A few days ago the chapter of the textbook was about comparative and superlative adjectives, and one question was something like “What are you most afraid of?”. One student said “I am afraid of ” something that sounded like duck or dog. Was she afraid of ducks (the bird) or duck (the meat), or dogs (the animal) or dog (the meat, in some countries, see later)? I might have asked for clarification then, but decided to let her keep talking. She said that when she was young, the toilet was accessed from outside, so she always asked one of her parents to take her. So did they have ducks or dogs in their backyard? I finally said “I don’t know whether you said duck or dog”. She said “No – daakk”. Aha. “Afraid of the dark.” Why do we say “the dark” rather than “dark”. Would Dracula say “I am afraid of light” or “I am afraid of the light”? Google Ngrams shows that afraid of the light is about twice as common as afraid of light.
The similarity of the pronunciation of duck and dog occurred twice when I was in Korea the first time. The closest Korean vowel is closest to /ɒ/ and consonants at the ends of words tend to be unvoiced, so both of these words collapse into, approximately, dock.
The first time I went to a restaurant by myself, the owner showed me a menu with two large pictures. One was obviously rice, and she pointed and said “Rice”. The other was obviously meat, and she pointed and said “Dock”. So was it duck or dog? I ordered the rice. (In)famously, boshintang (“invigorating soup”) is a thing in Korea, and restaurants serving it are no secret (hint: the hangeul is 보신탕), but the chances of stumbling into one are remote. Possibly (?probably) they exist in cities, but the ones I saw were all in country areas. I went a number of times by myself, and ordered the rice every time, then went with some students, who told me it was, in fact, duck, and we ordered it, as well as the rice. I would not usually order duck by myself, even if I was sure what it was. (By the way, I was astonished by the number of side dishes that came with the rice. Later, when I went with my then-girlfriend/now-wife, I found that it was a portion for two — they prepare it in advance, and assume that people will be eating together. It doesn’t solve the problem of any odd number of people eating together, but three people eating two double portions is less of a problem than one person eating one double portion.)
In a discussion class, a question was “How can you meet new people when you move to a new city?”. One student said “You knock on neighbour’s door and give them dock”. I obviously looked confused (as neither duck(s) nor dog(s) makes complete sense in the context), so another student helpfully said “떡 (tteok) is rice cake” (and a very common and acceptable introductory gift).
[PS after I posted this I remembered that I had previously posted about scared v afraid.]