1988 Olympic Games opening ceremony

I found a video of the opening ceremony of the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. I don’t think I watched  the whole thing at the time – I was living by myself and didn’t have a tv. I have two reasonably distinct memories, but didn’t see either as I watched this last night, so either my memories are faulty or they edited some of it.

Linguistically, my eye was caught for a few minutes from 52.50. The performers seamlessly morph from a large rectangle to the English word WELCOME. Then at 53.25 they invert the letters to welcome the other side of the stadium (that took me several replays to figure out). At  54.48 they morph from WELCOME to 어서오세요 (eo-seo o-se-yo), which literally means ‘come quickly’ but is always used as ‘welcome’ (it’s on doormats, for example). WELCOME has seven letters and 어서오세요 has five jamo (letter groups/syllables), which means some of the performers switch groups. (Note they use the English word first and the Korean second.) From those five groups it is a relatively easy move to five small circles which then enlarge to form the Olympic rings. (In the middle of all that, the announcement is awkward English word order: ‘The President and First Lady Roh Tae-woo of the Republic of Korea are now entering the stadium’.)

The parade of nations takes place in Korean alphabetical order using Korean names for countries, so following Greece (always the first team to enter) are Ghana (가나), Gabon (가본) and Guyana (가이아나). Because Korean lacks many of the fricatives of English, the Vs are sorted under B, for example, so we get the Virgin Islands, Benin and  Venezuela in that order. I was expecting Australia (호주, ho-ju) to be right at the end, immediately before the host nation, but instead they were called 오스트레일리아 (o-seu-teu-re-il-li-a) and sorted in the middle (predictably, next to Austria). The third- and second-last teams were then Hungary and Hong Kong.

Korean names for countries (Korean Wikipedia) fall into three groups. Most follow English names for countries (for example, Ghana, Gabon and Guyana, above), though some are rendered almost incomprehensible by transliteration: 프랑스 (peu-rang-seu) for France [edit: it is possible that this is a rendering of French Français(e) and not English France]. Some have distinct Korean names: 중국 (Jung-guk) for China (which is cognate with the Chinese 中华, Zhōnghuá) (at the Olympics they were called 중화인민공화국 (the People’s Republic of China)), 일본 (il-bon) for Japan (less obviously equivalent to 日本, Nippon), 독일 (dok-il) for Germany), 미국 (mi-guk) for the USA and 호주 (ho-ju) for Australia (interchangeably with 오스트레일리아). Some are based on that country’s own name/pronunciation: 스위스 (seu-wi-seu) for Switzerland (compare (Swiss-)French Suisse), 이탈리아 (i-tal-li-a) for Italy (its capital is 로마 (ro-ma)) and perhaps Spain (at the Olympics, they were called 에스파냐 (e-seu-pa-nya) but the Korean Wikipedia page is titled 스페인 (seu-pe-in). An outlier is 인도 (in-do) for India, not Indonesia, which is 인도네시아 (in-do-ne-si-a).

At the 1988 Olympics for the last time was 소련 (so-ryeon), the Soviet Union. The full Korean name was 소비에트 사회주의 공화국 연방. I assume that 소련  is taken from the first syllable of 소비에트  (so-bi-e-teu, soviet, obviously) and an altered version of the first syllable of 연방 (yeon-bang, commonwealth/union). By the way, North Korea (officially, 조선민주주의인민공화국 jo-seon min-ju-ju-eui in-min gong-hwa-guk; unofficially, in the South, 북한 (buk-han, north us/north people/north country)) boycotted the 1988 games. (In this context, han is almost untranslatable. For more information, see here (the paragraph beginning 대 and footnote **.)

If I’d known in 1988 that I was going to live here twice, I would have paid much more attention at the time.


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