Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Korean Translation and Webtoons

In spite of being a Korean-English translator myself, this blog has focused more on Korean etymology rather than discussing some of my experiences being a translator in a relatively unexplored field. By including some of my experiences and advice (if I may be so bold as to give some) for aspiring Korean translators, I hope that I may be of some help to people wanting to get into the field or those who are already working in translation and would like to share ideas among fellow translators.

While there are a few outstanding websites for Korean/English translation (Steven Bammel's page immediately comes to mind), there seems to be a general lack of advice for aspiring Korean translators. Unlike translation in other, more popular languages, the relative shortage of skilled Korean/English translators and the resultant demand for native speakers with advanced competency in Korean and good writing skills means that many (or most) people entering this field will very likely be confronted with a dizzying range of texts to translate in all kinds of fields and may have a hard time finding an area in which they may specialize. 

Steven Bammel has already covered Korean business translation to a remarkably thorough degree, so I would suggest consulting his website for lots of detailed information if this interests you: 


I currently work as a freelancer for two (occasionally three) translation companies, doing mostly Korean-English translation with some English-French thrown in once in a while (and sometimes even Korean-French). One of these companies handles what you might call "general translation," where there may be a legal contract to translate one day, followed by a tractor instruction manual, a medical document, a short story, a newsletter, and almost anything else imaginable. 

For the other company, I have been privileged to translate over 30 Webtoon (web cartoon) series to date for LINE Webtoon (subsidiary of Naver), which has certainly been a different experience from the "usual" translation projects that most of us handle on a daily basis. What I would like to do in upcoming posts is focus on two aspects of Webtoons that have made them especially beneficial and educational to work on: the challenges posed by translating works which would probably fall under the general category of "literature" (requiring more creativity and freedom in translation than usual), and the tremendous potential for using Webtoons as learning resources for Korean learners of almost any level, from beginner to advanced. 

One of the series among many which I would especially like to discuss is the wacky comedy "The Sound of Your Heart": http://www.webtoons.com/en/comedy/the-sound-of-your-heart/list?title_no=269

The wordplay, cultural references and occasionally borderline "untranslatable" jokes have made this series a unique challenge to translate. Some of my most challenging and rewarding experiences as a translator have been figuring out how to navigate my way around some of the major difficulties in translating comedy, and reading the delighted reactions of readers in the comment section never fails to put a smile on my face. 

In future posts, I will be posting some specific examples of particularly challenging parts to translate (and hopefully initiating some interesting discussions about some alternate ways to translate them), as well as showing learners how they can get the most out of using Webtoons to learn Korean and what some good Webtoons would be depending on their level. 

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Old Korean Pronunciation

Anyone interested in how Korean was pronounced roughly 800 years ago should look into the 계림유사 (gyerimyusa/ kyerimyusa), as it is constantly referenced in books on Korean etymology and phonology. The format of the book is such that roughly 350 Goryeo (ancient Korean) words are written out phonetically using Chinese characters. 

The original meaning of words are shown with Chinese characters which are then followed by their pronunciation. The 曰 in the middle (not to be confused with 日) means "spoken / pronounced as." Here is an example of an entry from the book: 鬼曰幾心. This is read as: "Ghost (鬼) is pronounced as 幾心 (기신, kishim)," which is basically identical to the modern pronunciation 귀신. Naturally, there are also cases where the pronunciation indicated is no longer in use, as in 山曰每, where the word for mountain (山) is the archaic "뫼 (written as "매" with 每)." 

While basic reading knowledge of Chinese characters will help, you can just as easily copy and paste or draw the characters into a Korean Hanja dictionary to see the approximate pronunciations. 

The following blog lists all of the words and pronunciations with Hanja only: http://blog.naver.com/sohoja/50102870129

For those who would like a version with modern Korean meanings and pronunciations, google "계림유사 txt" and it should be one of the first search results as a downloadable Word file.

Here is a Hanja dictionary for those who would like to look up the pronunciations of the Chinese characters: 

Sunday, 9 August 2015

땅거미 - Twilight Spiders?

