Multilingual Korean TV drama

« previous post | next post »

New article by Sophie-Ha, posted on allkpop ( yesterday:

"Apple TV+ drama 'Pachinko' praised for the attention to detail and accuracy of all the languages and dialects"

We often talk about topolects and dialects of Sinitic, but seldom do so for Korean.  We can get some idea of what the situation is like by reading sections of Sophie-Ha's article:

Various languages appear in the Apple TV+ original drama 'Pachinko' as the main characters are immigrant families who left their homeland during the Japanese colonial period and went through various countries. Korean, Japanese, and English are all used in one story, as well as different dialects of these languages. The Busan and Jeju dialects were used in the Korean language, and the dialect used by Korean-Japanese immigrants was also refined by seeking advice from Korean-Japanese individuals.

Several translators and dialect experts worked hard to create dialogues for people of different generations who went back and forth between Busan, New York, and Osaka. Hwang Seok Hee, who participated in the script translation, shared about the work process in a video interview. Hwang Seok Hee is famous for his translation of film subtitles for movies such as 'Deadpool,' 'Spiderman,' and the drama 'Game of Thrones.'

According to Hwang Seok Hee, the original script for the drama was all written in English by a team of American writers, including screenwriter and producer Soo Hugh. Although Soo Hugh is Korean-American, she does not speak Korean fluently. Therefore, Hwang Seok Hee was asked to translate the English script into Korean.

In one scene, when Go Han Soo (played by Lee Min Ho) was trying to pick up Sun Ja's bag, Sun Ja (Played by Kim Min Ha) shrinks away from him. That's when he says, "Don't worry, I won't eat you" (direct translation) in Korean. Originally, the line was written in English, "You must know it. I mean no harm," and translated awkwardly into Korean. Therefore, Hwang Seok Hee worked to make the Korean lines more natural. 

Here is a clip from the first episode:


Selected readings

[Thanks to Alex Baumans]


  1. David Marjanović said,

    April 14, 2022 @ 12:21 pm

    In the comments to the "selected reading" from 2014, on whether (Standard) Korean is diverging into two languages, I found the following passage which I'd like to address:

    To address one of the central issues here, I have no problem with making an effort to keep standard Korean in the North and South from drifting apart too much. Koreans feel that we are part of one language community and are well within our rights to try to keep it that way.

    Germans, Austrians, and German speakers of Switzerland decided they shared a standard language in spite of vast differences in their various dialects. That is why they there is an international body regulating the German language, and if one country decided to reform the language based on its own preferences without consulting others, there would probably be much resistance to it.

    German orthography is regulated in such a way (although the committee has only met twice, producing the original orthography of 1901 and the reform of 1998~2005). Even the standard language is not regulated, and any attempt to regulate it would lead to people painting their faces blue, screaming "FREEDOM!!!!" and staking heads to town gates within three hours.

    Spanish and the two Standard Norwegians are regulated much like South Standard Korean as far as I understand; and while the regulation of French tried to be purely prescriptivist for a long time, it has largely given up on that now.

  2. Sniffnoy said,

    April 14, 2022 @ 3:20 pm

    Originally, the line was written in English, "You must know it. I mean no harm," and translated awkwardly into Korean.

    That's a pretty awkward original English line to start from!

  3. Robert Ramsey said,

    April 14, 2022 @ 7:15 pm

    The use of three different languages and numerous Korean dialects was certainly impressive. In fact, the Busan dialect was a major theme and often talked about in the drama, as was Sun Ja's local fishing village dialect. The actors did their best with the dialog and were convincing even though many (most?) were not actually native speakers of those local speech varieties. But I confess I totally missed anything about the Jeju dialect! When and where was that used?
    Anyway, what I personally found even more impressive was the Korean-American actor Ha Jin's handing of his Japanese dialog, which he claimed in an interview had been completely new for him. In that interview, he said he had worked with a Korean-American dialect coach who transcribed the Japanese all out in Hangul for him–which he then Romanized! And the result was that it all sounded pretty damned natural–at least to me. Now, I realize he was an East Asian major at Columbia, but still… His performance was impressive. Really not bad. Not bad at all.

  4. Jongseong Park said,

    April 16, 2022 @ 5:51 am

    @David Marjanović, as the original author of the comment you are addressing, I don't think my point came across as I intended. I certainly did not mean that the fact that we think of Germany, Austria, and the German-speaking portion of Switzerland as speaking the same language was a result of language regulation. It was a far more organic process that happened in various ways across the German language area, involving the adoption of Standard German as the chancery language of various German states, the influence of Luther's Bible, and language replacement in some areas like the historically Low German-speaking parts of Germany in contrast to robust diglossia in Switzerland to give just a few highlights. Standard German as the Dachsprache was the result of the collective choice of the speakers in these areas.

