Friday, May 8, 2015

A perennial problem: naming ministries in English

As reported in The Korea Times and other local press, the government plans to revise the English names of some ministries in an effort to eliminate the confusion caused among non-Koreans from around the world by strange-sounding, grammatically incorrect or inaccurate English names.  The problem that the government seeks to address originates in part because of the government reorganizations that occur like clockwork every five years when a new president is elected in South Korea.  However, at the core of the matter is the simple linguistic reality that Korean cannot be literally translated into English, and vice versa.  Therefore, I read The Korea Times article and a similar one in The Korea Herald with a sense of surprise that the government is undertaking a task which is ultimately impossible to completely fulfill.  However, this is not to suggest that there is no room for improvement.  A case in point would be the influential Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning (MSIP) which was introduced by the Park Geun Hye administration in early 2013.  A number of my blog posts (review them here) dealt with the nature of the new ministry and public discussion of its official name name, which was not officially decided until early April 2013.  I even suggested that the English name for the new ministry might include "innovation."   If I were asked today to nominate an English name for the ministry, it would probably be Ministry of Science and Innovation.  I would argue that the term "innovation" implies both future and technology, and the "planning" is not needed in the English name since it does not appear explicitly in the Korean title for the ministry, as shown by the following literal translations of the words in the Ministry's Korean title.
미래 future
창조 creation
과학 science
부   ministry

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