Korean movie – A melody to remember, revisited

Twice last year I saw the Korean movie 오빠 생각 (o-ppa saeng-gak, Thoughts of my older brother or Thinking of my older brother, titled in English A melody to remember) once in a cinema in Korea (without English subtitles) and once on the aeroplane returning to Australia (with English subtitles), and blogged about it here and here.

I occasionally browse through a language bookshop in the Sydney CBD. Some months ago, sometime after I returned to Australia I saw a book called something like Korean Songs and Stories. One of the songs is Thinking of Older Brother, which provides the title, but not the story, of the movie. (The song dates from the Japanese occupation; the movie is set during the Korean war.) The background to the song is:

During the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910-1945), eleven-year-old Choi Sun Ae’s brother went to Seoul to buy shoes and never returned, inspiring her to write these lyrics. The cheerful music – written by Park Tae Jun – may seem like a strange contrast to the sad words, but during the occupation the Japanese prohibited songs that were negative or depressing in nature. Having a relatively “happy” melody was a way of masking mournful sentiments.

I didn’t want to buy the book for one song (though I might have been able to make use of the other ones), so I surreptitiously took a photo of this song. Unfortunately I can’t credit the editor and publisher. I am posting this now, some months after finding that book, because I’ve just been sorting through old photos.


Fox in Socks – pronunciation and spelling





So begins Fox in Socks, by Dr Seuss (Theodore Seuss Geisel), a series of increasingly intricate tongue-twisters. Along the way, whether Seuss intended it to or not, it illustrates many points of English pronunciation and spelling.

Each of the words has four phonemes (distinct sounds) in pronunciation, represented by three, four or five letters in spelling, so immediately there is not a direct correspondence between sound and spelling. Each of the words starts with one consonant phoneme /f/, /s/, /b/ and /n/. The first three are represented by one letter, but the last is represented by two letters kn – the k is silent. It used to be pronounced but now it isn’t (long story). (In fact, the k is silent in all English words starting with kn.)

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goodest and baddest grammar

Most English have adjectives have comparative (-er or more/less) and superlative (-est or most/least) forms. The three major irregular adjectives are good-better-best, bad-worse-worst and far-further-furthest. One student wrote farer and farest. I said ‘Those are clear and fit the pattern, but we’ve got these special words further and further’. No-one wrote or said gooder, goodest, badder or baddest. I commented that those are clear and fit the pattern as well, but badder and baddest sound slightly better than gooder and goodest. Jim Croce calls Leroy Brown ‘The baddest man in the whole damned town / Badder than old King Kong’, not ‘The worst man … Worse than King King’. The spell-checker in Pages for Mac accepts badder and baddest, but not gooder and goodest. (It also accepts farer. I assume that’s related to fare (farer – ?a paying customer/traveller) not far. Compare wayfarer. The spell-checker in WordPress accepts badder and baddest, but not gooder, goodest or farer.) (Possibly, the regular adjective forms of far should be farrer and farrest, but it’s not necessary to decide.)

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the sewer of Armageddon

My fear of heights began when I climbed down the sewer of Armageddon during a thunderstorm.

Every language user has the ability to create sentences which have never before been spoken or written in that language, and every other user of that language has the ability to understand them (assuming linguistic competence, performance and cooperation by all).

Yesterday, one of my nieces, who is studying linguistics, wrote the sentence above as part of a Facebook post about the pipe organ she’s practicing on. Yes, she really did visit Israel, yes, she really did visit Tel Megiddo, yes, she really did climb down the former sewer/emergency escape route / current alternative route (with metal steps) for tourists, yes, there really was a thunderstorm at the time.

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“David smells”

After I posted the previous post, in which I mentioned the words tasty and smelly, I remember that I own this book, which I bought in Korea on 24 December 2006 (there’s a date stamp on the underneath edge of the pages). Looking through it, and thinking about meanings and usages of words, it is apparent that smell works in different ways than the other senses.


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Official languages

In his book The language wars: A history of proper English, Henry Hitchings states that there are eight countries which do not have an official language: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Costa Rica, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Somalia, the UK and the USA. Throughout the book he provides extensive references, but not for this one. My spider-sense is tingling: Australia does not have an official language.

The most convenient and authoritative source I can think of is the CIA’s World Factbook. It lists Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian as official in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Spanish in Costa Rica, Tigrinya, Arabic and English in Eritrea, Amharic in Ethiopia, Urdu and English (‘lingua franca of Pakistani elite and most government ministries’) in Pakistan, and Somali and Arabic (‘official, according to the Transitional Federal Charter’) in Somalia.

For the UK, it lists ‘the following … recognized regional languages’: Scots, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Irish, Cornish.
For the USA, it states that ‘the US has no official national language, but English has acquired official status in 31 of the 50 states; Hawaiian is an official language in the state of Hawaii’.
And for Australia, it simply lists languages spoken: English 76.8%, Mandarin 1.6%, Italian, Arabic, Greek, Cantonese, Vietnamese (each with 1.1-1.4% of the population).

To be fair on Hitchings, he does preface his list with ‘At the time of writing’, and his book was published in 2011. Those six countries might have declared their official languages since then (the World Factbook was last updated last month), but he should have known about Australia.

Seon-mi / Sonmi

I have a student named 선미 (Seon-mi). Her name reminds me of the character Sonmi in Cloud Atlas (novel by David Mitchell, movie written and directed by Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer and Lilly Wachowski – trailer, spoilerific final sequence (subtitled in Turkish, of all things!)), but the names aren’t necessarily the same.

Korean ㅓ approximates to the English ‘short o’ (as in John) and ㅗ to ‘long o’ (as in Joan). There is no indication as to how the book/movie character’s name is spelled in Korean: the book doesn’t include any hangeul (and very few Korean words) and the movie has hangeul only on buildings and vehicles in the background. (Korean Wikipedia’s page on the movie doesn’t transliterate the names of the characters.) The difference in pronunciation is sometimes small or non-existent: a ㅗ followed by a syllable-final consonant sounds very much like ㅓ – a suburb is a 동 (dong), which is always pronounced with a short o. Continue reading