For us “other language” subtitlers, knowing who is talking formally and who is talking informally is the worst nightmare. As you may know, many languages such as French, Spanish, German, Italian, Greek, Russian etc have “formal” and “informal” speech. Not seven or fourteen levels as in Korean, just two or three, but still we do have this distinction.
However, translating from the English, this is lost, and we have to really stretch our ears to get some clue with our imperfect or non-existent Korean knowledge. Hunting an -a/ya or a -yo, a -nim or a -mnida to guide us.
We all know the general rule: formal to strangers and to superiors, informal only to very close friends, family and children. Within the family, you have to speak formally to grandparents and in-laws. Even a child of six is expected to know the use of formal speech to speak to elders.
But there are so many variables!
And, in the case of couples, at what exact point do they drop the formality and start talking informally? It’s not always obvious.
I just made up a “rule of thumb” as to not become crazy: that I drop the formal speech after kiss or after sex, or at least when they are holding hands and officially dating.
But I know fully well it’s an artificla rule, just for convenience, and that it isn’t always like that.
I saw it in Five Children. After the couple kissed and they started dating officially, she was referring to him as “Team Leader - nim”; even after they were married, he had to reprimand her for her to decide to use yabeo. (Force of habit?)
And it was in this drama I discovered they were talking about themselves in the third person to the children. I kept hearing “appaga” and “ommaga” etc…
But there are so many cases when there are too many variables and you really cannot guess.
In W there are two working environments.
One is the team of three assistant comics designers.
Of course they all speak formally to the teacher and he speaks informally to them. But among them?
- It is a workplace, but an informal workplace, the designer’s home which doubles up as his studio.
- They’re all young assistant cartoonists, so young people in a modern, artistic, non corporate environment.
- On the other hand, one of them (the guy with fake glasses) seems more senior than the two girls. It’s such situations when you are not sure.
The hospital, the young interns. There is a professor (OK, things very clear there) and a team of three interns: the leading girl and two others.
- There is one guy who is older or has been there longer (we hear about that soon enough), so he is supposedly free to speak informally to the younger ones (but does he?)
- On the other hand, the leading girl (who is one year behind him as far as seniority is concerned) seems to be very friendly and comfortable around him, and more or less the same age. So maybe she also speaks informally to him?
- But the leading girl and the other girl? We don’t know whether they are the same age or one of them is senior. There is no clue about that. So if you don’t know Korean, it’s a guess. But oh, at some point the other girl calls the leading girl “Doctor Oh” (Oh is her name, for all of you who are not watching). So if you call somebody Doctor+Surname it means you speak formally to them. It makes sense. But this calling Doctor Oh is not said on the 1st ep, so until then you know nothing.
- And what about Doctor Oh speaking to the girl? Is she talking informally to her or not?
In another series, there are two people who used to be sunbae and hoobae. They meet many years later, they are in their thirties. How do they speak to each other?
And, for that matter, when two people are attending university. Are all students speaking informally to each other if they are classmates, and formally to other students they don’t know that well?
@sophie2you , you are very right when you speak about balance. A fine and difficult balance between transmitting the flavour of Korean culture and habits, and what would be viewed as reasonable by the viewers. But, in order to make informed decisions, we have to know what is being said.
**And with this I come to my suggestion: **
English team, I respectfully request, as a matter of courtesy or rather compassion for other language subtitlers, make a memo in the Team Notes about who is talking informally/formally to whom. We would be eternally grateful!
It will be a bother to compile this and keep it updated (telling us when the level of intimacy changes). But on the other hand, think! You won’t have me pestering you with questions. Maybe the gain is worth the effort!