Kylar asked in Society & CultureLanguages · 1 month ago

Why are Korean numbers translated this way?

I often read Korean web novels which have been translated (professionally) online into English, and I've come across a pattern in how numbers are translated.

For example, this sentence in a fantasy novel I'm reading:

"A flying creature with three, four wildly beating wings was approaching."

Note that it says "three, four" and not "three or four" or simply "four." This sort of translation is something I've seen in multiple different novels, all written and translated by different people. there's some commonalities in the different occurrences though:

- It's only ever two numbers, and there's always just a +1 difference.

- The first number is not the actual count. The second number is always what the count is actually supposed to be. (Like in the example I gave, the creature is definitely something with four wings, not three.)

- The number is always low. I've seen "three, four" as well as "five, six" most often.

I don't think it's a mistake, so much as something language-specific (or maybe culture-specific)...But I'm completely stumped as to what that language-specific thing could be. If anyone can help me learn what it is, I'd be thankful!


Would like to clarify: That quote isn't a character speaking. It never is in these cases. And as I said these are professionally translated novels, and outside of character speech are not colloquial. Also, this is something I have seen only in Korean web novels. To expand on that: I do not see this sort of number translation in Chinese web novels or Japanese web novels, even if the same translator has worked on them. Which is why I asked if it's something specific to Korean.

Update 2:

As far as colloquial English goes, I'm very aware of it (I'm a native speaker). It's like when someone is in the middle of counting something, or makes a mistake counting, or is approximating a count and goes "There's three or four people coming." but you say it real fast so you skip the "or." Stuff like that. As I said in the original question, this isn't someone speaking, and it isn't a mistaken count. If it was something like that you'd see it for higher numbers too, but it doesn't happen.

4 Answers

  • Ben
    Lv 5
    1 month ago

    I imagine it's a low quality translation. 

    Listing the numbers directly after each other like that, rather than separating with an "or" or suchlike is likely a quirk of the Korean language (I know they do it in Japanese), and the translators, despite being official, probably aren't actually very good at what they do, and so translate the line over-literally.  

    Just because a person is an official translator for a work, doesn't necessarily mean they are a superlative translator, especially for niche works that aren't likely to sell much, the publisher would likely commission a cheap one.

  • 1 month ago

    I don't know if it is because of the translator of the original Korean script, but Korean people speak that way.

    ex) 사과 두세 개 주세요.

    Give me two-three apples.

  • John P
    Lv 7
    1 month ago

    Some native speakers of English speak that way - perhaps they are the ones who get employed as translators from Korean!  Possibly they are Americans, that form of expression is not very familiar to me in Britain.

    It is unlikely that a person who speaks (and therefore writes) in that way would use that form only when translating from Korean - it is likely that that it is part of daily speech for him or her.

    Certainly 'colloquial' is the least strong adjective I would use about 'three, four'. If that is supposed to be a 'high quality' translation then 'unprofessional' comes to my mind.  

    Sadly, you need to get that whole translation checked by another native speaker of good British or American English (apart from yourself - a fresh eye is needed) - for a fee - and then you need to deduct that fee from what you are going to pay for the original translation.  I imagine that there are several (many?) colloquialisms in that text which will make it look rather ragged.

    The loss of part of the fee will tell that translation agency that it needs to get a better class of English speaker when it commissions translations, or that it needs to get the translations checked by native speakers before sending them to clients.

  • Anonymous
    1 month ago

    I hear this in colloquial English all the time. Im pretty sure it has nothing to do with Korean.

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