‘The Bells’

In 1849, the American poet Edgar Allan Poe died and his poem ‘The Bells’ was published.

Sometime around the turn of the 20th century, the Russian poet and translator Konstantin Balmont “very freely” translated it into Russian.

In 1913, the Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff wrote a setting for soprano, tenor and baritone soloists, choir and orchestra, originally titled (in Russian) Колокола, Kolokola (Russian WikipediaEnglish Wikipedia).

Some years ago (first guess 2001-2003) I bought a CD of this work. The booklet calls Balmont’s translation “more precisely, a re-interpretation” and includes his text transliterated into the Latin/‘English’ alphabet and translated into German, English and French. Whether the unnamed translator was equally free in translating Balmont’s Russian back into English or not, the result is very different from Poe’s original. Continue reading

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‘Swiss fork song’

Today is our 10th wedding anniversary. Our wedding was held in a major church in Seoul. Everything was said in Korean and English (my father, sisters and brothers-in-law and all but one niece and nephew travelled and there was a sprinkling of colleagues and people from the English-language congregation of the church). The Korean priest speaks English passably, but the English part of the service was read by a Canadian deacon, who was in Korea as an English teacher. He read the new testament reading in English then Korean, and a friend of my wife read the old testament reading in Korean and English (delightfully mixing up ‘there was everything [viz ‘evening’], and there was morning – the sixth day’). We sang one hymn and said the Lord’s prayer together in both languages.

Afterwards, there was a buffet dinner in the church’s dining room, at which I welcomed people in Korean then English, then about 50 people attended a quieter, more informal reception at a small reception centre near Namsan. I also welcomed people and made a short speech in Korean there, and my wife and I sang a song in Korean.

There was a karaoke machine, which was kept busy. One song listed was Eidelweiss, a ‘Swiss fork song’. This is wrong three times: it’s not a fork song, it’s not even a folk song,* and it’s not Swiss. In the world of the musical/movie, it’s an Austrian song of unexplained origin. At the concert (at least in the movie – I’ve never seen it on stage), Captain von Trapp introduces it as ‘a love song’, and expects the audience to know it and join in. In real life, it was written by the Americans Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers. So it’s really an American Broadway musical song.

(*I could write more about the English letters l and r and the Korean letter ㄹ, but I won’t.)

(PS A Swiss fork song might be sung while eating fondue.)

gugak and gagaku

Many years ago, possibly before I went to Korean the first time, I came across a reference to gugak, or Korean traditional music. In the Korea the first time, I saw and heard various performances of traditional music, but did not encounter the word. In Korea the second time, I wandered around the regional city I was living in on various occasions. One day, I saw a museum of traditional arts and crafts. I had always thought that gugak was gu+gak, but the hangeul at the museum read 국악 or gukak. (One advantage of hangeul is that it tells you where the syllables are.) Guk by itself means (among other things) nation (most often found in words like 대한민국 (dae-han-min-guk, the official name of the Republic of Korea), 한국 (han-guk, the short name) and 외국 (oi-guk [way-guk], any foreign country). Ak by itself is related to 음악 (eum-ak, the general word for music) (which I incorporated into my Korean name, which I rarely use). So gugak is literally “national music” (국가 음악).

Last night I came across a reference to gagaku, or the classical music of Japan. Are the words gugak and gagaku related? Possibly, but after some research this morning, it’s impossible to be sure, working across Chinese characters, Japanese kanji, hangeul, pronunciation, transliteration and translation of all three language into English, and dictionary and encyclopedia entries. Gagaku is 雅楽, literally “elegant music”. The syllabification seems to be ga+gaku, because there is a related word bugaku, or “dance music”. Gugak includes court music, folk music, poetic songs, and religious music used in shamanistic and Buddhist traditions. Gagaku is primarily court music and dances, but also Shinto religious music and folk songs and dance. Continue reading

MeToo, 미투, 나도

A few days ago, my wife mentioned the #MeToo movement. Not surprisingly, stories are emerging in the Korean entertainment industry. I asked her whether Korean women and news media use MeToo or 미투 (mi-tu, that is, transliterating the English into hangeul) or 나도 (na-do, that is, translating the English into Korean). Because her linguistic meta-language in English is limited and mine in Korean is non-existent, I don’t think she fully understood my question and I know I didn’t fully understand her answer.

