Everybody’s Language: North Korea’s polyglot Propaganda

KCNA’s website publishes articles and news in Korean, English, Chinese, Russian, Spanish, and Japanese. The gist is the same in all versions of KCNA’s multi-lingual rendition of Tuesday’s missile launch over Japan, but certain details appear to have been customized, in accordance with the targeted audience.

The Genius instructing the Military: this is how to launch a missile - click photo for video

The Genius instructing the Military: this is how to launch a missile – click photo for Voice of Korea video

It’s Japanese devils in KCNA’s Chinese rendition of Tuesday’s (regional time) missile launch over Japan, but it’s Japanese islanders in the newsagency’s English version. There are no permalinks on KCNA’s website, therefore, some copies and pastes will follow here.

KCNA August 30 article in English

KCNA August 30 article in English

KCNA August 30 article in Chinese

KCNA August 30 article in Japanese

KCNA August 30 article in Korean

KCNA August 30 article in Korean

If Google Translate is something to go by, the Japanese version refers to Japan as an “island nation”, rather than to “devils”:

All military officers of the Korean People’s Army Strategy Army formulated a bold strategy that the brutal Japanese island nation will be overwhelmingly surprised on August 29th of the blood on which the shameful treaty “Merger of Korea-Japan” was promulgated 107 years ago He is the most enthusiastic to the unprecedented patriot who has approved to launch a ballistic rocket from the metropolitan area and cleared up the resentment piled up in the chest of our people, the highest leader who is a hero of the nation I will send a greeting of gratitude and complete the holy mission and duty as a reliable nuclear weapon power of the Korean Workers’ Party at the head of the last Jihye who will make a total decision on anti-Empress and Anti-America confrontation fight if the party’s central order makes orders I vowed to death. – –


[Update, Oct 3: Jichanglulu‘s comment sheds more light on KCNA’s Japanese version.]

The Korean version – also if Google Translate gets it right – mentions the 107th anniversary of the 1910 Annexation Treaty, but without any reference of a Japanese (national) character:

All the soldiers of the Strategic Armed Forces of the KPA approved the launch of ballistic rockets in the metropolitan area on August 29, when bloodshed was declared a fake treaty of “Korea-Japan Merger” 107 years ago. As the most patriotic and patriotic hero of the nation, Kim Jung Eun, the most grateful leader of the Korean people, who gave us the hearts of our people, the most warm thanks to the comrade, At the forefront of the temple, the holy mission of the trusteeship of the Korean Workers’ [Google translation ends here]
조선인민군 전략군의 전체 장병들은 107년전 《한일합병》이라는 치욕스러운 조약이 공포된 피의 8월 29일에 잔악한 일본섬나라족속들이 기절초풍할 대담한 작전을 펼치시고 수도권지역에서 탄도로케트를 발사하도록 승인하여주시여 우리 인민의 가슴에 쌓이고쌓인 한을 풀어주신 절세의 애국자,민족의 영웅이신 경애하는 최고령도자 김정은동지께 가장 뜨거운 감사의 인사를 드리면서 당중앙이 명령만 내리면 반제반미대결전을 총결산하게 될 최후성전의 맨 앞장에서 조선로동당의 믿음직한 핵무장력으로서의 성스러운 사명과 본분을 다해나갈 결사의 맹세를 다지였다.(끝)

In Spanish, readers are told that

All officials and soldiers within the Korean People’s Army’s strategic forces expressed gratitude to the Supreme Leader, the unequaled patriot and the hero of the nation, who, on August 29, the bloodstained day of the thuggish Korean-Japanese annexation treaty’s publication, put into practice the courageous operation of instilling fear into the cruel reactionary Japanese, by permitting the launch of a ballistic missile from the Korean capital’s region, so as to make amends for the pent-up grudges of the Korean people.

Todos los oficiales y soldados de las fuerzas estratégicas del EPC expresaron agradecimiento al Máximo Dirigente, patriota sin igual y héroe de la nación, quien el 29 de agosto, día ensangrentado de ser publicada hace 107 años el infame tratado de anexión de Corea a Japón, practicó la operación valiente para dar el gran temor a los crueles reaccionarios japoneses y permitió en la zona de la capital el lanzamiento el cohete balístico haciendo quitar el rencor acumulado del pueblo coreano.

The Russian translation – again, according to Google Translate – doesn’t appear to make any particular mention of the Japanese at all:

Все солдаты и офицеры стратегических войск КНА преподнесли уважаемому высшему руководителю товарищу Ким Чен Ыну – выдающемуся патриоту и герою нации самую теплую благодарность за то, что он разрешил запустить в столице по плану смелой операции баллистическую ракету кровавого 29-го августа, который исполняется 107 лет со дня опубликования позорного соглашения так называемой «аннексии Кореи Японией», и сорвал злобу нашего народа. И они дали клятву выполнить священную миссию и долг как надежные ядерные вооруженные силы ТПК на форпосте окончательной священной войны, когда будет подытожена антиимпериалистическая и антиамериканская борьба, если будет приказ ЦК ТПК.

