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Italicization of Translated Korean Literature and Korean Diasporic Literature: A corpus-based study of the decision-making of translators and original authors


The present study takes a corpus-based approach to compare ten Korean novels translated into English with another ten Korean diasporic authentic novels written in English to explore differences in the use of italics between translated and non-translated literary texts. The focus is placed on how foreign words are italicized, since they represent the identity, history, and collective memories of Koreans as the interface between translated Korean literature and Korean diasporic literature. Especially since italics as a typographical device is seldom used in the Korean language, the italicization of foreign words also serves to reveal the style and decision of translators and their differences with original writers. Against this backdrop, the present study aims to see (a) if translated Korean literature and Korean diasporic literature exhibit significant differences in the use of italics; and (b) how the choices of original authors and translators differ in italicizing culture-specific and other foreign words. The present study employs Newmark’s (2001) typology to categorize culture-specific items (CSI) of foreign origin into six subcategories, while adopting Nord’s (2018, 1997) notion of phatic and expressive functions and developing other emerging categories to explain the italicized use of foreign words whose meaning is rather culturally universal but whose direct transfer in italicized form do convey cultural connotations.

The results of the analysis show that the most italicized category among all categories of italicization is foreign words, while the most notable difference is observed in emphatic italics. In the italicization of foreign CSIs, no significant difference is found except in one subcategory, while the lack of consistency in Romanization is noticeable in both corpora. As for non-CSIs, the use of phatic/expressive and foreignizing italics is significantly predominant in the non-translated corpus, reflecting the relative freedom of original authors to express a sense of otherness and diasporic identity. The present study provides unique insight on how the use of italics in foreign words elucidates the different styles and decisions of translators and original authors, but it will need to be complemented with a closer look into sentences containing these instances and a further review on the original texts of the translated corpus.


translated Korean literature, Korean diasporic literature, italics, foreign words, culture-specific items, corpus-based approach



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