Mis-speaking in Korean

Recently, I have had a burst on brushing up on and learning more Korean, and actually using it, firstly because I’ve been offered a job teaching English at a university in South Korea, and secondly because my wife’s best friend’s niece has just arrived in Australia on a working visa, and will be staying with us for the foreseeable future. Yesterday we picked her up from the airport, then went to a wedding at the Korean church. After the service the minister asked me when I was leaving for Korea. I said 내월 십육 (nae-wol ship-yook; next month, sixteen – I’d completely forgotten 일 (il; day)). Umm, no and sort of.

Korean has two words for month, 달 (dal), the ‘native Korean’ word, and 월 (wol), the ‘Sino-Korean’ word (that is, taken from Chinese, and sometimes written with a modified Chinese character). Korean is full of pairs like this; the two words are used in different contexts, and the native Korean words are less formal and the Chinese more formal (roughly analogous to Germanic and Latinate/Greek words in English). The standard expression for ‘next month‘ is 다음 달 (da-eum dal), which was in another textbook, but not the one I’m revising at the moment. But the standard expression for ‘next year‘ is 내년 (nae nyeon). So I‘d taken 내 from that expression and the wrong ‘month’. As far as I can find, though, 내 by itself does not mean ‘next‘, but I can’t find exactly what it does means. (In other contexts, it means ‘my’.) But all is not lost. A learner’s dictionary lists ‘내달‘ (nae-dal) as an alternative for ‘next month’, so I was sort of right.

I have recently been suffering from a middle-level cold. After dinner with Soyeong, I reached for some tablets, took one and said 감기역 (gam-gi yeok; cold (illness) railway station), instead of 감기약 (gamgi yak; cold (illness) medicine). Korean conveniently has a word for ‘cold (illness)’ which is completely different from the one for ‘cold (temperature)’. In fact, it has two separate but related adjectives for ‘cold ambience’ and ‘cold to touch’ and a separate but related noun for ‘the cold’. Further, the predicative (‘The weather/coffee is cold’) and attributive (‘the cold weather/coffee’) adjectives take different forms. There are variations of pronunciation in Korea, but I don’t know the details. For some English speakers, ‘haht cahfee’ is their standard pronunciation of ‘hot coffee’. As far as I know 역 and 약 are completely unrelated in Korean.

PS On further investigation, the only word related to 내년  is 내일 (nae-il), which means ‘tomorrow’.  년 and 일 are both Sino-Korean words, so ‘nae’ by itself may mean something in Chinese, but not in Korean. Also, compare 내일 to ‘tomorrow’, which is now one word in English.


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