She found an instance of 미투 캠페인 (mi-too kaem-pe-in) and asked me whether it was a campaign or a movement (which I’ll get back to in a moment). Otherwise, I have found online references to 미투 and 나도, and to 캠페인 and 운동 (un-dong). English Wikipedia’s page lists 나도당했다 (na-do dang-haet-da) and Korean Wikipedia’s page is titled 미투 운동. 운동 is usually translated ‘exercise’, but can also mean movement, motion, campaign, locomotion, effort, manoeuvre/maneuver (Google Translate). 당했다 is the past tense of suffer, so the Korean might be translated ‘I too suffered’. (Different dictionaries and translators give wildly different translations, which I won’t list. Suffer seems to be the best one. It hasn’t been in any of my Korean textbooks yet.) Currently, 미투 운동 gets about 3 millions results and 나도당했다 about 4 million.

So is it a campaign or a movement? Certainly in English, it is called a movement. To me, a campaign is more organised. Dictionary.com defines a movement as ‘a series of actions or activities intended or tending toward a particular end’ and a campaign as ‘a systematic course of aggressive activities for some specific purpose’.

Auto-subtitling of winter olympics broadcasts

The auto-subtitling for the broadcasts of the winter olympic games on Australian television (provided by an independent company) seems to have three approaches to rendering the many different names of competitors from many different countries.

The first is to leave them out completely, which sometimes leaves a gap in the sentence. The second is to take a wild guess at it. Several times. It tried four times to spell the surname of the eventual winner of the men’s luge David Gleirscher before, obviously, a human overrode it, after which it was rendered correctly. The third is obviously when a human has provided the names already, for example Saturday night’s speed skaters Carlijn Achtereekte, Sjinkie Knegt and the unfortunately named Semen Elistratov. (It’s a perfectly good Russian/Ukranian equivalent of Simon. Most sources give his name as Semen, but Wikipedia renders Семён as Semion.)

So obviously there is some level of human programming of some different names from some different countries. The competitor list has been available for days or weeks or months (and these people have been on the competitive circuit for years), so why don’t they use it?

In 2012 Victoria Azarenka won the Australia open tennis championships. During the presentation ceremony, the auto-subtitling referred to her as ‘Victoria as a drinker’. Surely it (or the humans behind it) can do better than that.

(I’d like to make it clear that I don’t fully understand how auto-subtitling of live programs works, and that the humans behind it do a much better job than I would be able to do.)

(added 17 Feb: last night in the women’s aerials, the commentators were saying the names of the Chinese competitors family name first, but the autosubtitling was giving them given name first.)

 

PyeongChang v Pyeongchang

The Winter Olympic Games open on Friday this week in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The venue is officially styled as PyeongChang, but is better transliterated as Pyeongchang. There is no reason for the second capital letter, and no other Korean city, town or geographical feature is given with a capital letter in the middle (sometimes called camel case (or CamelCase)). The 1988 Summer Olympic games were not in SeoUl. (That just looks weird.) Wikipedia states that this style has been adopted to prevent confusion with Pyeongyang (citing Agence France-Presse). The most common transliteration of the northern capital’s name is Pyongyang (possibly following the DPRK’s own use) while that for the southern county* is Pyeongchang (following Revised Romanisation). It’s the same spelling in hangeul. Searching for ‘Pyeongyang’ and ‘Pyongchang’ automatically reverts to the official/most common transliteration.

*Pyeongchang is not even officially a town, let alone a city. Gangneung, the venue for most of the skating events, is city.

Chung Hyeon, or Hyeon Chung

The Australian Open tennis tournament is currently being played in Melbourne. I’m not particularly a tennis fan, but the tournament, players, matches, results, future matches and extreme weather conditions are in the news.

Last night my wife came home with the news that a South Korean player Chung Hyeon, or Hyeon Chung had beaten former champion and world number one Novak Djokovich.

Korean names are given family-name first. Chung’s family name is Chung. Korean given names are usually two syllables, but one or three are not unknown. In fact, Wikipedia reports that there is a law requiring given names to be no longer than five syllables. I have never encountered a Korean with a five-syllable given name, or even a three syllable one. In one class at a Korean high school, I had one student with a three syllable given name and another with a one syllable name. (There are also a handful of two-syllable surnames.) Continue reading