All the soldiers and officers of the KPA strategic troops presented the most warm gratitude to the distinguished senior leader, Comrade Kim Jong-un, an outstanding patriot and hero of the nation, for allowing him to launch a ballistic missile of bloody August 29th on schedule in the capital, which marks 107 years since Day of publication of the shameful agreement of the so-called “annexation of Korea by Japan”, and ripped off the anger of our people. And they took an oath to fulfill their sacred mission and duty as the reliable nuclear forces of the WPK at the outpost of the final holy war, when the anti-imperialist and anti-American struggle will be summed up, if there is an order from the TPK Central Committee.

As for the Russian-language approach – again, if this is a basically accurate Google translation -, the explanation for the comparatively polite approach towards Japan might be found in what a Chinese researcher, Cui Heng, wrote in December 2013:

Russia isn’t only prepared to develop beneficial relations with Japan for geopolitical reasons. In Russian historical memory, there isn’t much hate against Japan. During the age of the great empires, Japanese-Russian relations in the Far East were of a competitive nature. Many Russians still talk about the 1905 defeat, but the Far East wasn’t considered a place that would hit Russian nerve as hard as the crushing defeat in the Crimean war. Back then, Japan wasn’t perceived as a threat for Russia, and from another perspective, if there had been anti-Japanese feelings, there wouldn’t have been a revolution. According to perception back then, the [1905] defeat was a result of the Russian government’s incompetence, not [brought about by] a strong adversary. The outstanding achievements of the Soviet Red Army in 1945 led to a great [positive] Russian attitude, but still without considering Japan a great enemy.

And as far as the term “Japanese devils” is concerned, the Chinese version – the only KCNA version that takes the expression of sentiments against Japan that far – may intend to remind North Korea’s somewhat changeable Chinese allies of traditional common causes.

7 Comments to “Everybody’s Language: North Korea’s polyglot Propaganda”

  1. Interesting. These people are cleverer than they seem.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. North Korea’s economy is inefficient in many fields, but not when it comes to the regime’s key projects. Not every country is an able adopter of missile and nuclear technology, including warhead miniaturization.


  3. A very informative comparison.

    Here’s the noun phrase that refers to the Japanese:

    잔악한 일본섬나라족속들
    殘惡한 日本섬나라族屬들
    janakhan Ilbon-seom-nara-joksokdeul
    cruel Japan island-country tribe
    ‘the cruel Japanese island gang’

    Joksok can mean ‘tribe, clan’ as the hanja suggest, but also ‘gang, bunch’, often pejoratively.

    Nihon-no shimaguni-i??

    Not sure if that’s the intended pronunciation for the last three characters; the phrase doesn’t seem to be very common beyond KCNAspeak, and googling turns up some Japanese perplexity about it. Perhaps it’s a variation on an existing idiomatic pejorative format in Japanese, but I’m not able to tell.

    At any rate the meaning ‘island-country-Barbarians’ is clear from the kanji.


    los crueles reaccionarios japoneses
    ‘the cruel Japanese reactionaries’

    (No mention of ‘reactionaries’ in the Korean. Any idea why this was felt necessary specifically in the Spanish version?)

    The Russian translation is indeed basically OK, and, as you noticed, it doesn’t mention the Japanese beyond the annexation treaty. The phrase “stunning the cruel Japanese island horde” in the original Korean is left untranslated.

    It’s interesting how the terms chosen for the three East Asian audiences are racist slurs, while those in Western languages avoid such vocabulary.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for your advice!

    I should think Japan has to be “reactionary” in the Latin American context, where progress and revolution are rather positive notions. KCNA really appears to be trying to speak the language of North Korea’s most likely allies, or comparatively benevolent bystanders who may not adopt unnecessarily tough measures against Pyongyang.

    US vice president Mike Pence had called on a number of Latin American countries to cut all economic and diplomatic relations with North Korea about a fortnight earlier, according to Bloomberg.

    Peru being one of the countries addressed by Pence, I’m not sure if revolution goes down well with the public and the officialdom there, but may be it does, as long as it isn’t Maoist.

    Just my bit of speculation, of course. Can you see more/other possible motives for KCNA’s choice?


  5. Hard for me to tell if this is a case of surgically addressing an existing band of the political spectrum, or just using political vocabulary as learnt by the relevant translators. I’d say that something like ‘Barbarian islanders’ might not go down terribly well in Cuba. What you say about not rubbishing the Japanese too much for a Russian audience, while maximally poo-pooing them in Chinese, makes a lot of sense, but I’d be wary of extrapolating this to a cross-linguistic strategy. E.g. the Japanese does speak (rather unidiomatically it seems) of ‘island Barbarians’.

    I haven’t read much KCNA in the other languages, but from what I’ve seen the English tends to follow the Korean closely (if quaintly). The Spanish and Russian translations are comparatively free; perhaps those departments have fewer staff and less supervision, so individual translators (who might have studied in Cuba, Russia…) have more leeway to judge what’s appropriate invective in those languages.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. KCNA’s multilingual invective just came up on Language Log.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. My latest for Language Log quotes this post and recapitulates our conversation.

    Liked by 1 person

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