Translations in Korea
Theory and Practice
- ISBN: 9789811365119
- Published By: Palgrave Macmillian
- Published: March 2019
Without translation, it would be difficult to have informative, communicative, and relevant cultural exchanges among different language groups. In this sense, translation is one of the most precious—yet complicated—arts that we have as human beings. Because each language has a different grammar and system, there cannot be a perfect translation that conveys the full nuance and meaning of the original text. To weigh these factors, the discipline of translation uses several versions, methods, and theories. The complexity of translation requires the reader to examine different traditions, roles of the translator, and cultural transformations because they approach a translated text. Without examining these important factors in the art of translation, the reader will miss dimensions behind the translated text.
Wook-Dong Kim’s Translation in Korea: Theory and Practice examines translations done in Korea from a diachronic perspective. In the current scholarship, most translations and translators in the East have been imperceptible to Western scholars. However, the book shows that Koreans have had their own unique methods, struggles, and contributions in their translations. Because there has not been much research on translations in Korea, the book is a helpful resource for scholars to understand the overall theories and practices of translation in Korea.
One of the strengths of the book is that it covers a wide range of translations in seven chapters. Each chapter is a different case study on translations: (1) Korean translations of a Confucian text, (2) different terms in Korean Bible translations, (3) a western missionary’s role in Korean Bible translation, (4) different methods applied in three different versions of the Declaration of Korean Independence in English, (5) cross-cultural barriers in the translations of modern Korean literature, (6) errors made in translations, and (7) mistranslations of foreign film titles in Korea.
One of most important contributions of the book is that it highlights the role of translators in Korea. The author points out that translation does not happen in a vacuum, but within a certain context. As a result, he highlights the character of translators in order to understand theories and practices behind each translation. For example, in the first chapter Kim introduces two translations of the Xiaoxue, an important Neo-Confucian textbook. He shows that there has been both free and literal translation traditions in Korea for a long time. He points out that the first translators of the Xiaoxue preferred free translation, while the later version translators desired to follow literal translation. According to Kim, because the first version aimed to popularize the text even for uneducated women and children, it used less foreign terms. However, the later version tried to attain foreignization to render the original meaning of the text more accurately for academic purposes. The two different methods of translation indicate that translators had freedom to choose their own translation method according to their purpose and context.
To highlight the role of translators, in chapter 4 Kim considers three different translations of the Declaration of Korea. The Declaration is a historical document because it represents the national spirit of the March First Movement in 1919. The first official translation of the Declaration focused on the glory and pride of Korea because it was translated by a nationalistic and patriotic Methodist minister, Soon Hyun. The second translated version stressed the notions of equality and liberty to emphasize universal humanism because it was translated by American educator, Phillip Jaisohn. Finally, the third version rendered literal translation, while stressing a strong sense of Confucianism in the text. As a journalis, the third translator, Younghill Kang, tried to draw a simple and clear message without religious or patriotic stripes. Looking at three different versions of translation, the author claims that there has been “diverse interpretations and tonalities according to the translators’ respective political agendas and Weltanschauungen” (107).
In addition to the role of translators, the book highlights that the process of translations sometimes inspires the coining of new terminologies, and even cultural transformations. The author provides many good examples in the process of the Korean Bible translations: for example, terms like Ppang (bread) and Hananim (God). Although first Korean Bible translators used the term rice cake or rice to render the word bread in the Bible, they later used the word ppang, which was one of the best-known Portuguese loanwords for bread. Likewise, Korean Bible translators tried to use the terms such as Tienzhu (the Lord of Heaven), Sahngdi (the Lord of High), and Shen(Divine) in the beginning. However, they later chose to use the word Hananim, which was a whole new word to describe the Christian God. As a result, Korean Christians could stress the oneness of the God through the term Hananim, which literally means “one master.” These are some of the examples that Kim offers to explore how translation imparted new nuance to the translated texts.
Although the book offers great resources, it has a critical weakness in that it does not offer any one common thesis for translations in Korea. The wide range of topics discussed in the volume is likely a factor in this. Because the spectrum of the book is too broad to develop common and universal themes, it simply describes different stories and methodologies rather than offering one resonant thesis. Thus, it is hard to find a universal theory in the book. Nevertheless, I think the book succeeds in providing a thoughtful, complex picture of translations in Korea. Especially, considering the paucity of resources on this topic in Western scholarship, I recommend this work to scholars seeking to better understand translations in a Korean context.
Heejun Yang is the pastor of the United Methodist Church in North Carolina and earned his PhD from the Faculty of Protestant Theology at the University of Münster.Heejun YangDate Of Review:September 26, 2021