Squid Game makes history as first non-English nominee at the Emmys for outstanding drama

Squid Game, the subject of everyone’s favorite subtitling debate, has become the first non-English series to receive a nomination for outstanding drama at the Emmy Awards.

In the nearly seven and a half decades of the awards’ history, all of the nominees for this award have been produced in English, making Squid Game’s nomination (one of 14 others that the series received this year) a particularly remarkable feat. Squid Game’s success — along with the critical acclaim of other non-English media like CODA — is also a testament to the increasing openness toward engaging with media in non-English languages among the predominantly English-speaking audience of the U.S.

The Korean-language series skyrocketed to the top of Netflix’s most watched series this past fall, and received significant widespread acknowledgement for its strong plot and production value. However, its popularity also led to a wider dialogue regarding the quality of its subtitles in other languages. 

Shortly after its rise to global popularity, a bilingual speaker of Korean and English took to TikTok to point out certain disparities between the original Korean dialogue and the English subtitles. While the show certainly continued to receive high praise from critics, MultiLingual reported that many audience members became critical of what they viewed as a poor translation job. 

Later reports complicated things even further — Rest of World reported in November that the series’ localization shortcomings were a result of a labor shortage among translators. Both the American Translators Association (ATA) and the Spanish Organization of Audiovisual Translators and Adapters have denied that there’s a shortage of translators — instead, they posit that there’s a shortage of translators willing to accept the low rates that many companies pay audiovisual translators.

“There is no shortage, but instead a disconnect between the value of this skilled work and the pay offered, leading to a perceived lack of qualified professionals available for these jobs and subpar subtitles in the world’s most popular titles in film and TV,” ATA President Madalena Sánchez Zampaulo wrote in an open letter.

Still, Squid Game’s success is a major accomplishment and just another indicator that the current trend of English speakers watching — and enjoying — foreign language media is here to stay.

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Andrew Warner
Andrew Warner is a writer from Sacramento. He received his B.A. in linguistics and English from UCLA and is currently working toward an M.A. in applied linguistics at Columbia University. His writing has been published in Language Magazine, Sactown Magazine, and The Takeout.

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