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Life, Law & Libros

Discussion: Language, Style and Korean Dramas

Every now and then, I get sucked into a Korean drama on Netflix. I have to be in a particular mood for it (and find a drama that interests me on some level) because the style and feel of it is so different from my usual TV material. There are comparable American shows. (I'm pretty sure most soaps CW dramas are right up there with pensive/wistful close-ups, melodramatic declarations and melodrama in general.) Granted, I don't watch many of those comps. But anyway, because I am incapable of turning off my brain even when purposely vegging out to silly TV, the K-dramas have me thinking...again. :)

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1. Language
All the Korean dramas I've watched are in Korean with subtitles. I took a linguistics class and a Spanish translation course in college, and it's rendered language fascinating to me. (Which is probably why I'm trying five different courses on Duolingo.) Some lines I suspect of being one-level translations. Others make me wonder if I'm getting the same connotations and associations native speakers have. And the sentence structure sometimes makes everything sound formal, even when the tones and facial expressions of the actors say otherwise.

2. Manners/Social Status
I know this holds in Japanese, too (and Spanish for that matter), that there are more formal words or titles for addressing others. In Japanese, for instance, there are less formal forms of verbs for casual conversation, and how you speak to someone connotes both status and courtesy. I'm getting the impression at least some of that is true in Korean, too. Feel free to chime in if you speak/understand Korean! I'd love to know more. :)

And then there's the bowing and the times when staying silent and averting one's eyes is, I think, an appropriate answer? There's a whole non-verbal language at play. And, depending on the show, the acting styles are either very theatrical or more subtle about their use of spoken (and unspoken) lines.

My first thought was that these elements are good to consider for stories that takes place in a foreign country or a fantasy world. Not just in the language and actions of that country/world, but in how they affect the atmosphere and tone of the story. Do the society's words and interactions have an inherent formality or informality? Are there any common phrases everyone uses in certain situations? To what effect? Does everyone say, "Don't worry about it. It was my fault." and really mean, "I'm going to kill you in your sleep" like when someone runs into you and you drop your hot dog? ;)

And it's not just dialogue. The author's writing style creates a particular tone/atmosphere for the narration of the story, whether it be in first person or third. It can feel familiar or strange, safe or dangerous, serious or laughable, humble or presumptuous.

There is so much fun to be had with language and writing. Have you found any particular styles or particular authors whose work you like? Any styles you hate?

And because I know you're all curious, I got all the way through "Boys Over Flowers," watched a few episodes in a handful of other K-dramas, and am currently working through "The Great Doctor," which is basically Outlander meets X-Men (with a bad guy who kind of looks like an Elvis impersonator). Yes, it's very silly. :)


  1. I tried watching an episode of something about a year ago. It didn't have subtitles however and so I was making up lines for it and dissolving into a fit of giggles. SO dramatic!

    1. No subtitles? You're brave! But yes, it is dramatic. I can only imagine what lines you came up with. XD

  2. You're watching The Great Doctor!! I love that one its my fave, and yes it can be silly at times which is why I loved it so much!! Plus I love Lee Min Ho! Haha yeah I think I'm biased when it comes to him!! It's definitely a thing of interest!! Language and writing are probably what called to me when I started watching Asian drama's (and the eye candy.) I say Asian because I also watch Chinese and Thailand drama's, they're all just so different from American TV and I loving seeing how different each countries culture's are. It's a true and beautiful mystery to me their lifestyle's and mannerisms are just so different from mine! I'm glad I found your blog! ;)

    New follower! ;)

    1. The silliness is good for the brain. :) I love learning about different languages, but the cultural aspects are really interesting, too. It definitely has a different feel from American TV in the acting, script, costume and cinematography.

      And thank YOU! I hope you enjoy the posts here. :D

  3. I've never watched any Korean dramas but I've heard they're VERY dramatic. Your language comments are interesting though. Unless the shows are being translated by an expert (and how would you know?), you probably are missing a lot of nuance. After learning French, I rarely watch anything with subtitles now, just because I noticed how badly a lot of French TV/movies were translated and suddenly realised just how much I was missing. Although I suppose now I'm missing out on the other cultural stuff... :/

    1. Haha, "dramatic" is definitely the word. ;) I have a feeling I am missing a lot of nuance, especially when I can automatically pick out the one-level translations. :P But that's great that you know French! It's interesting to go back and find out what the subtitles did well and not so well.