Gov’t aims to be consistent with Korean translations

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Gov’t aims to be consistent with Korean translations

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism unveiled a proposal on Wednesday to ensure consistency in the English-language translations of Korea’s natural and cultural heritage sites.

Travelers and expats who do not speak Korean have long faced confusion over the names of local places frequented by tourists, such as mountains or palaces, because of the various ways domestic public and private institutions choose to translate their titles.

“The key principle in the proposal for unified translations would be to Romanize the entire name and then add a translation referring to the type of site,” Gong Hyeong-sik, the ministry’s head of the Korean-language policy department, told reporters in a briefing.

In other words, it would be “Changdeokgung Palace,” according to the new proposal, as “Changdeokgung” is the Romanization of the entire name while “palace” - or “gung” - describes what the site is.

Some organizations opt to drop the “gung” and refer to the historical institution as Changdeok Palace to avoid repetition. But Gong explained it would be incorrect to assume that non-Korean speakers know what “gung” means.

He added that Mount Namsan in central Seoul is another example of translations causing problems for foreign visitors.

While the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport refers to it as “Namsan (Mt),” the Cultural Heritage Administration and the Korea Tourism Organization call it “Namsan Mountain.” The Seoul Metropolitan Government, on the other hand, uses “Namsan (Mountain).”

The ministry added that exceptions can be made under the new policy. For man-made places that are neither natural nor cultural heritage sites - parks or markets, for instance - only the Korean title itself would be Romanized.

For example, Gwangjang Market would not become “Gwangjangsijang Market” as sijang means market and because it is a man-made construction. In the same way, it would be Boramae Park, not Boramaegongwon Park, with gongwon meaning park in Korean.

Another exception is when the signboard is not big enough to accommodate the full title, the ministry said. An abbreviation would be allowed in this instance, but it said it is still working on coming up with a unified translation for which abbreviation - such as Hallasan or Hallasan Mt.

The ministry added that it would enact the proposal as an order within this year. Related institutions will change their signboards in stages starting from next year.

This move comes after about two years of consultations with various institutions such as the Land Ministry; the National Institute of the Korean Language; the Cultural Heritage Administration; Seoul Metropolitan Government; and the Korea Tourism Organization.

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