Q:I really enjoyed your selection of international music from yesterday. But how do you think not knowing the language a song is in affects enjoyment of it? Is it less valid, in a way?
Depends on what you mean by less valid. Less valid than the enjoyment a native speaker would get out of it, or less valid than your enjoyment of songs in languages you know? I’m agnostic on the former — it’s impossible to compare individual consciousnesses — but would say Definitely Not to the latter. There are plenty of songs in English that I love, the lyrics of which I have only the faintest idea about. (And plenty of songs in English that seem to want to keep their lyrics only faint ideas. Harrumph.)
This isn’t an idea original with me, but there’s something to be said for not knowing the language when you’re listening to a really great singer: you can focus on the precise mechanics of the singing, the way they invest their voice with emotion — or don’t, keeping tight control over their expressiveness — without being distracted by the banality or inappropriateness or literary, as opposed to musical, qualities of the lyrics.
Of course, I’m lucky, in that I understand English and Spanish and bits of some other Western languages; and by far the majority of my listening is in the languages I know. The Internet’s made it relatively trivial to get the gist of popular songs, at least, in languages I don’t speak, and when I’m writing about songs I always try to get that at least. But if it weren’t for mutually unintelligible great pop, we would never have had “Prisencolinensinainciusol”.