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The Sad State of American Literacy and Elocution

2012/03/17 | 1212 views | Permalink | Source

Recently, American internet TV provider Hulu added the Korean drama "The Greatest Love" to their collection of offerings. They even have the official subtitles provided by MBC. Normally, this would be cause for great celebration. But sadly, this is not the case.

I've long wondered when the use of texting shorthand, chat room slang, MS Word spell-checking, and Ebonics would so infect entertainment production as to render TV unwatchable. The beginning of that time, it seems, is now. Having enjoyed the high quality of subtitles for the series both here on Viki and on DramaFever, I had high expectations for MBC's "offical" subs for "The Greatest Love". What I got instead was insult upon insult to the production quality of one of the greatest series to come out of Hallyu. To read the certifiable genius Dr. Yoon Pil-Ju seem to say to jaded sexpot celeb Kang Se-Ri, "I'll keep an eye out for beauties. In case it's you", is a travesty to what is SUPPOSED to be a heart-melting moment for the youngest National Treasure Girl. It's clearly the language, the choice of phrasing that combines with the good doctor's unassuming charm to make or break the scene here, and just as clearly, the semi-literate cro-magnon subbers at MBC made the cho ices that broke it. Pil-Ju's mother couldn't be more upset if she heard that Ae-Jung was pregnant with twins and was going to be her daughter-in-law.

The question is, who is ultimately to blame for this travesty passing as translation? Certainly, the MBC subbing team bears a large portion of the burden. But on top of that, I think that the online community also bears a burden. For far too long, internet users have lacked the time, patience, energy, and legitimate concern for linguistic integrity to concern themselves with observing proper grammar and elevating their text from colloquial chitchat to expressive exposition. Twitter is the worst offender, limiting posts to 144 characters, which de facto encourages use of sentence fragments, text shorthand, and 'Leet in order to cram the message into that tiny little box. Chat rooms and instant messengers have similar character limits, if not as severe, exacerbating the problem.

Additionally, I think that Hallyu itself is to blame, for allowing such pathetic subs to be published because they think that's what will sell. Entertainment media is always looking to sell to the 16-21 crowd, as it is the age group with the most disposable cash and the most impulsive buying habits. It would not surprise me at all, given that Hallyu has already made concerted efforts to "Westernize" their dramas and movies, if they wanted to try to make "The Greatest Love" more hip by intentionally using teen lingo instead of the more proper phrasing one would expect from characters who are aged 30 years or more. Not only is this an inuslt to the series, but to the intelligence of the audience as well. Just because teenagers don't always take the time to use proper English doesn't mean that they don't appreciate its use. There's a reason why Shakespeare is taught at so many high schools across the U.S., why most colleges demand a passing grade in a freshman-level rhetoric class as part of the general studies prerequisites, and why use of the English language makes up such an integral part of U.S. college entrance exams. Are you paying attention, MBC? The reason is as simple as this:

Words mean things.

By LoonyLizard

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