    Perhaps it was a poor choice to mention the international body regulating the German language, because it was the result of the choice of German as the common Dachsprache in the German language area rather than the cause of it; as you say, it hasn't been that active either in the area of language regulation in any case, being limited to pronouncements on orthography. Standard German arose out of unregulated consensus in the German language area long before the establishment of any bodies to regulate it.

    But the case of Korean is not too dissimilar, except that the standardization of the written language came much later and was more guided. The Korean Language Society did much of their foundational work standardizing the Korean language in the 1930s, before the division of the peninsula. Even then, this work was more about the establishment of orthography and picking which forms were standard rather than coming up with a standard language wholesale—already a de facto standard language had been emerging in the newspapers, textbooks, and in the burgeoning Korean-language literature in the early 20th century, albeit with much disagreement on spelling and such.

    After the division, the language authorities of the North and South have largely ignored each other in their regulation of the language, hence the entire question of whether Korean was diverging. But the respective authorities still base their competing standards on the work of the Korean Language Society, and so it is still basically the same standard language despite the differences in spelling and vocabulary.

  5. David Marjanović said,

    April 16, 2022 @ 1:13 pm

    Perhaps it was a poor choice to mention the international body regulating the German language

    My point is that there is no body regulating the German language. Unlike for English, there is a body regulating its orthography, as well as a book regulating its pronunciation on upscale theater stages (but nowhere else, not even, for example, in TV newsrooms belonging to the public-owned broadcasters, and there's no organization attached); that's it. Vocabulary and grammar are not regulated at all. Nobody can say "as of today, this is accepted in the standard".

    There are people who treat the Duden dictionaries as prescriptive. The Duden editors themselves can't quite decide whether they want to be pre- or descriptive (and have been veering back and forth within that range for decades, always ending up with an internally inconsistent stance), but in any case they have no connection to governments or societies any more than any other dictionaries do (and there are plenty).

  6. KWillets said,

    April 16, 2022 @ 9:55 pm

    The drama Our Blues (on Netflix et al.) is set in Jeju with most of the characters speaking in dialect. The Korean captions show the differences with parenthesized translations, and the actors spent some time preparing with locals.

  7. Jongseong Park said,

    April 16, 2022 @ 10:47 pm

    My point is not really about language regulation at all, and the existence of an international body that agreed on recommendations on German orthography a couple of times is incidental to the point that the people of the German language area made a collective choice to use the same Dachsprache.

    Maybe I should talk about English instead since it is well known that there is no regulatory body for it. The various English-speaking areas around the world have decided that they were speaking the same language, despite sometimes considerable differences in the spoken language.

    So everyone follows the same basic rules for spelling and grammar when they write, and they can expect it to be understood by any English speaker from any other part of the English-speaking world. Spoken English is more divergent of course, but the broad expectations that one can communicate with any other English speaker are still there (often speakers of the most divergent varieties can switch to a form closer to Standard English to speak to outsiders). If you ask them what language they are speaking and writing, they will all say it is English.

    So you might be a speaker of Nigerian Pidgin in your everyday life who learned Standard English through formal education. You can read and write in English and more or less speak in Standard English in a formal setting, following established norms for Standard English that exist despite the lack of a regulatory body. This is both the result of the language and education policies in Nigeria and perhaps your own personal choice where you see the value in being able to communicate in a language that has global cachet. You might even identify as a native speaker of English, not Nigerian Pidgin.

    So regardless of what they actually speak in their everyday lives, people in English-speaking areas have decided that they are speaking the same language and follow roughly the same norms despite the lack of any regulatory body for English.

    Contrast that with, say, the Norwegians who decided with the rise of nationalism in the 19th century that they were not speaking the same language as the Danes and agreed as a society to speak a separate language called Norwegian. Of course, they couldn't agree on the standard form of this language, so to this day there exist two written norms Bokmål and Nynorsk and everyone pretty much speaks in their own dialect. If they had been so inclined, they could have continued to use Danish as their standard language (perhaps insisting that the language was common property of Denmark and Norway) even if people continued to speak in their own dialect.

    These kinds of decisions are more about broad language policy rather than what we usually think of as the domain of language regulators. That's why language regulation is a bit of a red herring in this discussion. I brought up the international body regulating the German language only as an example of regulators cooperating across international borders, where speakers had already decided they were using the same standard language long before any language regulation. This is relevant because it shows that it is not outlandish to think that the language regulators of the two Koreas should cooperate, but it is not meant to suggest that Germany, Austria, and the German-speaking part of Switzerland all use the same standard language as a result of language regulation. Rather, it is because it is already accepted that they use the same standard language that a regulatory body for this language has input from all three.

RSS feed for comments on this post