday be the basis of world peace and world law. Geography has made us neighbors. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners, and necessity has made us allies. Those whom nature has so joined together, let no man put asunder.

The whole quote is in fact a link, which takes visitors to join the Facebook group ‘Greek–Turkish Friendship’, which is itself linked, rather unsurprisingly, to the other Facebook group ‘Greek–Turkish Friendship with Music’.

The aliases, signatures and images used by some of the members of these forums thus indicate a willingness on the part of especially the Turkish-speaking fans to avail themselves of certain significations afforded by the rapprochement with a view to ease the virtual relationships on digital communities formed around the popular music of the region. Even if the ultimate goal of these significations is to elicit the desired translations of lyrics, hyperlinks to songs, information on singers, etc. their cumulative effect is nevertheless strikingly reminiscent of the naivety and optimism observed in off-line grassroots movements at the earlier stages of the rapprochement.

5.5.2 Upholding calm, establishing order and encouraging politeness

As in the case of many other internet groups, the two forums analysed have clear guidelines regarding what may or may not be said over the digital environment. Especially, the much wider and more established AllTheLyrics forum emphasizes, amongst other rules, the importance of posting ‘in a way that is respectful of other users’ and warns: ‘Racism OF ANY KIND, abusive, obscene, offensive or aggressive postings, insults or personal attacks, defamatory comments, foul language, trolling – all this is a direct reason for warning and banning one’s account. It also includes starting religious and inter-ethnic flames’.25 As a result, there are concrete rules to keep the ← 149 | 150 →exchanges polite, and some contributors strive to maintain grace as fans and go to great lengths to keep the atmosphere as congenial as possible. The fact that the written word is devoid of intonation, gestures and facial expressions can easily lead to misunderstandings, unless the goodwill is indicated in some other way. Hence the ubiquitous emoticons in these postings. Furthermore, in the rare instances of breach of boundaries, the forum moderators intervene swiftly and diplomatically.

Similar trends have been observed on other fan websites, where fans’ restraint was associated with a desire to ‘gain and retain a sense of intimacy with the stars by upholding the star’s status and reputation in public’ (Chin 2007: 213). In the case at hand, especially within the more regional forum, the fans seek and attain transcultural intimacy through their object of fandom – music and lyrics. These fans, instead of, or in addition to assuming identities as netizens, choose to remain closely associated with their respective nation-states. Recognizing what binds them, first of all within their own nation-states, and then across the Aegean Sea, these ordinary citizens-turned-fans highlight the role of music in everyday life and utilize its powers to enhance their sense of sociality and community, and heighten their understanding of how the Other might be thinking and feeling (Hesmondhalgh 2012: 372) through the access they gain into lyrics in the Other’s tongue.

When it comes to pointing out translational issues or problems, the fans are therefore quite cautious in their remarks and corrections, so as not to upset the forum members offering their translational skills. Meltem, a Turkish member of the forum, posts her interlinear English translation of the lyrics of Yeni Türkü’s Olmasa Mektubun [If It Were not for Your Letter] with the following caveat in English and Turkish addressed to Alper, a more senior member: ‘if i have any mistake you can tell me i wanna learn my mistake alper söyle olurmu [alper, do tell me, OK?];)’. Some three hours later, Seda, another senior Turkish member, posts her own version of the lyrics, again in English, and gently adds a postscript in Turkish to Meltem:

Meltem, umarım kızmazsın ama bir kaç tane hata görünce baştan bir çevireyim dedim. belki benim de hatalarım vardır ama en azından sana faydası olabilecek kısımlar var kusura bakma olur mu? [Meltem, I hope you wouldn’t be offended, but when I noticed ← 150 | 151 →a couple of mistakes, I decided to translate from the scratch. My version probably has some mistakes, too, but there are hopefully parts that would be of use to you].26

Meltem quickly responds, also in Turkish: ‘tşk ederim tabiiki kızmadım kızıcak olsam düzeltin demezdim [Thanks, of course I’m not offended. I wouldn’t have asked to be corrected otherwise]:)’ (ibid.). In another instance, Maria_gr, the ‘Momderator’, chips in to comment on the Turkish member Neslihan’s English and Turkish interlinear translations of the Greek song Taseis Autoktonias [Suicidal Tendency] by Anna Vissi:

Neslihan mou [my Neslihan, with the Greek possessive], your translation is so good.

