Squid Game: Have the Korean nuances of Netflix’s Squid Game been lost in the translation with English subtitles?

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Squid Game: Have the Korean nuances of Netflix's Squid Game been lost in the translation with English subtitles?  (Image courtesy of Netflix)
Squid Game: Have the Korean nuances of Netflix’s Squid Game been lost in the translation with English subtitles? (Image courtesy of Netflix)

a korean TV A dramatic thriller compared to The Hunger Games, Battle Royale and Lord of the Flies, Squid Game sees Korean citizens struggling to escape a cycle of poverty clashing in a dystopian and bloody battle to the death to win 45.6 billion won (approx. £ 28million) by beating other competitors.

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Squid Game: What Is Netflix’s Latest Hit About And Everything You Need …

The success of Squid Game is said to have even spawned an increase in the number of Korean learners, with language learning platform Duolingo seeing a 40% increase in the number of new American learners studying Korean over the year. former.

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Squid Game’s main character, Seong Gi-hun, is one of 456 Koreans who enter the survival contest for a bid to win 45.6 billion won. (Image credit: Noh Juhan / Netflix)

This growth is reported to have increased even more strongly in the UK in the two weeks since Squid Game released on Netflix, with a 76% increase in UK citizens signing up to learn Korean on Duolingo.

But the streaming giant’s English translations of the show’s Korean script have also come under intense scrutiny from native speakers of the language – with debate over the accuracy of Netflix’s English subtitles for Squid Game which is now reaching its climax.

Although translation errors in the subtitles of international TV shows and movies are not uncommon, many Korean viewers have argued that the potential translation errors of Korean speech on the show mean that the nuances in the script and characterization of Squid Game are lost in translation.

Language experts at language learning site Busuu identified that the show’s swear words like f ***, frequently uttered by characters in tense dramas, are often replaced with softer alternatives – with complex Korean wording also simplified to accommodate limited subtitle lengths. and deadlines.

Such changes appear just at the start of Squid Game, the first episode of the series seeing a hellish playground game with a murderous twist played by desperate competitors translated by the American version called “Red Light, Green Light” rather than the Korean version, translating to ‘Mugunghwa flower (hibiscus) bloomed’.

Christiane Bark, Localization Manager at Busuu, said: “As with all translations, meanings sometimes need to be adapted and some details get lost in the translation because languages ​​cannot be translated directly, which means translators must find the closest meaning in their language. .

“In some cases, however, the translated subtitles lack vital information or are serious translation errors, often due to the lack of context given to the translator.

“Some captions need to simplify what is said because there is limited space and time to display text that viewers can read.”

The peculiar nuances of the Korean language, which see certain forms of address such as hyung and oppa used to describe a range of relationships in relation to hierarchy, closeness and gender, are replaced by character names in the English subtitles of Squid Game.

As a result, the intimate bonds formed between players, and shown in tender moments before survivors see new friends brutally and suddenly die, may miss viewers.

And although swear words have probably been changed in some cases to avoid heavy repetitions of swear words, according to Korean translator and localization expert Busuu, the personalities of characters such as Han Mi-nyeo, played by Korean actress Kim Joo -ryoung, are arguably watered down for English viewers when the word f is replaced by ‘damn’ in the subtitles.

Dr Youngmi Kim, senior lecturer in Korean studies at the University of Edinburgh, said that while Netflix “could pay much more attention to translation” and the specific cultural nuances of Squid Game and TV shows and Korean films in general, the unique appeal of Squid Game and Message is in no way diminished by translation errors.

“The show’s brutal competitiveness actually mirrors real life everywhere – not just Korea, but the UK, US and around the world. world,” she says.

“The characters in Squid Game are very diverse – from a member of the social elite of society with a degree from a major university who manages large sums of money in his financial company, to a foreign worker who has no been paid, and treated unfairly, to North Korean defectors.

“This variety of characters, actually reflecting each different part of society, is what makes the show so popular, I think.”

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