Korean to English Translation of a Literary Text


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Korean to English Translation of a Literary Text

December 23, 2011

By Ofer Tirosh

Not All Document Translations Are Financial Statements and Legal Contracts

If there was one kind of translation service I could choose to solely provide, forsaking any other type of document translation – I would definitely pick literary translation. There are all types of documents, texts, web content, audio and visual clips, and so much more that is submitted to us for professional translation service. A lot of it is rather boring, like banking documents or verbose legal translations. And then there are others that require a bit more insight and creative thinking, such as some types of marketing translation and especially transcreation service. At times, though, we receive a translation order that is truly interesting and enjoyable to translate. We certainly don't expect, or even mind that a lot of our document translations are for no-frills kinds of documents, or corporate business materials. Nevertheless, they can't compare to the intrigue of a Korean to English translation that was recently submitted to us: an autobiographical memoir about a man who grew up with cerebral palsy, and the walks of life he experienced, both as a person with a physical disability and a martial arts expert.

Like most other Asian languages, Korean is much more fluid and non-linear in regards to word definitions, sentence structure and verb tense. Literary translation is both enjoyable and difficult, not only because of document style and format, but because of how different Korean and English are, and how many elements must be rearranged, reformatted, re-structured, re-worded, and re-written altogether, from the Korean translation to English. So the challenge for the translator is to be able to provide Korean to English translation in such a way that communicates things like metaphors, tone, mood, pacing, character development, narration style, and much, much more. There was a definite style and tone to this particular memoir. The final document translation should be a mirror reflection to the original text; culturally, linguistically, stylistically, and so on.

The Joy of Literary Translation

Those who are unaware of what it requires, may believe that literary translation is some of the easier language translation services for a translator. But considering what was just mentioned – it can be one of the most difficult of all document translation services. Few people can write a good novel with all the qualities of a good read and a unique perspective. Doing so from one language to another – when you are not the original author – presents its own unique set of challenges and frustrations, and yet also an engaging experience like no other. A literary author must be able to capture the voice of the author of the original text; translate his stylistic nuances, his metaphors, and so many other parts that make a literary novel a thing of fiction art (or nonfiction art). Literary book translation is indeed a thing to admire and appreciate.

We have plenty of interesting translations come our way: Danish translation of a film review, Japanese translation of manga - which is also a type of literary translation, and very cool – translation dubbing for audio-visual materials and other audio translation, and so on. But again, literary translation involves so much more. And yes, translating a Korean language memoir is literary translation. It may not be a Man Booker novel, but it requires the same set of translation skills and experience.

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