The best is:

An genniomouna akomh mia foraimagesIf I would be born again one more time (or once more)
Pali esenane tha erotevomounaimagesI would fall in love with you again
Pali gia senane ego tha pethainaimagesI would die for you again.27

These subtle corrections of Neslihan’s English version are expressed rather positively by Maria through the initial emphasis on how good her translation is. Accordingly, Neslihan’s response shows no signs of being taken aback:

Hahahaha this is so funny, because i thought my translation was wrong and that you were correcting my Greek but it turned out you were correcting my English which i should be emberassed about hahaha, i m at work now staring at my computer screen and laughing, i dont even wanna know what my collegues think about my mental health right now haha:) Thanks anyway Maria, and we havent spoken for a long while, i hope you are well and everything is going your way!! Have a lovely day sweety:).28

Compared to many other internet groups or forums, in these forums which revolve around the lyrics of songs in Turkish and Greek, there is arguably more at stake in the interactions amongst the forum members due to the ← 151 | 152 →fragile and sensitive nature of the rapprochement. Members obviously do not wish to jeopardize losing face not only individually, but also on behalf of the nations they stand for on these platforms. They try to put their best foot forward and act as worthy representatives of their nation-states, as well as of the whole region while ‘performing’ their (trans)cultural intimacy in the virtual presence of fans from other parts of the world.

5.5.3 Learning the language of the Other

Chapter 2 discussed how being able to sing in the Other’s language was the ultimate gesture of transcultural intimacy and of positively recognizing and affirming the existence of the Other. The exchanges on the lyrics forums analysed bear traces of the same intimacy, this time reflected in the apparent desire of the members to learn each other’s languages, even if at a basic level, or at least to be able to use a couple of words in the Other’s tongue in their postings. As can be observed in some of the examples already cited, the good-will amongst the members, which signals both towards community-building within the forum and peace-building outwith the forum, is often expressed through the use of words or phrases picked up from each other’s languages and inserted into English. It is common for the Turkish-speaking members of the forums to use a couple of Greek words in their replies to the Greek contributors, such as ‘tipota [Not all all]:) Thank you, too for translation;)’, which brings the reply solely in Greek ‘Parakalo! [You’re welcome]:)’.29 In general, the postings display an interesting array of code-switching between Turkish, Greek and English, and occasionally other languages, such as German, as the contributions from Turkish and Greek diasporas in Germany are substantial.

Often the translation requests – the eliciting of the gift – involve this type of code-switching. The subject line of the initial posting of Seda, who is enquiring about the 2003 summer hit Aşka Yürek Gerek [Love ← 152 | 153 →Requires Courage], a Turkish and Greek song performed by Sandal and Doussopoulos, is as follows: ‘gia sas:) Mustafa&Natalia Aşka yürek gerek (foivos Anaveis Foties) please’. After greeting her fellow forum members in the polite and plural form of Greek, ‘gia sas’ [greetings, hello], she continues with the Turkish and Greek forenames of the singers and the title of the song, ending up with the English ‘please’. ‘Gia sas’, the first two words in the title, act as a friendly greeting towards the Greek speakers, inviting them to kindly provide the translation of the Greek part of the lyrics. Longer requests might similarly be interspersed with Greek words or phrases:

gia sas [greetings] friends. I’m looking for the lyrics of this duet of haris and sezen ‘gidiyorum bu şehirden’, greek parts of course. can you please listen this song from this link and translate it? But write the words in latin alphabet, not greek alphabet, parakalo [please]:) I hope it won’t be problem for you:) Sas Efharisto [Many thanks].30

Diminutives such as Seda’cığım, Maria mou [my dear Seda, my Maria] and colloquial forms of endearment are common in both Greek and Turkish languages; therefore it is no wonder that this usage is also reflected in the forum exchanges in an attempt to foster and maintain the intimacy generated by fandom. Beyond these small and relatively superficial gestures, however, there are those fans who actually participate in the lyrics and translation exchange due to their desire to learn a new language or improve their skills in one of their foreign languages. Here are some examples:

And here is the translation of ola se thimizoun (the lyrics you posted) into turkish :) i m just a little bored and wanted to spend my time translating stuff so improve my language skills :).31

