Pansori Translations

Apparently I missed it when it happened, but a professor named Choe Tong-Hyon spent five years translating all the various versions of  of Korea’s traditional pansori to English. At the time, a post on Seoul Stages mentioned that these translations were immediately posted to the Jeonju Sori Festival website.

By some miracle the link (here it is) still seems to be working as of this morning.

If you’re interested in pansori, but maybe not enough to go out and hunt for old published copies that might cost you more money than you want to pay, then you should grab ’em while you can. The digital edition is a dual text that seems to be a reasonably coherent translation (at least, in the files I looked at).

No perfect, mind you: there’s some niggling things, like how the word “terrapin” gets used when Turtle would be just as good, or how, from Choe’s own account, some questionable decisions were made in rendering elements of the original in English:

For an example, Choe translated “Duridungtung Duridungtung Quegaengmae Quengmae Quengmae,”― some of the verbal drum sounds made by the singer during Sung Woo-hyang’s version of “Chunhyangga,” as “How wonderful life is.”

“The meaning of the verbal drum sounds differs according to what the story is about. When the drum is used in a war context, it is about the army marching toward the enemy. But when it is to portray a person’s feeling, we have to tell exactly what she or he is trying to share with the audience,” he said.

Er, what?

That sort of annoys me: we have plenty of English language equivalents for beatbox-like or rhythmic noisemaking that conveys joy or happiness. (Tra-la-la and doo-doo-doo would work in a pinch, but even something as unwieldy and ugly as “ba-ba-da-ba ba-ba-da-ba, boo-doo-doop” comes a damned sight closer than, “How wonderful life is,” and is distinct from the rum-pum-pum phrases used to emulate military drumming.)

So, you know, caveat emptor. But I guess that’s where the dual text comes in handy, and it’s hard to argue with free if you’ve had no access to a translation up until now.

By the way, a comment on an old post got me looking into this, so here’s to comments on ancient posts. A comment slightly before that, from 2007, mentions another English translation of at least one pansori (“Sugungga”), so if you’re really interested, you may want to look around for something professionally published.

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