Translating Kinship Terms to Malay
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In the Malay culture, the kinship term is used as one of the forms of address when speaking to others, especially when speaking to family members and close, intimate friends. Using the correct and proper choice of kinship term is of utmost importance in this culture. One can be accused of being rude and be labeled as 'kurang ajar' in Malay, which is literally translated as 'insufficiently taught,' if one were to use an inappropriate choice. The kinship term has been widely used in the Malay subtitles of movies and dramas shown on Malaysia TVs or at the local cinemas. For this paper however, the writer will only look at some of the kinship terms used in the Malay subtitles of selected Korean movies and dramas and show whether they are appropriately or inappropriately used to reflect the culture of the targeted audience.
Hallyu or 'Korean Wave' had started to arrive at the Malaysian shore after 'Winter Sonata,' a serial drama with Choi Jin-woo and Bae Yong-joon as the main actors, was shown by a local network. Since then, many Korean dramas and movies have been shown on Malaysian TVs and at the local cinemas.
Since the invasion of the Korean Wave, Korean kinship terms and honorifics, such as 'oppa' and 'onni' have crept into the vocabulary of local Malaysians, especially among the young ones. (Look at Excerpt 1 and 2.) In the subtitle for the Korean dramas and movies, these terms are sometimes correctly and sometimes incorrectly translated to Malay.
Kinship terms are words that are used to designate a family member who is connected to other family members by blood, marriage, adoption, or fostering (Biology-Online.org, 2007, Farlex, 2007, Schwimmer, 1998). For example, the English term 'aunt' (or more specifically a younger or elder sister of one's father or mother) could be translated to 'Mak Long,' 'Mak Ngah,' 'Mak Uda,' 'Mak Lang,' 'Mak Teh,' 'Mak Cik,' or 'Mak Su,' depending on several factors:
Figure 1 shows some of the Malay terms used for one's parents, one's parent's female or male sibling, one's female or male older sibling, and one's female or male younger sibling. The terms in parentheses are optional, while the terms in curly brackets are not exclusive, as there are more terms available for one to choose. The choice is highly dependent on several sociolinguistic factors, such as age, gender, formality, and location.
There is a generic term for the 'aunt,' which is 'mak cik.' Some families use this term with or without the name of the person, such as 'Mak Cik Sofiah,' 'Mak Cik Sofi,' or 'Mak Cik Piah' if the given name for the 'aunt' is 'Sofiah.'
Awang Sariyan (2007: 5) states that, in the Malay culture, a nephew or niece who is of the same age as or older than the sister of one's parent should address the sister as 'mak cik' or any other kinship terms that reflect the birth order of this particular sister as a mark of respect. An aunt is placed higher in the family hierarchy than the nephew or niece, irrespective of the nephew, niece, or aunt's age.
However, the usage of this 'mak cik' term can be ambiguous as it can also be used to refer to
Thus, when 'mak cik' is used, an outsider has to figure out whether this 'mak cik' is a blood-related person or merely a friend, a stranger, or a neighbor.
The Malay kinship terms are also used as the first and second substitutes when one is referring to oneself or another person. For example, "Aku nak kau belikan aku DVD 'The Host' kat Bukit Jambul" (literally: 'I want you to buy me 'The Host' DVD at Bukit Jambul') can be substituted with "Along nak Angah belikan Along DVD 'The Host' kat Bukit Jambul." 'Aku' is the first person pronoun which can be substituted with 'along' if 'aku' is the first-born child in the family, and 'kau' is the second-person pronoun which can be substituted with 'Angah' if 'kau' is the second-born child.
The use of the kinship terms 'along' and 'angah' shows a relationship which is as close, intimate, and personal as the one shown by 'aku-kau' between siblings in a family, but the use of 'along-angah' has a higher degree of politeness and is much less 'vulgar' or 'rough' than 'aku-kau' (Nor Hashimah Jalaluddin, 2005: 136).
Malay has two forms of address which can be categorized into two forms:
Kinship terms, such 'along' and 'angah' can be placed under the 'bentuk-bentuk halus atau hormat' category, while the pronouns 'aku' and 'awak' under the 'bentuk-bentuk tidak hormat atau kasar' category.
(The writer borrows the term 'respect' from Harrison (2001), 'non-respect' from Cheran (2004), 'vulgar' or 'rough' from Schonfeld (1999). These terms might or might not reflect the true nature of what really exists in the Malay psyche when dealing with forms of address and kinship terms. Nonetheless, the writer feels that the terms are much more acceptable than some other choices given by the bilingual dictionary that the wri writer is currently using.)
Because of the complexity of the Malay kinship terms, a translator must carefully study the system of this target language in order to ensure that she or he uses the most appropriate and polite first or second person pronoun substitutes when translating into Malay.
Examples of Kinship Term Usage in Malay Subtitles
Basically, the translator of Malay subtitles manages to use the accurate and appropriate kinship terms. We will look at four selected subtitles to show the accuracy and appropriateness of the kinship term usage.
The usage of 'berambus' in 7 and 7a is actually deemed impolite when speaking to one's parent. But the writer will not discuss this aspect in detail here. It would suffice to say that the proper alternative for 'berambus' is 'go' with an exclamation--'Ayahlah pergi!'--to reflect the tone of the context in which the subtitle represents.
As stated earlier in this article, kinship terms can also be used to address a second person who is older than oneself and who is not connected either by blood, marriage, adoption, or fostering. Subtitle 8 is shown for a Korean dialogue between a boy and a female friend of his older brother. The translator should have selected the clipped kinship term of 'kakak' (literally: 'sister')--'akak' or 'kak'--, instead of 'kau' which is more appropriately used when addressing another person of the same age. See 8a.
With more Korean movies and dramas being broadcast on Malaysian TVs and at the cinemas, the translator should be aware of the complexity of the culture of both the source language (i.e. Korean) and target language (i.e. Malay). The translator should take some time to study the differences and similarities of the systems for the kinship terms of the two cultures in order to produce good, quality Malay translation that will reflect his or her understanding of the diversity of languages and cultures in Malaysia and Asia, which in this case is Korea.
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