Armenian Folk Song

Matt Saccoach


Common Assignment – Armenian folk song

The artifact that I chose to analyze for my common a was an Armenian folk song. This artifact presented many challenges for analysis. Firstly the song was in a different language, a language barrier is a huge barrier for entry especially for analysis. It was all but impossible for me to glean meaning through the language of the song. For a while I was at a loss as to how to find meaning in the song, I went down all of my usual information routes, checking wikipedia, and Google for information on the song but could find nothing. Eventually after futilely searching for information; I came to the question “do I need to know what they are saying in order to understand the song?” This realization lead to me trying to analyze aspects of the song, other than the lyrics.

This second analysis of sorts lead to a few realizations. Firstly I realized that it is possible to find meaning even without comprehending the medium. Since I never comprehended a single word of the song, I needed to find meaning elsewhere so I began to more heavily examine the emotion and tone of the singers. Secondly I learned as a citizen of the US, I am inherently biased towards my own culture so from a global lens it is hard to achieve an idea of objective truth. One must understand other perspectives and recognize that theirs is not necessarily correct. This idea also helped me better grasp the concept of global citizenship. My experience with the song as an American is completely different from somebody else’s and we could glean different meaning from the same song. In the end, I never found the true meaning of the song but that is not to say I did not learn from it. I learned both how to try to find meaning even if I do not truly understand what is being said, and how to become a better global citizen through this understanding.

One thought on “Armenian Folk Song

  1. Robin Shafto

    For my project, I also studied folk music of a different culture and found that I had a difficult time understanding and finding translations. Instead of focusing on a song, I focused on the genre, Wienerlieder. I also struggled with the language barrier, particularly since a feature of the medium is its exclusiveness. Because there were so many songs and I could understand so few, I also found it necessary to focus on the broader tone of this kind of music instead of individual lyrics. Like you mention, even the difficulties you have in learning about another culture teach you about that culture and the ways in which you are biased toward your own culture. Even when I could find translations for individual songs, I still often could not understand them. Wienerlieder are written in heavy Viennese dialect and packed with obscure references and hidden meaning. The tone proved to be more useful again and again. There is a particular passive, smirking humor to Wienerlied. I thought there was a lot to your question, “do I need to know what they are saying in order to understand the song?” I think it applies culturally even on a broader scale than song lyrics. As a crossroads, Vienna was a cultural melting pot that was often viewed as the barrier or the crossroads between the East and the West. Its culture is a blend of many, which is a really inclusive concept, but its heavy dialect and coded references make it less so. At different points, Vienna has sealed itself off from siege with a literal wall and it has also been involved in the supranational cooperation of the Concert of Europe, which was also called the Vienna System. This shows the conflict between inclusiveness and exclusiveness that is at the heart of the genre I chose to study and many important events in Viennese history. When I was researching for my project I could find only a few translations and even when I did, I found the lyrics to be almost a hindrance. I still could not understand them, largely because my cultural context did not match that of the author. I did not understand the jokes and I could almost never get the hidden risque messages that characterized the songs. I think that it is really beautiful that you were also able to learn so much just from the tone of the singer’s voice. It taught me about cross-cultural similarities. You do not need to know what they are saying to know what a person is feeling through universal forms of communication. You managed to surmount a cultural barrier by looking passed the lyrical meaning into the cultural and emotional meaning of your song. Even though I was looking at a genre instead of a song, I think that we ended up mostly taking the same route by focusing on the meaning of the songs instead of their lyrics. I could find some lyrics, but the method you used was often more productive anyway.


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