Fansubbing the Korean Language
Now that With S2 has just released the rest of Dal Ja’s Spring to finish our 30th project (30 kdramas! In just over a year!), I had a few thoughts on fansubbing as a whole… The more I fansub and translate, the more I’ve gotten comfortable recognizing wordplay in Korean, which I always get a little kick out of. I like wordplay of all sorts, and I think people enjoy understanding them, because it gives you a deeper appreciation into the language of a drama, for instance, rather than merely the plot. I’ve also seen a couple of comments noting interest in some of my Korean language explanations, which made me realize if I get a kick out of little details, other people probably would too.
SONG OF THE DAY
Uhm Jung Hwa – Eternity (bossa mix) [ zShare download ]
I know when I watched Hana Yori Dango, I appreciated all the lines of puns and jokes that were explained. Lily over at jland.wordpress.com, one of the translators who worked on HYD, also explains cultural tidbits, and they make my viewing experience more enjoyable. So I figured I could try doing the same, when I can.
For instance, in last week’s first two episodes of HELLO! MISS, I smiled whenever Lee Da Hae’s character, being an extremely sheltered country girl, would call cell phones “hand telephones.” The explanation gets a little messy because a Korean word for cell phone is actually pronounced “hand phone” (or haen-deu-pohn), but her character says the words “sohn jeonhwa” (or jeonhwagi), which literally means hand telephone. Lee Ji Hoon’s character goes along with her phrasing and tells her why it’s necessary for a girl like her to carry around a hand telephone. So a throwaway joke actually turns into a character point — because you can see both that he’s sweet, and that he’s interested in her by the way he accommodates her verbal quirks.
Another Hello! Miss point is the fact that everyone calls Su Ha “Aegisshi,” which is the “Miss” part of the title. I explained the pun a bit in my Hello! Miss post, but there’s more to it. Su Ha’s younger half-sister (aka the Bitch in Heels) Joon Hee reveals quite a lot about her own insecurities and jealousies of Su Ha when she receives a phone call from one of the elders at Su Ha’s traditional ancestral home, asking for Aegisshi. Aegisshi is just a different pronunciation for agasshi, and the word technically means “miss,” but he uses it as a term of respect for Su Ha. It’s almost her title, or second name. However, he calls Joon Hee by the standard pronunciation of “agasshi.” Joon Hee bitterly mutters, “Why does she get to be Aegisshi and I’m merely agasshi?” insinuating that she’s jealous of Su Ha’s position even though she outwardly sneers at her for being an outdated country bumpkin. Again, a lot of that underlying subtext gets washed away in translation, because her line would get literally translated as, “Why is she Miss and I’m just Miss?”
Also interesting are translating catch-phrases… because often, the literal translation isn’t as ear-catching. In DELIGHTFUL GIRL CHOON HYANG, for instance, Choon Hyang would always say “What a joke” and “Mind your own business.” Thankfully, “mind your own business” is a catch-phrase in English, but “what a joke” isn’t, and would often get translated differently — “stop kidding,” “don’t joke around,” “that’s laughable.” In MY GIRL, Yoo Rin’s refrain of “You will be blessed!” was unique enough that even though there’s no comparable catch-phrase in English, the translation worked.
More recently, In Episode 2 of WITCH AMUSEMENT, Han Ga In’s character, Yoo Hee, says one phrase repeatedly that is probably going to be her catch-phrase, “ee-bwa,” which translates to “Hey, look here” or “See here.” Even her mystery brother/son/kid Paran also says the phrase to Mu-ryong. It doesn’t quite have a catch-phrasey ring to it, and if it’s translated inconsistently, it’ll lose its punch.
The interesting thing you learn is, one of the hardest things about translating Korean to English isn’t actually the Korean part. It’s the English part.
Like deciding what to do with slang, or words that have no English equivalent. I watched the first episode of the subtitled GOONG S broadcast on Korean television here in the States just to see how they translated the episode… (I always wonder if I messed up something, or if I could have done a line better.) And even with some discrepancies, I have to say I was mostly pleased with what With S2 chose to do over the “pro” version on television. For instance, the delivery guys used a lot of slang among themselves, as most teenage guys will do, but I was comfortable translating along the lines of “That’s awesome!” or “Punk!” Whereas, the TV version used words like “Dude, that’s da bomb!” which … I found embarrassing, actually. First of all, who even says “da bomb” anymore? It just sounds like an old guy tried to sound young. And second, it’s very dated, specific American slang. I’m pretty aware that a lot of these fansubs aren’t used by native English speakers. And I’m a bit of a language purist myself.
Also, the words “oppa” and “unni” are so common in Korean dramas that most of the time I see it left in the subs as such. In fact, I find it annoying when I see “professional” subs mistranslate the word “Oppa,” for instance, by using the character’s name instead. (I think, if a girl calls a guy “Oppa,” that’s a loaded term that is not adequately conveyed by translating the word as, say, “Minwoo” or whatever his name is.) There’s a line you walk between being an accurate translation and preserving the cultural peculiarities. There’s a school of thought that believes that subtitles should read completely smoothly — or in other words, if you took the subtitles and printed them out, you shouldn’t be able to tell what language the original source was in.
That makes sense on one level, but I also figure, if someone’s watching a kdrama, chances are they’re interested in Korean culture. You don’t want a bland, generic translation, right? At least with fansubs, I feel we have the leeway to break rules a bit. For instance, when we started subbing Goong S, we had to decide how to translate all the royal terms. Would it, for instance, be too distracting to write out Hwang Tae-hu Mama every time they uttered it? But on the other hand, I felt it would be too strange to translate it each time to Queen Mother, or Hyo-jang Dae-gong into Grand Prince Majesty. So I kept the Korean term about 90 percent of the time, and if the scene was sometimes casual enough to use a general term, I’d sneak in a “crown prince” or “queen” to make it read smoothly. Because to read a subtitle chock-full of borrowed words like “Hyo-in Dae Bu-in Kang Sshi” also gets confusing to the eyes.
And going back to the oppa/unni/hyung note, I remember a line I translated in one of the later episodes of Soulmate. Dong-wuk thinks the dog is a girl, until Su-gyeong tells him it’s a boy dog. So the line goes:
I remember I couldn’t make up my mind, debating if I should translate it as “Kiss your older brother” which is the literal term. Or should I say, “Kiss your oppa (older brother)”? I went back and forth, until in the end, it was edited down to the above.
Simpler is always better. Just not at the expense of meaning!
I hope you found this interesting. I never knew growing up that I’d one day find the Korean language so fascinating.