Literature Translation Contest
The Judges' Report (2013)
By Brother Anthony, Jung Ha-yun, Min Eun-kyung
We know that many more people are learning Korean and many now study translation/interpretation at advanced levels. It was therefore something of a disappointment to find that only 23 entries had been received for the 2013 Korea Times Translation Awards competition, which has traditionally been one of the main ways by which individuals have been recognized as accomplished translators of Korean literature.
Of those entries, surprisingly, ten were in the poetry category, although it is generally agreed that it is far more difficult to translate a few lines of poetry adequately than the many pages of a work of fiction.
In judging this kind of translation competition, where entries can be freely chosen so long as the work is not too out-dated and has not been previously translated, the criteria are familiar ones: in order to deserve an award, a translation must provide a full and accurate representation of the Korean original in convincing, fluent English.
Faithfulness and readability are of equal importance. We are also influenced by the quality of the work chosen; there are quite a number of poems and stories that lack universal appeal for an international readership and prove highly recalcitrant to translation.
The judges always hope to find translations that they really enjoy reading. For this to happen, it is not enough to select a work that has had some recognition among Korean readers. The translator should try to choose poems or stories that will resonate even among readers who know little or nothing about Korea, for whom the name of the poet or author may mean nothing.
Although we received many poetry translations this year, almost without exception they had clearly been submitted by Korean translators whose knowledge of English was too limited; in many cases the English grammar was poor.
As in many recent years, we soon decided that no poetry award could be given. The only exception was a set of poems written by a famous novelist and published after her death. These were on the whole very competently done, although marred by errors of spelling and grammar. We hesitated, and turned to the works of fiction that had been submitted.
In general, the fiction translations were competent but there were not many we read with real pleasure. This was in part the fault of the translator who had failed to create a convincing English style and in part the fault of the author whose work did not lend itself to translation. Where the translation itself was reasonably accurate, often the English text failed to find a compelling rhythm and flow.
That being said, we felt that the great majority of the fiction submissions showed a considerably higher level of skill than the poetry submissions. We want to encourage translators who were disappointed this year to consider continuing to work on their texts, if possible with a native speaker who has a literary sensibility, since in several cases it was only the final, detailed editing that was lacking.
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