Netflix 'Squid Game' and the 'untranslatable': the debate around subtitles explained

There is no question that Squid Game has become a global sensation. Since its release, the nine-episode survival drama has topped Netflix’s charts in 90

10/16/2021 11:30:00 PM

As the global popularity of the Korean thriller continues to grow, there have been debates over the quality of the English subtitle translation, particularly on social media.

There is no question that Squid Game has become a global sensation. Since its release, the nine-episode survival drama has topped Netflix’s charts in 90

described sometimes as “deep connection and emotional bond that builds over time”, are some of the most well-known concepts that have no direct equivalent in another language. In literature translation, there are ways to deal with the untranslatable through footnotes or annotations, for example.

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These strategies, however, do not work for subtitling due to the space constraints, so managing culture-specific elements is perhaps the most challenging aspect of subtitling.The Untranslatable in ‘Squid Game’Comparing the Korean language with the English subtitle translation of Squid Game, occasional minor omissions and distortions are apparent — but the overall quality of the translation is, in my opinion, fine.

Most of the controversies seem to centre around the English closed captions, which are very different from the English subtitles on Netflix. The English captions which appear as “English [CC]” are for people who cannot hear audio, so they include non-verbal descriptions such as the background music and sound effects. Translations in closed captions are, therefore, more concise than subtitles and are limited in terms of meaning delivery. headtopics.com

Despite the good quality of the English translation, a meaning gap inevitably exists between the original Korean and the English subtitles due to the untranslatable.Perhaps the most significant aspect of the untranslatable in Squid Game relates to “호칭” or “honorifics” which Korean people use to refer to each other in conversation.

An age-based hierarchy is a key characteristic of Korean society, and people do not call each other by name unless they are friends of the same age. One of the most common honorifics is “형 (hyung)” or “older brother”, a title a younger brother uses to talk or refer to his older brother. This expression is often also used by non-family members who are close to each other to indicate the degree of mutual friendship.

An age-based hierarchy is a key characteristic of Korean society, and people do not call each other by name unless they are friends of the same age.NetflixIf you have watched the drama, you might recall Ali, the Pakistani laborer, who came to South Korea to earn money. Ali got to know another participant, Sang Woo, a graduate of Korea’s top university, who embezzled a huge amount of money at work and was determined to win the game to get rid of the debt.

As they became close to each other, Sang Woo suggested that Ali call himhyung, instead of “사장님 (sajang-nim)” or “Mr Company President”, one of the first terms that foreign labourers in South Korea pick as a result of spending most of their time at work under often exploitative bosses. headtopics.com

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The moment that Sang Woo became Ali’shyungis one of the most humanistic moments in the gory drama. The poignancy of the moment, however, could not be fully delivered due to the absence of an equivalent English form. In the English subtitle, the line “Call me

hyung” was translated as “Call me Sang Woo”.When Sang Woo later betrays Ali in the game of marbles, the kinds of emotions experienced by viewers who are able to understand the degree of intimacy attached tohyungcompared with those unable to do so may, therefore, be very different.

Scenes like this show, in a powerfully raw form, the cruelty and selfishness of human beings in real life, albeit in a different kind of “game”.There are other untranslatable honorifics, such as “오빠 (oppa)”, which was translated as “baby”, and “영감님 (yeonggam-nim

)”, which was translated as “sir”. Close, but not quite the same.The deeper context of Ali’s betrayal by Sang Woo is lost in translation.NetflixBeyond language barriersUnderstanding the honorifics in Squid Game is important to fully capture the bitter aspects of human relationships. headtopics.com

Considering the untranslatable, theof 26 Korean words to the Oxford English Dictionary is a welcome move. Interestingly, some of these newly added words include common honorifics such as Read more: Interaksyon »

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