Divergent writing styles and implications for translation..

KTLIT LogoI’ve been editing about 400 abstracts for a prestigious Korean journal – everyone of them about translations and translation problems. These have been fascinating as they point out differences in the languages that I had never even dreamed of thinking of. Some are obvious, like differences in sentence structure and underlying differences in culture that would obviously affect translation. Some are incredibly minute on initial observation

– the difference between the Korean plural “들” and the English plural “s” when used in beings and non beings (hint, the Korean can be used more distributively)
– where to place a missing subject in translation
– differences in how passives are handled
– the fact that Korean students are rarely well trained to summarize/paraphrase for obvious cultural reasons (and, man, might that have an effect on translation?)

It’s wildly interesting stuff to me.  But I also think the differences in writing convention overall, are really interesting, and I’ve whined before about non-linear and sometimes plotless Korean fiction can seem (much more interested in cultural concepts like 기븐, 한, and so on) and how it often doesn’t seem to have a conclusion or lead to one. Then I found an abstract that, I think, though not fiction, can show some of these differences.

Here’s that challenge. Before the last half of this abstract, I dare you to tell me what it’s about.^^

The 21st century began with a rapid development in the so-called IT industry. Colleges can not be free from the strong winds blowing outside. To meet the changed need of society, colleges are exerting their utmost efforts to survive in the so called ‘education market.’ Colleges can no longer stay unharmed in an‘ivory tower’. Traditional measures of education are being neglected, thereby duly discarded.

To cope with a fast changing society, colleges are adopting new approaches in actual classrooms as well as becoming equipped with more convenient facilities to attract students. One example of the changes occurring on campus must be the ‘non-declared major-system’. This has been adopted in most colleges for the sake of the students-to offer them more choices in selecting their courses.

Society needs multi-talented young people. In the past, one form of specialization was enough to support a person throughout his lifetime. To prepare students to survive in an uncertain time, it can no longer be safe to train them in only a limited field. From this perspective, this guided translation approach was tried with English majors at the undergraduate level. This was an experimental approach to train students to be familiar with translation so that they would be translators and interpreters after graduation. It is true that translation requires a long time of training and patience. But interpreters and translators enjoy reputation and financial reward. For this reason this field is attractive and challenging to especially committed and aspiring young people.

As a first step to this translation approach, background knowledge and idiomatic expressions were provided by the instructor. Then, the students were asked to do their translation as assignments and compare their assignments with the translation of others and accept a better translation.

This approach, however, was concluded to be a failure. Too much of the background knowledge in advance spoiled the students and robbed them of their curiosity and desire to understand the stories and express them in our language. Students became too dependent upon their instructor. And yet, this can not be called a total failure. Based upon this short-coming, a more efficient and productive approach will be expected.

Also note, little specificity of any kind… no examples, numbers, it’s just a mad windup to a conclusion.

Perfectly acceptable academic writing in Korea, and well written and far clearer than many examples I seen, but if you compare the obvious expectations that this abstract meets, versus the well-known expectations that English-language abstracts have, I think it might be a little clearer that there are vast cultural expectation/cultural structure differences that add a lovely little extra level of confusion between the two languages and their successful translation (particularly of ideas).

One thought on “Divergent writing styles and implications for translation..

  1. As an editor from time to time I need to cope with translations and I must say one thing: even if someone can speak any foreign language fluently, knows all grammar constructions, idioms etc., it doesn’t mean he/she’ll be a great translator. It makes me really mad when they translate word by word and as a result there is ridiculous text. There is a lot Polish and English words similar in spelling, but different in meaning, e.g. anecdotal – anegdotyczny (in Polish it has only one meaning – funny). So can you imagine my suprise when I read about funny (anecdotal) reports in serious medical text?
    To me to be a translator isn’t an easy job, and it’s even more difficult when we consider literature. To me a person who wants to be a translator should also have something I call a sense of language. And must be decisive – is it better for a book translate literally or it is better to convey only the meaning? For example the Polish language doesn’t like indirect speech, which is often used in English sentences. We use it rather in specialist language, e.g. medical. When we don’t know someone very well or the person is older than us, we use honorifics (Pan, Pani – mister/missis + appropriate form of verbs), wheareas in English there is always “you”. In Korean there are unni, hyang, nuna, oppa, ahjussi, ajuma etc. (I’m sorry if the spelling is wrong, I don’t know their proper romanization). Should they be translated? Personally I wouldn’t translate them, to me their Polish or English equivolents (big brother, big sister etc.) sound funny and artificial. And what about the author’s style? How to convey it faithfully when there is so many differences in the language?
    I think that every translated book looses something comparing to the original. And it isn’t wrong as long as the translator conveyed the climat of the original book 🙂

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