Friday, August 28, 2009

How do Koreans quote Lincoln?

In his Gettyburg Address, President Abraham Lincoln used the now famous phrase "that government: of the people, by the people, for the people" to describe the kind of government they were fighting for. In Korean, the phrase is usually translated as follows:

"... that government: of the people, by the people, for the people, ..."
"... 인민의, 인민에 의한, 인민을 위한 정치, ..."

In his book, "우리가 정말 알아야 할 '우리말 바로 쓰기,'" Lee Su-yeol (이수열) took issue with the translation and suggested the following, instead:

"... that government: of the people, by the people, for the people, ..."
"... 인민을 위해, 인민이 하는, 인민의 정치, ..."

Instead of using 인민의 to translate "of the people," Mr. Lee used it to translate "for the people." To translate "of the people," he used 인민을 위해. Also, one of Mr. Lee's pet peeves is that Koreans frequently misuse 에 의하여 to mean "by," so he replaced 인민에 의한 with 인민이 하는.

Personally, I would translate the Lincoln phrase as follows:
"... that government: of the people, by the people, for the people, ..."
"... 인민에서, 인민으로, 인민을 위하여 하는 정치, ..."
I like Mr. Lee, but I think he misunderstood some of the English. However, he was correct to point out the misuse of 에 의하여 for "by."

의하다 is a shortened form of 의거하다, which means "to be based on," "to be founded on," or "to be predicated on." The Korean definition is "어떤 사실에 근거하다." However, if you look at an English definition of 의하다, you will see one listed under "Other" (기타) that defines it as "by." The example in my dictionary is as follows:
브람스에 의한 교향곡
a symphony (composed) by Brahms
My Korean-Korean dictionary (국어사전) does not define 의하다 as "by," so I think this is a case of my Korean-English dictionary defining a popular misuse of the word without explaining that it is a misuse. If I had to choose between an English definition and a Korean definition, I would usually choose the Korean.


On second thought, I think the original translation of the phrase was basically correct. I think Lincoln's "by the people" essentially meant "based on the people's will or authority." Nevertheless, I would prefer the following translation:
"... that government: of the people, by the people, and for the people ..."
"... 인민 자신으로, 인민 권한으로, 인민 이익 위해 하는 정치 ..."
Also, consider this translation:
"... 인민에서, 인민으로, 인민에게 하는 정치..."

1 comment:

  1. I know this is an old post, but I just came across it and wanted to comment. I don't think Lee's reordering implies that he meant to use -의 to translate another part of the quote; I think he merely moved to where it made the most sense to him in Korean. In other words, even though Lincoln began with "of the people" in English, I think Lee ended with "of the people" to avoid separating -의 from its target noun.

    Thanks for all the work you've put into this wonderful blog!