Squid Game is a worldwide sensation. The nine-episode survival drama Squid Game has been a global hit since its debut. It is now poised to be the most-watched Netflix show ever.
There have been many debates about the quality of the English subtitle translation as the popularity of the Korean thriller grows, especially on social media. Many English-Korean bilinguals claim that the translation fails to reflect the clever dialogue, brilliant stories and compelling script. Some argue that you don’t have to watch the show in English if you haven’t.
Subtitling Can Be Difficult
I am an expert in English-Korean translations and interpreting. The ongoing debates over the English subtitles for Squid Game lack important elements.
Many people don’t know the difference between translating and interpreting. Translating simply means to translate written text from one language to another. Interpreting is the translation of spoken language.
Subtitling is a combination of translation and interpretation. A subtitler listens to the spoken language, just like an interpreter, and then converts it into written form for viewers.
Subtitling requires more than bilingual skills. It also requires specific skills to convey messages in a small space. Consider the famous quote from Bong Joon Ho, the Oscar-winning Parasite director:
You will soon able to see many more films once you have gotten past the barrier of subtitles that is one-inch tall.
Substituting is the job of a subtitler. They must find ways to compress messages into one-inch slots. Subtitling can be difficult, as you can see.
Subtitling made more difficult when cultural factors are involve. Many words and concepts that are specific to a culture can be hard to translate.
The untranslatable is a concept that exists across all cultures. Words such as aegyo, which are sometimes describe as perform extreme femininity, and jeong, which is sometimes describe as deep connection and emotional bond that builds over the years, are two examples of well-known concepts that don’t have a direct equivalent in another language. There are many ways to deal in literature translation with the untranslatable, such as footnotes and annotations.
These strategies are not applicable to subtitling because of space limitations. Managing culture-specific elements is the most difficult aspect of subtitling.
The Untranslatable Squid Game
Comparing the Korean language to the English subtitle translation for Squid Game, minor distortions and omissions are evident, but overall the quality of the translation is fine.
The English closed captions are the most controversial, and they are quite different to the subtitles available on Netflix. English captions marked English [CC], are meant for those who can’t hear audio. They include nonverbal descriptions like background music and sound effects. Closed captions have a shorter translation time than subtitles, and they are also more precise.
Despite the high quality of the English translation, there is still a meaning gap between the original Korean text and the English subtitles. This is due to the fact that the English text is not translate.
The most important aspect of the Squid Game untranslatable is hocing and honorifics, which Koreans use to refer to one another in conversation.
A Korean society known for its age-base hierarchy. People don’t call each other by their names unless they are close friends. The most popular honorific is hyeong(hyung), which means “older brother. This is a title that a younger brother uses when referring to his older brother. Non-family members can also use this expression to show mutual friendship.