Thursday, December 16, 2010

More on Translating Korean Literature!

Joseph Lee
(Image from JoongAng Daily)

Only four short days ago, I was blogging about the potential American market for translated literature, "What Works in Translation . . .", because I had come across a New York Times article on the subject that mentioned the Korea Literature Translation Institute, and I have now happened upon another article on translation, specifically on translating Korean literature.

I say 'happened upon,' but the article inevitably caught my eye because it was in the JoongAng Daily, to which I subscribe yearly and read daily. To be precise, I read two articles in this newspaper on translating Korean literature, "Korean novels finally getting noticed" and "A Nobel in literature is Lee’s goal, but a little credit is just as good," both by Seo Ji-eun.

The photo above comes from the second article, in which Seo Ji-eun interviews Joseph Lee, executive director of the publishing house Imprima Korea, but I'm more interested in something that he says in the first article that touches on the tough life of a translator in Korea:
Attracting and fostering competent translators remain a challenge here. According to Lee of Imprima Korea, a translator working on a 200-page novel receives about $10,000. "Given that the translators should spend months on a single project, [that amount of money] is negligible," he said.

Lee thinks government financial support for literary translations should be increased to the point where translators' earnings are at least doubled.
Yes! Yes! This man is a saint merely for suggesting such a thing! Saint Joseph! In our hour of need, pay for us spinners of other people's yarns!

Seriously, he's right. A long novel can take an entire year or more to translate properly, as my wife and I have discovered, and 10,000 dollars just won't pay the bills. Frankly, neither will 20,000 dollars, but it'll definitely stretch twice as far in covering one's living expenses.

One of my Ewha colleagues (not that we've met), Professor Choi Mi-kyung, who teaches in the Graduate School of Translation and Interpretation and translates Korean literature into French, agrees with Joseph Lee:
Without an adequate level of financial compensation, she says few talented writers would be willing to enter the translation field. "For you to churn out quality translations, it takes at least 10 years of study, during which no one really pays you anything at all. In my case, I studied until I became a professor, and translation has become a side job. But being a full-time translator would be a different story."
This is similar to what I said the other day about "years of language learning, cultural immersion, and experience translating . . . [being] required before a prospective translator is good enough to attempt literary translations." This implies that one knows what a literary translation is, but there is some disagreement about that, as noted by rising translator Kim Chi-young:
Kim offers a piece of advice to Korean-English translators. "Some Korean translators believe that literal translation is necessary to convey the author’s true intention. While that may be the case for a certain audience, for books geared toward the general public, the prose has to be smooth and written as if it were originally written in English . . . . Otherwise, people tend to be taken out of the story because of the stilted or awkward style. If that happens, the book is dismissed as having been poorly translated, and the novel itself is not taken seriously. That is one aspect of Korean-to-English translation that is often overlooked."
She's right. Some Korean translators do think that a literal translation is the truest one. In seeking translation grants, my wife and I have encountered something of this attitude among occasional Korean referees of fiction that we have translated. By contrast, referees who are native speakers of English focus far more on the smoothness of the translation. To get that smooth, native-English quality, a translator often has to take certain liberties with the text.

For example, in our current translating efforts on The Soil (Hŭk, 흙), by Lee Gwang-su (Yi Kwang-su, 이광수), my wife and I have discovered that we have to combine paragraphs because Lee often wrote a series of very short paragraphs that a foreign reader would find more comfortable as a single, longer paragraph. I asked my friend and veteran translator Suh Ji-moon about why Lee had written in this manner, and she cautiously speculated that he might have been paid by the page and might therefore have earned better money by stretching out the length of his writing. That was an interesting suggestion to consider. Another possibility is that Lee tended to write shorter paragraphs because he was publishing his novel in serial form for a newspaper. A newspaper column makes even a short paragraph stretch out rather long, which can appear rather daunting to the eye. Whatever the reason for Lee's short paragraphs, they don't work so well on the page of a book, so we often combine them. This requires some degree of audacity, I suppose, but it's the sort of freedom with the text that a professional translator needs to have to do a proper job . . . even if the result might be 'punished' by a literal-minded referee.

Translators therefore face at least these two difficulties, too little money and too much literal-mindedness. But I begin to see from these recent articles, both here and abroad, that the predilection for literal translations may be declining and a greater generosity in financial support may be coming.

Though the process might take a while . . .

Meanwhile, read the two articles from the JoongAng, and the one from the Times if you missed it.

Labels: , , ,


At 6:14 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

In its wisdom, Blogger (which hosts Blogspot) has set up some anti-spam function that deletes many (though not all) comments with links, and it deleted the following anonymous comment:

You should advertise your blog at ELT World.

At the forums there, there is a thread asking for people to share their blogs.

View that thread here.

I assume you want to increase your readership. Just trying to help.

Keep up the good work!

Now, this could be spam, for all I know, but I should be the one to decide, not some flawed software program.

Let's see if this remains as a comment, or if the anti-spam software deletes it even when I re-post it.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 4:39 AM, Anonymous dhr said...

Remind Mr Blogger of what occurred to the fab thinking machine HAL 9000!

Excuse me if I don't link to HAL 9000... Am afraid that


At 10:19 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I finally located Blogger's spam function. I can't disable it, but I can work with it the same way that I work with my email spam function, so I'll get this under control . . . eventually.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 1:33 PM, Anonymous DanB said...

Admittedly I don't know a lot about translation, especially the field of translation, but my 2 cents.

The problem is that people paying for translations don't see the full value of a good translation. This could be seen more as a societal issue then (ie, in what the readers value, or are *perceived by the client/publisher* to value). Not sure the government is needed to remedy that unless/except when they're the client, of course.

At 1:43 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

DanB, I was being somewhat facetious in getting all excited about more governmental support . . . though I'd be happy to take the extra money.

As for the small market, I think that the solution would be to translate literature that's interesting for people to read.

The preferences of scholars are not the same as those of the reading public.

That said, there's a place for some support, both private and governmental, for the translation of great literature.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 2:42 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

Hmm, makes me wonder if there could be translated Korean work for Emanations? Could you make inquires?

I've heard, by the way, that Emanations might get a translation of a Mongolian Buddhist apocalypse story.

At 6:35 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I'll ask around. The institutes that support translation tend to emphasize books, not short stories.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *


Post a Comment

<< Home