Unbowed

Youtube suggested a series of videos on Korean movies, including reviews of individual titles and lists of ‘best [genre]’ or ‘most [concept]’, of which I have watched some but not all. One of them included the movie 부러진 화살 (bu-reo-jin hwa-sal). The literal translation of the title is Broken arrow, but apparently it is officially titled Unbowed in English. 

In almost any other context unbowed would be /ʌnbaʊd/, as in bow and pray. But the presenter of the video pronounces it as /ʌnboʊd/, as in bow and arrow, which kind of makes sense, because the movie is about a university professor who is arrested, tried and convicted for shooting a crossbow at the presiding judge of his unsuccessful appeal against wrongful dismissal. While /boʊ/ as a verb and /boʊd/ as an adjective are used in carpentry (a bowed plank) and music (a bowed string), /ʌnboʊd/ as an adjective rarely is, because we would say a straight plank or a plucked string. And as far as I know or can find, /boʊ, boʊd, ʌnboʊd/ are never used in archery: Bow your arrows! The bowed arrows arced their way towards the advancing enemy. The arrows remained unbowed as the messenger approached. (And would bow as a verb in archery mean nock or draw or loose (basically the archery equivalent of ready, aim, fire)?) 

Intriguingly, bow and pray and bow and arrow are related through their common meaning of bend/bent, while bow and stern (rhymes with bow and pray) is unrelated, being related to bough (of a tree).

Pairs or trios of words like these present problems for second language learners as well as native speaking children often and native speaking adults sometimes. One choral work by Ralph Vaughn Williams presents the words of a jolly sailor straying down by the river one morning, and beholding his lady-love. He tells us “I made a bow and said, Fair maid How came you here so early?”. As native speakers, we automatically interpreted and sang that as /baʊ/, but our conductor said that the conductor of the vocal ensemble he sang in (a speaker of multiple languages, English not the first) said “Why do you sing baʊ? Surely it is boʊ!” (maybe imagining him tying a ribbon in her hair). The ensemble members (100% native English speakers) had to convince him that it was indeed baʊ and that no native English speaker would ever sing boʊ in that context more than once.

At the rehearsal for that concert, we were lined up across the sanctuary of the church. The conductor said ‘Can you make a boʊ?’ (that is, stand in a slightly curved line). Several of us baʊd! 

Getting back to the Korean movie, I sent a message to the creator of the video via social media, outlining the linguistic issue and asking whether he knew the official pronunciation. Two days later, he hasn’t replied. But I’m not going say “Haha, you made a mistake on the internet”, because I don’t know that it is a mistake.

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