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Summary[]

Ben Lindbergh talks to Jacky Bing-Sheng Lee, translator of the traditional Chinese edition of Ben’s book The MVP Machine, Hyunsung Kim, translator of the Korean edition of The MVP Machine, and Brendan O’Connor, assistant professor and linguistic anthropologist at the School of Transborder Studies at Arizona State University, about the challenges of translating a baseball book from English into other languages, how Jacky and Hyunsung got jobs in baseball and became translators, the ascendance of the CPBL and the KBO on the international stage, linguistic “borrowing” in baseball, the cultural conversations surrounding baseball bilingualism, the greatness of Korean baseball drama Stove League, and much more.

Topics[]

  • Jacky's baseball background
  • Hyunsung's baseball background
  • Effect of the pandemic and greater international attention to Taiwan and Korean baseball
  • Brendan's work on bilingualism in baseball
  • Jacky's translation background, and cultural challenges in translating the book
  • Hyunsung's translation background
  • The challenges of translation in general and baseball in particular
  • Use of English baseball terms in Taiwan and Korea
  • Length of the traditional Chinese and Korean versions compared to the English version
  • Popularity of the traditional Chinese translation
  • Adoption of concepts into the CPBL and KBO
  • The experience of foreign players in the CPBL and KBO
  • Hyunsung's thoughts on Stove League

Notes[]

  • Meg has taken the day off "because it's Christmas week and she is a sensible person."
  • The traditional Chinese translation of The MVP Machine was released in May 2020. The Korean translation is nearing completion.
  • Shinya Iwasaki, translator of the Japanese version, was unavailable. The rights to a Spanish translation has been sold, but no book yet.
  • Brendan O'Connor has written about bilingualism in baseball (see article linked below).
  • Jacky began writing about baseball as a college freshman in 2013. In 2016, he began working part-time for FOX Sports Taiwan, the MLB broadcasting partner in Taiwan. He continues to write for various outlets and co-hosts a Mandarin-language baseball podcast. He normally does baseball game play-by-play in Mandarin, but this year he did around 50 CPBL games in English, realizing a childhood dream.
  • Hyunsung worked as a translator for the Korean umpire in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. He currently is a scout for the Royals covering South Korean baseball.
  • A silver lining to the pandemic was the greater attention to the CPBL. Its opening game was selected by Time magazine as one of the highlights of the year.
  • Brendan's research relates to his work as a teacher of Mexican-American and other Latinx students. He learned Spanish as a second language.
  • Jacky majored in foreign languages and literatures and did graduate work in translation. He combined his interest in baseball with his interest in English. He got the opportunity to translate The MVP Machine because the publisher looked for sports books with good Amazon ratings which could succeed in Taiwan. The book was dubbed Moneyball 2.0, and the original Moneyball was popular in Taiwan. Jacky got the job through a friend who recommended him.
  • Big baseball news like the Astros sign stealing scandal are known in Taiwan, but Jacky had to provide significant footnotes explaining things like StatCast and PITCHF/x. He also had to deal with popular culture references like Smurfs or movie quotes.
  • Hyunsung grew up in the United States before his family moved back to Korea. In college, he decided to take advantage of his bilingualism by becoming a translator. He started out translating video games and academic theses before moving to baseball.
  • The MVP Machine was Jacky's first book translation. The book contains many company and brand names which do not have an official translation into Chinese. He tried to translate them into Chinese as much as possible, but some (like StatCast) had to be left in English. This is awkward because traditional Chinese is printed vertically, and English words have to be rotated 90 degrees in order to fit into the flow of the text.
  • In Mandarin Chinese, relative clauses come before the noun, so a phrase like "Driveline, which has locations that are all over the country" translates into Mandarin Chinese as "having all over the country locations, Driveline". Complex relative clauses are not idiomatic, and Jacky had to split these phrases into multiple sentences.
  • Hyunsung notes a particular challenge is that Korean puts the verb at the end of the sentence. (Editor's note: This makes translating conversations more complicated, particularly when one character interrupts another mid-sentence.) There are rules on how foreign names are translated to Korean, and a lot of the names in the book don't have pre-made translations, so Hyunsung had to work them out individually. Baseball terminology often doesn't translate literally; he has to capture the sense of the term without using the same words.
  • Baseball was introduced to Taiwan and Korea by means of Japanese colonization, so many baseball terms are filtered through Japanese rephrasing. For example, an inside-the-park home run is a "ground home run", and a walk is a "four-ball". In Korea, Sabermetric terms are just spelled out phonetically. Taiwan uses the Japanese-filtered terms "batta" for batter and "shoto" for shortstop.
  • Mandarin Chinese has only two or three terms for "home run", which makes it hard to translate lengthy discussion of home runs without sounding repetitive.
  • The terms "supination" and "pronation" do not have direct translations into Mandarin Chinese and have to be replaced with phrases, which is a challenge since the terms are used frequently in the book. Trevor Bauer's "penis pole" required a local rather than direct translation. Other challenges were phrases like "establish your fastball", which required a footnote.
  • Brendan notes that languages change faster than the official rules can keep up, forcing translators to make up things as they go.
  • Hyunsung notes the challenge of dealing with multiple audiences. Publishers wants books to be understandable by a 9th or 10th grade level reader, which means using the native Korean words for terms like "pitcher". However, people who work in baseball use the English terms.
  • Hyunsung calls out "cue words" that are particularly difficult to translate. For example, a coach may say "don't fly open", which makes no sense when translated literally.
  • Jacky says that it is typical for a translation from English to traditional Chinese to require a larger word count. The problem is made worse by the need for extensive footnotes. Publishers put pressure on translators to reduce the page count, since it makes the book more appealing and reduces printing costs.
  • Hyunsung admits, "There will be a lot left out" of the Korean translation due to length issues. It is common to simply omit cultural references.
  • Jacky believes that the book has been received well in Taiwan. Many players and even coaches have read it, and it is having an impact. The Taiwanese government has made investment into sports science in the past two years, creating technologies similar to TrackMan and Rapsodo. Hyunsung says that Sabermetrics has entered Korean baseball, but there aren't a lot of books available.
  • Jacky's masters thesis looked into the role of translators in baseball. The staff interpreters are indispensable to foreign players, not only for in-game translation, but also for helping them navigate local society. They take on the role of personal assistant, helping with basic activities like calling a cab or ordering food, and more complex tasks like going to the hospital or filling out paperwork. The players and their translators develop deep bonds as a result.
  • Hyunsung notes that foreign players in the KBO are widely praised just for learning a few words of Korean or adopting an aspect of Korean culture like using chopsticks.
  • Brendan notes the "paradox of bilingualism": White Americans get accolades for demonstrating the tiniest skill in a foreign language or culture, whereas players from Latin America (say) who demonstrate skill in English barely get any attention. Brendan reminds us that Ichiro continued to use a translator in interviews despite being quite good at English.
  • Stove League was based on real events. Hyunsung was worried because previous baseball shows did poorly in Korea, but was pleasantly surprised at the show's success, winning many awards.

Links[]

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