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Korean cultural contents spread to world through translations

Korean cultural contents spread to world through translations

Posted July. 08, 2019 07:41,   

Updated July. 08, 2019 07:41


Nowadays, it is not a rarity to see South Korean boyband BTS’ fans around the world singing along the group’s songs in Korean at concerts. Lyrics videos in YouTube are apparently of great help to them. The music video of BTS’ song “IDOL,” for example, has English translations such as “Hooray it’s so awesome” and “Bum badum bum brrrrumble” so that foreign fans can easily understand what the original lyrics are about. This shows that translations have helped the world-famous boyband to earn fame by foreigners, who praise their songs for being “the most Korean yet global.”

As such, Korean cultural contents owe their success to translations in large part. Quality translations are what is driving the popularity of K-contents including not only K-pop but also films or literature.

As for K-pop, domestic fans have been more than passionate about letting the music be known to the world. As soon as idol groups release new songs, fans translate the lyrics into various languages and post them on social media. You can find not a few Twitter accounts on which translated lyrics are regularly posted.

In the meantime, the importance of translations has been also proved with film director Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” winning the Palme d’Or at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. Since the production of “Breathless” (2008), which received critical acclaim overseas, independent films have also provided translations for the foreign audience. In film “Granny Poetry Club” (2018), grannies’ Gyeongsang dialects were translated into English with Southern dialects to convey the unique accents.

Poems may be the trickiest to translate. Since poets are not bound by grammar and often use idiomatic phrases not found in dictionaries, translators need to communicate closely with poets to translate their jobs. Whether the subject should be inserted or omitted, or how idioms should be translated need to be discussed in advance.

Oftentimes, acclaimed translations are born out of pain. Korean poet Choi Jeong-rye’s poem “Eollukdeolluk” was translated with a title “Zebra Lines” in 2017 by English translator Mattho Mandersloot. With the whimsical idea to convey the Korean expression‎, the translation was awarded the Oxford Korean Poetry Translation Prize.

Some have called for the overhaul of the entire translation system. “We are seeing the emergence of new contents like web fictions or web dramas, as well as more diverse ways to distribute them such as YouTube,” culture critic Kim Heon-sik said, stressing that now is the time to think of measures to reflect such trends in translation systems and platforms.

Kyu-Jin Shin newjin@donga.com