Last weekend, I took in the new M. Night Shymalan film "Lady in the Water". (In case you're worried, there are no spoilers in this entry.) It's received a lot of criticism, to be sure, and I don't want to get into most of it here. But the aspect I most object to, as a language lover, is something I haven't seen addressed in any of the reviews I've read. Paul Giamatti's character learns about a hidden "Blue World" populated with fanciful creatures called narfs, scrunts, and tartutics. Most of his knowledge of this world is obtained from a Korean lady with her daughter as interpreter. And yet, in none of the Korean do we ever hear sounds resembling "narf" or "scrunt." So how does the daughter come up the English words for them?
Translating names is an tricky task. The common practice is to leave names as they are. Thus, in Spanish newspapers our president is still George Bush, not Jorge Arbusto. There are exceptions; in my Spanish version of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the protagonist's name appears as Cindy-Lou Quien, rather than Cindy-Lou Who. But at least these are names that happen to be identical to English words. "Narf", "scrunt", and "tartutic" are not, at least according to Merriam-Webster's. So I wonder what the Korean version of the story could possibly use in their place.
I don't speak Korean, so it's possible that the words were there and I just missed them among all the other unfamiliar sounds. I'd love to consult a Korean speaker and find out if the dialogue was actually real, or whether it was a bunch of nonsense syllables. If the latter, that's unfortunately one more strike against a movie I'd really hoped to respect more than I did.
And speaking of strange name translations, I've still never figured out why Smurfs are "Pitufos" in Spanish.