Sowon S Park

Sowon S Park

Sowon S Park

Assistant Professor of English, University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB)
Associate Member of the English Faculty and Research Associate of TORCH, University of Oxford
Strand 6. Prismatic Translation

I was born in Seoul, South Korea, where two scripts are used for writing Korean – Chinese characters, hanmun, and the phonological hangul. Hangul was invented in 1443 but it was during the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910-1945), when Korean culture was subject to near total suppression, that hangul emerged as the national script. Today the Latin alphabet is spreading. Travellers flying into Seoul will notice that the landing card requires three versions of your name – in hanmun, in hangul and in the alphabet. So in a sense, it is a multigraphic culture. And one could argue that it has always been so. Even before the invention of hangul (or the chosun gul to the North Korean), other scripts including Manuchurian, Japanese, Uygur, Mongolian and Tibetan were known in the Korean peninsula. Monographic cultures are the exception, not the norm.

All this is by way of explaining how I came to be interested in writing systems and their implication for literature, culture and thought. Under the title of Prismatic Translation, I will be investigating the relations between script and speech, especially when it comes to translating literatures written in radically different writing systems.

I specialize in British modernism and taught English Literature in Seoul, Cambridge and Oxford before moving to Santa Barbara. But I didn’t learn English till I was nine, when I first arrived in England. I remember with great clarity how sibilant the sound of English was to me as someone who didn’t understand the language, and how impossibly mysterious cursive English looked. How could anyone tell where a word starts and where it ends? This is how I feel when I see Arabic today.

Once a script is learned, it can’t be unlearned. Literacy turns shapes into codes. To bring into focus how script shapes meaning, I will be basing my research in recent developments in the cognitive neuroscience of reading, and I will be examining Creative Multilingualism from a visually inclined prism. I’m particularly interested to find out whether different scripts afford different cognitive experiences.

Selected publications

‘Transnational Scriptworld ’ in Park, Sowon S. ed., The Chinese Scriptworld and World Literature, a special issue of The Journal of World Literature vol.1 no 2 (Brill, June 2016).

‘An Unknown Masterpiece: on Pak Kyongni’s Land and World Literature.’ D’Haen, Theo ed., The European Review (CUP, June 2015): 426-438.

‘The Adaptive Comparative.’ Comparative Critical Studies (EUP, June 2015):183-196.

‘The Pan-Asian Empire and World Literature.’ CLC web: Comparative Literature and Culture: World Literature Special Issue (Purdue University Press, Dec, 2013) ‹ ›

The Morning Bright (Seoul: Ewha University Press, 1990). Co-authored collected translations of Medieval Korean folk-tales. 

Korean Tiger Tales (Seoul: Ewha University Press, 1992). The second volume of co-authored collected translations of Medieval Korean folk-tales.