In a comment to a recent post, I mixed up the Korean words 색 (saek, colour) and 책 (chaek, book). Two words which I often mix up are 의사 (ui-sa, doctor) and 의자 (chair). Of course I can tell the difference between colours and books, and doctors and chairs in real life (but maybe a doctor is chairing a meeting!), but the words kind of look the same. In fact, the consonant letters of the Korean alphabet were designed to illustrate the connections between the sounds they represent. They are (with their most common transliterations):

ㅁ m ㅂ b ㅍ p

ㄴ n ㄷ d ㅌ t 

ㅇ ng ㄱ g ㅋ k

ㅅ s ㅈ j ㅊ ch ㅎ h 

(Annoyingly, Korean typewriter/computer keyboards don’t advantage of these patterns. My Korean typing is very slow.) (Compare the IPA chart.)

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A travel video blogger’s video contained a brief shot of a can of Sprite, labelled in hangeul as 스프라이트 (seu-peu-ra-i-teu). So one syllable of English becomes five syllable blocks (jamo) of hangeul. There are three reasons for this. 

The first is that the phonotactics of Korean do not allow for initial consonant clusters. The s and p must be extracted to their own syllable, completed with the most neutral vowel ㅡ (eu). This is not quite as reduced as the English schwa, but performs many of the same tasks. 

The second is that there is no single letter corresponding to the English vowel in Sprite, but it can be approximated by using ㅏ and ㅣ. Compare the IPA symbol /aɪ/, which clearly shows that the English vowel is a diphthong. I know of two Korean words which use this combination of vowels: 아이 (a-i, child) and 아이고 (a-i-go, approximately ‘gosh!’, most often used by middle-aged women).

The third is that only a few consonants can occur at the end of a syllable. While ㅌ occurs at the end of 밑 (mit, bottom), this is rare, and as far as I know is never used in transliterations of English words. So the t must also be extracted to its own syllable. Whenever you see a long string of Korean syllables, with the first and last containing ㅡ, it is almost certainly a transliteration of an English word. Some common English loanwords are 스트레스 (seu-teu-re-seu, stress) and 스포츠 (seu-po-cheu, sport(s)). 

I can’t remember seeing Sprite in Korea; the ubiquitous soft drink is Chilsung cider.

There is considerable variation in the names for carbonated soft drinks in English. To me, in standard Australian English, the neutral/slightly lemony drink is lemonade, the distinctly lemony drink is lemon squash or squash (sometimes with real lemon (which might be called traditional lemonade, sometimes only with flavouring), and cider is apple unless otherwise specified (eg pear cider). Other terms include soda, soda pop, pop, coke and cola. There is also soda water, which I would categorise separately. Koreans also use ade and chino either by themselves or attached to part of other drinks.

Hangang River

Some time ago I posted about whether it is better to write Gyeongbokgung, Gyeongbokgung Palace or Gyeongbok Palace. Ultimately, there’s no best solution. The literal transliteration of 경복궁 is Gyeongbokgung, but that does not provide foreigners with the important information that it’s a palace. Probably the best solution is to write Gyeongbok Palace, but in my experience, very few people do, along with Nam Mountain, but compare the very common Han River. Gyeongbokgung Palace is, strictly speaking, tautologous (also known as ‘repeating the same thing twice), but it has the advantage of including the full Korean name plus the fact that it’s a palace.

The Korea Herald has an article about the guide book published by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the National Institute of Korean Language for the use of those who are producing foreign-language signs and promoting Korea abroad. It recommends the use of, for example, Hangang River. 

It refers to the “translation” of Korean words. But the translation of 한강 is Great River. The transliteration is Hangang. I don’t know if there’s an official word for 한강 > Hangang River, but I will use the word rendering.  

The article links to the institute’s website, but it’s all in Korean, so I can’t give you any more information from it. 

At some time, my wife expressed great surprise when I told her that Namsan means “South Mountain”. She claimed that it is just the name of the mountain and doesn’t mean anything. But in any other context, Nam means south: Hamhae (the South Sea) is south of the peninsula, and Chungcheongnam-do, Gyeongsangnam-do and Jeollanam-do are south of Chungcheongbuk-do, Gyeongsangbuk-do and Jeollabuk-do respectively (and are sometimes rendered as South Chungcheong/Chungcheong South etc). Further, Namsan Seoul (I guess I should be writing Namsan Mountain Seoul) just happens to be south of Seoul, Namsan Gyeongju just happens to be south of Gyeongju and Bukansan Seoul just happens to be north of Seoul. Coincidence? I think not.

