Friday, September 17, 2010

Partly as a side gig and partly as a hobby, the Korean is in the process of translating an American law textbook into Korean. One thing that the Korean noticed is that English sentences -- at least the kinds that are used in law textbooks -- are generally longer than Korean ones. Relatedly, English sentences have a lot of embedding structures that, when turned into Korean, make a sentence really tiresome to read. Also, there are many instances in which the same English word has to be translated into two or more different Korean words, to ensure that the translation does not sound forced.

Calling all amateur translators -- what bedevils you as you translate English to Korean, or vice versa?

11 comments:

  1. Just curious. Do you use Hanja in the translation? Don't Korean law books use lots of Hanja? Or can you do without?

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  2. The Korean does use hanja quite often.

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  3. In non-prose translation from Korean to English, like transcripts, the ability for Korean to drop pronouns and rely on context often results in some pretty cumbersome translations with a lot of brackets.

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  4. I've actually found that when translating Korean sentences into English, I need to break the sentence down into 3 or 4 sentences because the KOREAN sentences are too long, but then again, I'm not doing legal work.

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  5. A few months ago I attempted to translate an important report put together by a North Korean human rights organization. I noticed that my two biggest problems were the following:
    1) Perhaps due to the inherent vagueness Korean sentences can exude there were many sentences that would "clarify" the one prior, but in the end would only sound really redundant to my "English" ears. I wasn't ever sure if I should have translated those second sentences because my translation of the first sentences would be clear enough.
    2) Translating (North) Korean forms of organization (ministries, bureaus, etc). For example they had "security guards" at the concentration camps, but they also had specific workers named "보위원" which according to my feeble attempts at translating also meant "security guards" (ish). I never did succeed at fully differentiating the two.
    Anyway I couldn't translate fast (or well) enough for the report so I (ungracefully) bowed out of the project.

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  6. Yeah, I actually find translating Korean to English that Korean sentences are really long. I have to break them into 2 or 3 English sentences so they don't become run-on. But in your case, translating English into Korean for law stuff, it probably helps that you can use hanja words or hanja phrases to make things shorter.

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  7. For me, translating Korean to English was difficult and headache inducing enough that if it sounded and felt *about* right, the work was compensation-worthy. :-)

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  8. Right now the Korean is reading a fair involved history book in Korean, so he does understand the point about Korean sentences being long also. The Korean thinks they are long different ways. Korean sentences, if translated into English sentences, could qualify as run-on sentences. English sentenced, translated into Korean sentences, has so many dependent clauses that it becomes hard to follow.

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  9. I'm with The Seoul Searcher. A lot of Korean words are poetic and have fine symbolic nuances within each syllable, with a lot going back to the Hanja. Translating that prose into English can get obnoxiously long.

    As someone who prefers English, the reverse loses nuance. From English to Korean, it's sad to lose the finer details and flavor of the euphemistic idioms in English as I translate them into literal Korean, or at least a lighter figurative speech.

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  10. Funny. I would have said the same thing about going from English to Korean, although I see your point about the sentences becoming awkward in different ways.

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  11. I translated Korean into English for few fan-subtitling projects (popular Korean dramas). I found that to be very difficult even though I understood and spoke fluent Korean and English. I found that when listening to Korean, I was thinking in Korean and vice-versa with English. Translating between the two language was a deliberate affair and not something that was automatic. I can only imagine how much more difficult something like legalese would be to translate. Good luck.

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