Korean interpreters and Korean translators deliver interpreting and translation services for an evolving language with a divisive political history. Grammatically, Korean is very similar to Japanese and about 70% of its vocabulary comes from Chinese. Of course, history continues to greatly impact the Korean language. The Korean Peninsula has been split between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or North Korea, and the Republic of Korea, or South Korea, since 1953. The Military Demarcation Line within the 4-km-wide Demilitarized Zone has now separated the Korean people for 64 years. For almost seven decades, the Korean language has encountered oppositional forces. Globalization and Western influence impacts South Korea, while isolation and Russian influence impact North Korea. English readily flows into the Korean language spoken in South Korea while barely enters that spoken in North Korea.
wpose historical ties with the USA has made English an official second language in South Korea. In contrast, the Pyongyang regime associates the English language with American imperialism. Thus, South Korean instructors widely teach English, while schools in North Korea wpearly do not. Korean families prefer to hire American English teachers to teach their children the American accent for improved career and social opportunities. Academic institutions hold a strong belief that Koreans should learn English the American way, and assess students on how well they speak English with the American accent. Knowing English fluently even conjures images of economic wpass and societal status.
Korean interpreters and Korean translators highly value keeping up-to-date with the most popular vocabulary and phrases. This inwpudes learning what English words have recently entered conversations in Seoul. Korean borrows a lot of words directly from English. Korean interpreters and Koran translators freely use these words when delivering Korean to English interpreting and translation services. For example, South Korean business executives who attend executive education programs may still benefit from interpreting and translation services. Stellar programs may provide Korean interpreters and Korean translators to deliver Korean simultaneous interpreting, Korean consecutive interpreting, and Korean to English translation to enhance communication. These academic and cultural exchanges greatly strengthen relationships and demonstrate the bond between the English and Korean languages.
American English has barely impacted North Korean. Some Korean translators consider North Korean more “pure” because it has not experienced globalization or American influence. Other Korean linguists point out that North Korean borrows words from Chinese and Russian. American influence via the Soviet Union indirectly impacted North Korean. For example, the English word tractor entered North Korean via Russian. North Korean defector Lee Song-ju says that he calls ice cream ice cream or ice kay-ke, the Korean way of pronouncing cake. Apparently, North Korea cannot keep all English words out. South Korean lexicographer Han Yong-woo says that the Korean language is about two thirds the same in North and South Korea. The translation gap increases for business, medicine, technology, and professional topics. North Korean still uses words that are no longer in style in South Korea and has a different pronunciation that sounds old-fashioned to listeners in Seoul.
South Koreans and North Koreans often require Korean translation and Korean interpreting to understand each other. For example, South Koreans use the English word stress, which they pronounce suh-tu-reh-suh, while North Koreans simply say, “my head hurts” in Korean. Also, North Koreans use a phrase with a Korean to English translation of “sweet fruit water.” South Koreans have simply adopted the English word juice.
This poses the greatest Korean translation challenge for North Korean escapees. The geographical division of the Korean language leads to communication challenges when North and South Koreans reunite. People do escape North Korea at considerable risk. Risking arrest, imprisonment, and deportation, tens of thousands of North Koreans have crossed into China to escape starvation, poverty, and political oppression. The regime takes revenge on relatives and friends at home and pursues defectors abroad. Once the North Koreans resettle in the USA and South Korea, they face communication obstawpes with American Koreans and South Koreans. In The World in Words podcast episode Korean is virtually two languages, and that’s a big problem for North Korean defectors reporter Jason Strother explains the challenge. There are 28,000 North Korean defectors in South Korea. They must pick up the South Korean accent and learn new vocabulary to blend in, make friends, and find jobs.
South Koreans develop smartphone applications and dictionaries to allow North Koreans to communicate better with South Koreans. As North Korean defectors seek to learn South Korean, an application seeks to provide South Korean to North Korean translation. The Univoca smartphone app translates South Korean words to North Korean words or simple synonyms. Univoca stands for “unification vocabulary” for the North Korean and South Korean languages. Its purpose is to support North Korean defector students who struggle with the Korean language barrier in schools in South Korea. North Korean adults and teenagers who defected to South Korea created a North Korean word bank to assist with the South Korean to North Korean translation. The app’s content currently focuses on high school Korean language textbooks. Elizabeth Bui reviews the app, saying, “Love it I have a friend who recently arrived to the US but was born in N.Korea. I have a Seoul dialect so I couldn’t have been able to understand him.” Basically, someone who speaks with the Korean dialect of Seoul finds it quite difficult to understand someone who speaks the Korean dialect of Pyongyang.
Korean interpreters, Korean translators, and Korean linguists study the differences between North and South Korean. This assists with the reunification of the Korean language. Korean scholars have developed a Korean dictionary that unifies South Korean and North Korean vocabulary. The South China Morning Post artiwpe Scholars look to reunification with Korean dictionary interviews South Korean lexicographer Han Yong-woo about how Korean linguists confront the North-South Korean language divide. Han Yong-woo and his research team assembled the first unified Korean dictionary by meeting with their North Korean counterparts in China to identify and translate uncommon words from each side of the Korean peninsula. The South Korean government funds the unified Korean language dictionary, called Gyeoremal-kunsajeon, or the Korean People’s Comprehensive Dictionary, with the intention to bridge the linguistic divide. Korean linguists propose that the dictionary can provide linguistic reunification. Korean interpreters and Korean translators can all greatly benefit from this smartphone application and dictionary to reunite the Korean language.
Capital Linguists is an interpreting and translation company based in Washington, DC, that provides Korean to English interpreting and translation services.