Tuesday, June 25, 2013

where to send your complaints

Charles writes an interesting piece on the recently restored Namdaemun (Great South Gate), Korea's National Treasure Number 1. In it, he takes minor issue with the translation on the commemorative plaque:

Of course, I have to comment on the translation, which in general is decent but does bear signs of having been done by a non-native speaker of English (such as the ubiquitous parentheses issue. Parentheticals in Korean are not separated by a space from the preceding text, and every semester I have to remind my students that we do things a little differently in English). The English text is significantly longer, which is due in part to the fact that Korean is a more spatially-compact language, but information has been added to the English version as well. The original, for example, only says that the walls to the left and right were torn down between 1907 and 1908, while the English adds the explanation that this was done by the dastardly Japanese. I don’t mind the explanation, although I think it probably could have been worded better. More puzzling is the addition of the phrase “to the nation’s great horror” in the last paragraph. Was the translator afraid that readers might not think the Korean people were sufficiently horrified by the tragedy? I don’t really see the point to it at all. The preceding clause (“almost entirely destroying the roof of the gate house”) also differs from the original (which simply says, “(the gate) was heavily damaged”) and happens to be incorrect; it wasn’t just the roof that was almost entirely destroyed, but the whole gate house.

Lastly, most of the informational panels scattered around the city (and the nation) specify dates first by using the year of the reign of whichever king was on the throne, followed by the Western year in parentheses. I’ve always been very annoyed by this in translations, because the information means absolutely nothing to most English-speaking readers; anyone who cares about this information can already read the original. So this is my plea to translators: unless the king is somehow directly involved in what is being discussed, leave out the “whatevereth year of the reign of King So-and-So.” And on the subject of unnecessary things, was “respectively” at the end of the first paragraph really needed? Did the translator really think the reader might mistakenly assume that the king would pray for rain during a flood?

Enough with the nit-picking, though—call it an occupational hazard. I probably would have tried to make better use of the space available, but, minor issues aside, it is nice to see some information about the gate posted nearby. (And, in all fairness, some of these issues might not even be the translator’s fault—I retranslated most of the informational panels in Seoul for the 2002 World Cup, and when I was finished, civil servants who were not native speakers of English or translators helpfully “corrected” my translations, much to my dismay.)

Well, Charles, you can address your critiques to none other than Dr. Horace Jeffery Hodges who, along with his friend Professor Suh Ji-moon, helped create the English text for the plaque. Writes Dr. Hodges:

. . . you'll be able to read the plaque's words, which Professor Moon translated and I edited -- except that the people who actually constructed the plaque changed our punctuation slightly and twice left out the essential space required before a parenthesis.

They may even have reworded a slight bit. I'm not sure . . .

Have fun talking, gentlemen!

Meantime, I wonder who wrote the original Korean text for the plaque.



Charles said...

I stand by my critique of the final product--and my parenthetical remark at the end. I've definitely been in those shoes before.

(Of course, now I am second-guessing my decision to include that critique--not because I feel it was wrong, but because I am worried it will overshadow the rest of that entry. Witness your focus on it, for example.)

Kevin Kim said...

My focus on the critique was triggered by the fact that I knew who had worked on the plaque.

Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

We'll need to get Charles's input if we ever get called on to translate another. We did add some details to clarify what we thought non-Koreans might not know. Perhaps this was unnecessary . . .

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

Charles said...


Well, when it comes to the additional information about the dastardly Japanese, I think that was justified. I wrote that I "didn't mind" that part, although maybe I should have been more generous in my wording, as I agree it is something a foreign visitor might not be familiar with. (In fact, I think I might rewrite that part to better reflect my thoughts.)