28 October 2009

Translation: 'Our desire is unification' (Year 3, Day 64)

This is a song for unification written in 1948. However, as I learned from my discussion with the other teachers at my school today, the translation of the song can have far deeper implications.

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A disclaimer: Please understand that this is a very rough translation by a humble student of Korean. While I'm pretty sure it'll be more accurate than any internet translation engine to date, it still may not even be close to the original since I typically have to look up every three words when I try to read anything. (Hanja constructions are killer...) If you can translate Korean yourself, I would appreciate your constructive criticism. Leave your mockery at the door.

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"우리의 소원은 통일"

우리의 소원은 통일 꿈에도 소원은 통일 이 정성 바쳐서 통일 통일을 이루자
이 겨례 살리는 통일 이 나라 살리는 통일 통일이 어서 오라 통일이여 오라

"Our desire is unification"

Our desire is unification
In our dreams also the desire is unification
This true-heart is dedicated to unification
Let's succeed at unification

The unification these brothers keep
The unification this country keeps
Unification, come quickly
Unification, come!

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Today I had another interesting discussion with my fellow teachers here, this time about left-handedness, at least that's what it was about at first. (At this rate, I should just call the blog "Interesting things I learn from the teachers at my school". My co-teacher was telling us how when he was a child, he had to cut a lot of grass to feed to the family cow. He's left-handed, but unfortunately all of the family's sickles were right handed. He has scars on all of his fingers because of the cuts.

I was surprised when he said he was left-handed though because I have never seen him use his left hand for anything. I asked him about that, and he said that when he was growing up, it was rude to use one's right hand because it looked awkward and was different from everyone else. Whenever he tried to use his left hand, he was scolded by his elders.

Now, I'd heard about this before, how Korean families often force children to become right-handed. Indeed, even when I was growing up, it wasn't all that uncommon for lefties in my class to get teased a bit by my classmates (and probably myself too) before a teacher stepped in to impress upon us the value of diversity. Although, now that I think about it, I do seem remember one teacher actually trying to force one of my friends to learn to use his right hand... But memories are faulty that way. I could very well have just seen it on an episode of Little House on the Prairie or something.

But, despite being familiar with the topic, I decided to try to continue the conversation in that vein anyway. As a language instructor, I often have conversations about things I already know. This makes me respect how bored out of their skulls some of my Spanish instructors must have been when I was struggling with that language in high school.

This time, I'm glad I did. Otherwise, I wouldn't have learned the gem above.

The teachers began explaining to me one of the main cultural differences between Korea and the U.S., that while the U.S. appreciates diversity Korea appreciates unity. It was at this point that they quoted to me the immortal words of Syngmann Rhee, "United we live; divided we die," and cited "Our desire is unity," which is apparently a song that they all learned as children.

Again, this was something I'd heard before, but I pointed out to them that the U.S. actually appreciates unity a great deal. We are the United States of America, after all. I told them that the word they were looking for was probably 'uniformity'. Unity implies a sort of common purpose. It can incorporate uniformity, but it doesn't have to. Uniformity implies sameness across individual units.

But I wondered why my co-teacher, who is well versed in specific vocabulary words and painstaking in his use of them, would so quickly jump to unity instead of uniformity when describing how his parents and grandparents had forced him to use his right hand, and why he had chosen a song that stresses the 'unity' of a divided nation to express this concept of 'uniformity'.

After class, I took a look at my computer's Korean-English dictionary, and I discovered something very interesting.

The first picture is the translation of tong-il (통일) from Korean to English. The next is the translation of 'unity' from English to Korean. The final picture is the translation of 'uniformity' from English to Korean.

It's a little hard to see (if you really care, click on the pictures for larger images), but what's interesting is that from English to Korean 'unity' and 'uniformity' are translated as tong-il and hoik-il (획일) respectively, whereas from Korean to English they translate the word tong-il, without qualification as both 'unity' and 'uniformity'.

So maybe my teachers were right to use left-handedness as an example of national unity and unification. At least, they were right in Korean.

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