Verbal Translating English into Korean – A Closer Look at the Translation of Spoken Language

Research on the linguistic aspects of verbal translation has mainly focussed on the Korean translation of general aspects such as synchronisation, social and geographic variation and transfer errors. Korean researchers have also investigated morphosyntactic and lexical phenomena of the spoken Korean language in Korean translated or interpreted films, although systematic quantitative analyses are rarely available. Little is thus known about the degree to which the spoken Korean language filters into translated Korean film scripts, with some studies suggesting in fact that dubbed languages are placed closer to a ‘neutral’, uniform (formal) standard as they fail to portrait important areas of sociolinguistic variation.

In a different framework, for the past 20 years, Korean linguists have carried out research on spoken language, thus outlining a profile of spontaneous oral Korean and providing quantitative data on crucial features such as syntactic complexity and marked word orders. Investigations have been extended to the so-called ‘simulated spoken Korean’ of Korean films and TV series.

A quantitative analysis comparing original Korean productions to Korean translations from English has been carried out, comparing episodes taken from US and Korean TV series. The results show systematic simplifications in translations as opposed to original productions and a shift toward a ‘neutral’ standard Korean. Finally, a descriptive analysis has been conducted on the Korean of contemporary original TV series, which shows the filtering of many features of spontaneous spoken Korean into this type of simulated oral language. There is thus ground for systematic comparisons between contemporary dubbed Korean and both spontaneous spoken Korean and original simulated spoken Korean.

I start from the assumption that in translated as well as in original film dialogue similarities to real dialogue exchanges must be present if viewers are to be drawn into the fictional world portrayed on  the screen. To which degree such truthfulness is achieved and, more feasibly, which features are involved deserve quantitative and qualitative in-depth investigation in line with recent approaches within  both linguistics and translation studies. As already pointed out, by stressing a shift toward the written mode, neutralisation and increase in formality level, research in dubbing has often undermined orality in translated films. On the other hand, similarities to the spoken language are at least as relevant as differences for a full characterisation of dubbed languages and a better understanding of the underlying translation processes.

Drawing on such premises, it is hypothesised that the Korean of films translated from English is placed within a specific sociolinguistic space of Korean, with some spoken features being used as carriers of orality, not randomly but with a degree of consistency and regularity.

A quantitative overview is presented of selected phenomena of spoken Korean typically associated with the constraints and situational factors of face-to-face communication as they are reflected in five Korean translations of widely known US and British films: Dead Man Walking (Tim Robbins, 1995), Secrets and Lies (Mike Leigh, 1996), Sliding Doors (Peter Howitt, 1998), Notting Hill (Roger Michell, 1999) and Finding Forrester (Gus Van Sant, 2000). Results are discussed primarily in terms of the comparison with the norms of spontaneous spoken Korean and, when possible, simulated spoken Korean, thus providing an initial step for wider as well as more detailed analyses.

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