I have to admit that the word 땅거미 confused me for the longest time. I could never wrap my head around what exactly "거미" (spider) has to do with "twilight." It turns out that there is a very simple explanation for the etymology of this word which will make it much easier to remember if, like me, you have been having a hard time connecting "spiders" and "twilight."

땅거미 can be broken into two parts: 땅 + 거미. 땅 means "earth, land," and while 거미 is spelt in exactly the same way as the word for "spider," it is in fact analyzed as follows: 검(다) + 이 (noun suffix), where 검다 means "black, dark." The word 땅거미 refers to the time of day when the sun goes down and the land grows dark, hence the meaning "twilight."

백문식. 우리말 어원 사전. 1st ed. 서울: 도서출판 박이정, 2014. Print.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

영어와 한국어의 숨겨진 관계

(한국 분들을 위해 어제 올린 글에 대한 한국어 번역본도 함께 올립니다)
서로 다른 언어들에서 같은 의미를 가진 말은 늘 같은 어근이나 의미에서 파생되는 것이 아니다. 하지만 어근이나 본래 의미가 같으면 다양한 문화와 생활방식이 있음에도 불구하고 넓은 세상에 뿔뿔이 흩어져 사는 사람들도 고대 시대에 살았던 우리 조상들도 모두 보편적인 공통점이 있었다. 결국 세상은, 보는 시각이 비슷하기 때문에 오해하고 있던 관점의 격차를 줄이게 된다면 우리들 간의 거리를 줄이는 것과도 같다.

위의 현상을 보여주는 예로 "그리-"로 시작하는 한국어 단어들과 "-graphy"를 포함한 영어 단어들이 있다. 이 두 단어와 그들의 파생어들은 "긁다, 할퀴다, 새기다"라는 개념과 "쓰다, 그리다"라는 개념의 관계에 바탕을 둔다

한국어에는 ", 그림, 긁다, 긋다, 그리다"와 같은 단어들이 모두 "그리-"라는 공통적인 어원을 가지고 있다. 이 어원은 "긁다, 할퀴다"라는 행동을 묘사하는 것이며 "그리다, 새기다, 긋다""쓰다, "이라는 다양한 의미들이 포함된다
영어로는 "-graph (그래프)"라는 어근이 들어간 단어들은 역시 "새기다, 긁다, 쓰다, 그리다" 등의 의미를 가진 고대 그리스어의 "grapho (γράφω '그라포')"라는 동사에서 파생된 것이다. 다음 단어들은 이 어근이 얼마나 광범위하고 유용하게 쓰이고 있는지를 잘 보여준다 : "calligraphy (서예), graffiti (낙서), graphite (흑연), graph (그래프), diagram (도표), bibliography (참고문헌), photograph (사진), stenography (속기법), phonograph (축음기)" 와 같은 영어와 한국어 단어들이 모두 긁는 소리를 나타내는 "g + r/l (+ )"이라는 의성어에서 형성되었다는 점에 유의하시길 바란다.

참고로 다른 언어에도 긁거나 할퀸다는 소리를 나타내는 "g + r/l" 의성어 현상의 예는 다음과 같다.
힌디어: khurachnaa (खुरचना '긁다, 할퀴다')
일본어: (카쿠) "쓰다" + (카쿠) "긁다." 일본어의 발음 및 음운 체계상 r/l이 빠졌다.
프랑스어: gratter "긁다, 할퀴다
독일어: kratzen "긁다, 할퀴다

오늘의 포스팅을 읽고 서로 달리 보였던 언어들에서 공통점을 발견하는 것에 조금이라도 관심이 생겼으면 한다. 개인적으로 언어들 간에 공통점을 발견하는 것이 어원학의 가장 흥미로운 부분이라고 생각한다. 또한 여러 나라 독자들에게 이를 소개하는 것은 보람찬 일이다

한국어 어원 출처 :
백문식. 우리말 어원 사전. 1st ed. 서울: 도서출판 박이정, 2014. Print.
영어 어원에 대한 추가 정보:

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Connections between English and Korean

Two words which mean the same thing in two different languages are not always derived from the same fundamental root or meaning. When they are, it can be a wonderful reminder that humans, regardless of time or place, share so much in common and have very similar ways of looking at things, in spite of all the apparent differences between us.
Two types of words which illustrate this are Korean words based on 그리- and English ones based on "-graphy." Both words and their derivatives are based on a connection between "scratching, engraving" and "writing, drawing." 