I’m trying to learn greek and I saw that listening is very important while learning a language.32

← 153 | 154 →Neslihan mou [Gr. my Neslihan], I’m fine. Thanks. Well, neither my English is perfect, but I thought that with these corrections the translation would be better. Your translation was very good. Continue like this and believe me you will speak Greek fluently! ;).33

Thank you Maria, at the language academy i had written and oral tests and a conversation with the tutor in Greek to assess the level of my Greek and they put me in the upper advance class. That didnt just make my day, but it made my weeks, months, years, decades and more hahahaha. I was so happy i wanted to take the tutor out for a drink to treat her :) (i didnt of course it would be quite weird, but you know what i mean)This Tuesday we are flying to Athens i will make the most of every opportunity to speak Greek, and a week after that, we’ll drive to Salonica. We’ll both be in the same city :) (if you are still in Salonica of course :)).34

Maria_gr: Çok tesekkür ederim Seda mou! [Tr. Thanks a million my Seda!] I was trying to fıgure out if she wanted something else. And as you know my knowledge in Turkısh isn’t so good …

Bogazici86 (Seda): Parakalo Mariacığım:) [Gr. and Tr. You’re welcome, my dear Maria] Yeah I know but your knowledge of turkish will get better; I’m sure :).35

I think I found it. Hmm, it is really good! I wish I knew Greek by heart! Well, in few years maybe :).36

As evident in these remarks and exchanges, some of the more devoted fans who regularly participate in the interactions are aiming to learn or improve their Turkish or Greek, or sometimes English. As Fiske (1002: 33) observes, ‘Fandom offers ways of filling cultural lack and provides the social prestige and self-esteem that go with cultural capital’. In this instance, knowledge of the foreign language(s), however modest, makes a fan not only a more ← 154 | 155 →respected member of the group, who can contribute with more translations, but also an insider, who is assumed by the other fans to have greater access to the regional and linguistic identities.

This desire to become, or come back, as an insider is pervasive in most of the postings but is most concisely reflected in the words of a Komothini-born Turkish speaking member of the group, living abroad and 55-years old at the time, requesting the translation of the lyrics of Mes’ tou Vosporou ta stena [In the Alleys by the Bosphorus, see section 3.5]: ‘google translation is not good, so I’m still searching a “human translation” because I’m sure this song is very beautiful […] I am full of nostalgy listening greek or turkish songs. I left the region in 1964, long time’.37

Nostalgia thus finds its way into the fan exchanges on these lyrics forums. It can only be assumed that in the coming years, this nostalgia will increase, with the first generation of internet users coming to maturity and reminiscing about the music of their youth. By then, it would probably matter little whether or not they managed to learn the language of the Other. What would matter is the fact that they did have the opportunity and the right environment to do so at the turn of the twenty-first century and that this was no longer a taboo. Even if things did not work out well in their accumulation of this cultural capital, they could always have recourse to music as a means of fulfilling their desire towards the Other. By finding out what their favourite song ‘meant’ through the generous help of their fellow forum members, they could take one more step towards enhancing their regional ‘sense of sociality and community’ (Hesmondhalgh 2012: 371). Translations, as the gifts they offered and received as part of this desire-fulfilment, made it possible for them to explore the alleged proximity of the sensibilities around the Aegean as expressed through popular music. Yet, confirming the general observations in fan studies discussed in section 5.1, fans on these forums seem to have used their insider stance in order to achieve a positive outcome from their interactions beyond the immediate desire to gain intimacy with the Other; these ordinary citizens ← 155 | 156 →have fostered the rapprochement, in their own modest ways, through their semiotic, enunciative and textual productivity. Along the way, some have acquired more symbolic and cultural capital than others (e.g. learning or improving foreign languages, gaining recognition as senior members of the forums and as sought-after translators). Nonetheless, they all remained subject to the wider socio-political developments and transformations in the region.

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2Throughout my study on the forum, the title of this sub-group changed from Turkish lyrics to Turkic lyrics, as it began to include lyrics from Azeri, Uzbek and other Turkic languages. The main focus, however, continues to be on lyrics from the Republic of Turkey.

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9From Mustafa Sandal-Natalia Doussopoulos duet Aşka Yürek Gerek/Anaveis Foties (Sandal 2003), <> (last accessed 12.5.2015).

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