All in the Tone: a Korean Translation in Queens Strikes Wrong Note

As in many languages, Korean language has formal and informal forms of address, whose use depends on the age, status or situation of the speaker and listeners. Informal Korean is usually used when speaking with younger people or in very familiar situations — and it can be considered rude when used in the wrong circumstances. Most public signs or customer service writing use formal Korean to address the public.

In Queens, a sign in a park uses informal Korean, which has made some Koreans laugh, and angered others, The Korea Times reported. This is not the first time that Koreans have taken issue with the translations provided on public signs — after complaints about bad translations on subway trains, the Metropolitan Transit Authority announced that it would offer better Korean translations. A translation of the Korea Times article is below.

This sign in Bowne Park uses the informal form of Korean in its translation. (Photo by the Korea Times)

Bowne Park, in Flushing Queens, which is frequented by many Koreans, has a Korean sign that is written not in formal Korean but informal Korean, which makes some uncomfortable.

Below a sign that says “Please do not remove or harm wildlife” in English, there are three different translations of the sentence, into Spanish, Chinese and Korean.

However, the Korean translation of the sign is written in informal Korean as “야생동물 죽이거나 해치지 마,” which roughly translates into English as “Do not under any circumstances remove or harm wildlife!” Even though the translation itself is not technically wrong, “야생동물을 죽이거나 해치지 마세요” would be a more appropriate expression for public signs and closer to the sentiment of “Please do not remove or harm wildlife.”

“I often go to the park, but whenever I see the sign, I feel uncomfortable,” said Kyunghee Lee, a director at Jabiwon Social Service Center. “I hope that this Korean sign will be corrected as soon as possible.”

Jo Yoonjin, a Korean-American aide to City Councilman Peter Koo, said “After checking into this matter, I will ask the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation to correct it.”

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