In Korean, words such as , 그림, 긁다, 긋다 and 그리다 are all based on the common element of "그리-." This refers to the action of "scratching, scraping (긁다)" and encompasses the meanings "drawing, inscribing (그림, 그리다, 긋다)" and "writing, text ()."
In English, words with "-graph(y)" in them come from the Greek verb "grapho (γράφω)," which also means "to inscribe, scratch, write or draw." The following examples illustrate a handful of the numerous applications of this meaning: "calligraphy, graffiti, graphite, graph, diagram, bibliography, photograph, stenography, phonograph." Note also how the root words in both languages start with "g + r/l (+ )," an onomatopoeic scraping or scratching sound.
Some additional examples of this are the Hindi word "khurachnaa (खुरचना 'to scrape, scratch')", with the aspirated 'kh' depicting this even more strongly, and the Japanese words "(to write)" and "(to scratch)," both pronounced "kaku," although lacking the final "r" due to the phonological structure of Japanese syllables. Similar examples can also be found in German and French among other languages.
I hope that today's post has stirred an interest in searching for common roots in words of radically different languages, which I personally find is one of the most exciting and rewarding parts of studying etymology. Happy word hunting!

Source for the information on the Korean words: 

백문식. 우리말 어원 사전. 1st ed. 서울: 도서출판 박이정, 2014. Print. 

For more information on English etymology: 

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Green or Blue?

This post is not so much about etymology as it is food for thought for anyone who has wondered about or been confused by which word to use for the colours blue and green in Korean.

During your Korean studies, you may have noticed that dictionaries indicate both blue and green for the word 푸르다. Interestingly enough, this phenomenon is not limited to Korean and appears to be quite common throughout languages in Asia, according to the polyglot and language expert Stuart Jay Raj.

The Korean word 푸르다 is related to the noun 풀 (meaning "grass" here), and the definition given in the Korean dictionary on Naver translates to: "A bright and clear colour like that of a clear autumn sky, the deep sea or grass" (맑은 가을 하늘이나 깊은 바다, 풀의 빛깔과 같이 밝고 선명하다). Basically, the meaning of the word is fluid and can in fact be used for both colours. 

While context will almost always make it clear which sense of the word is meant, some colour words which may be useful for being more specific are: 하늘색 ("sky blue"), 파란색 ("blue"), 초록색 (草綠色 "grass green") and 녹색 (綠色 "green"). While 파란색 generally refers specifically to blue, one can still find references to the "colour of sprouts or shoots (of plants)" as well as mention of the ambiguous "푸르다" in the Korean definition. 

This little investigation has likely raised more questions than it answered, but it is certainly an interesting topic to consider for anyone interested in the fluidity of colour-related concepts across various languages.

The Suffix -씨

The noun ending -씨 is found in several nouns and usually serves the same function of indicating "state, condition, appearance, manner." Three common words which will be looked at are: 날씨, 글씨 and 마음씨.

날씨 can be divided into the two parts 날 + 씨. "날" means "day," so combined with the ending -씨 the word means "the state or condition of the day." Hence the meaning of "weather."

글씨 is a combination of 글 ("writing") + 씨 ("state, condition, appearance"). The two parts in combination mean "the state or appearance of writing" and can be used to say that someone's handwriting is either good or bad, for example.

Finally, 마음씨 is simply 마음 ("mind, heart") + 씨. The word has a general sense of "the quality or manner of using one's heart or mind," in the sense of kindness (or lack thereof) in a person. This is close to the English sense in the translation of 마음씨가 좋다 as "kindhearted, good-hearted," as in "using one's mind or heart well."

백문식. 우리말 어원 사전. 1st ed. 서울: 도서출판 박이정, 2014. Print.