Daehakro > Daehangno

One travel video blogger (maybe the same one as in yesterday’s post – they are beginning to blur) spent a day in 대학로, a theatre and gallery district close to the CBD of Seoul. She pronounced it dae-hak-ro throughout her video, but the Korean pronunciation is (closer to) dae-hang-no, as one commenter pointed out. 

I can understand why she pronounced it like she did, though. Firstly, daehakro is the literal transliteration from the hangeul (whether she knows that or not). Secondly, she mentioned the Welcome Daehakro festival, which uses that spelling.  

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I’ve had travel on my mind recently, because my wife and I were planning to go to Korea for Chusok (1 October) then on to Europe for several weeks. All of that’s been put on hold for the foreseeable future, but to satisfy my travel bug, I was watching various amateur videos of people hiking in Seoraksan national park in South Korea’s Gangwon province. These videos vary in quality. One vlogger pronounces Seoraksan as ‘See-or-aksan’, but immediately qualifies that with “I think that’s how you say it”. It’s not. ㅓ eo is one vowel, approximately the same as the first syllable of sorry.

But this is not immediately obvious. Indeed, the transliteration of ㅓ is one of the major criticisms of Revised Romanisation. Can I blame a random vlogger for mispronouncing one place name? I shouldn’t. This was their first vlog from South Korea, but they are obviously experienced travellers and had presumably already passed through Incheon airport and Seoul, which use the same letter. It’s not quite as bad as pronouncing Thailand as Thigh-land or a major tourist destination there as Fuck-it

(Pages for Mac doesn’t like vlogger or vlog, changing them to blogger and blog each time, and red-underlining them when I change them back. (WordPress also red-underlines them.) I don’t like those words either, but the videographic travellers in question use them themselves. (Pages and WordPress also don’t like videographic.))

Names in Parasite

Since watching Parasite (spoiler alert) I’ve been reading articles and viewing videos about it. It’s obvious in the movie that both pairs of children have the same first syllable of their given name as their sibling (the rich Da-hye and Da-song Park and the poor Ki-woo and Ki-jung Kim), because they are repeatedly addressed or referred to by those name. It’s less obvious that that the Kim father also has the same first syllable (Ki-taek – I can’t remember if anyone addresses or refers to him as that) (I also can’t remember which website I read that on – I would like to give credit where it’s due). 

Historically, this would never have happened, and in modern times it’s still very rare. Traditionally, all the siblings and male-line cousins in a family shared a ‘generational name’ which, however it was chosen, was distinct from the generational name of their fathers and uncles. Significantly, Ki and Chung (the first syllable of the Kim family’s wife/mother’s given name Chung-sook) make up two-thirds of the Korean word for parasite – 기생충, gi-saeng-chung (I can’t remember where I read that, either). (ㄱ is most often transliterated as K for names and for kimchi, but G elsewhere.)

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The really important king of Korea

I assure you that I don’t set out looking for typos in my personal reading, but sometimes they’re just too obvious. I borrowed a book from my local library on world languages. It is a full-scale production, with two pages on the biggest languages, one on the medium-sized ones and a quarter of a page on a selection of smaller ones. There are many photos and examples of words or phrases. 

Unfortunately, there are two errors on the page about Korean. One is the name of esteemed originator of hangeul, King Sejeul. Say … what? Do they mean King Sejong, the most important Korean in history? So important that most of the time he’s not just King Sejong, but rather King Sejeong the Great.

The other is that the one-syllable block of Korean it provides as an example is completely not Korean and instead one of those random things you get when the software you use doesn’t recognise the script you are trying to use. To make matters worse, it is immediately followed by an explanation of the letters which make up the syllable block. Even a reader who doesn’t know hangeul would figure that the explanation simply doesn’t match up with the random thing immediately before it.

I mentioned this to some colleagues at work, then on the way home on the train spotted two more typos on consecutive pages, both a correctly spelled word, just the wrong one in the context: lightening instead of lightning and each instead of ear.

No names, no blames, but it they’re going to put that much effort into a full-scale production, they could at least get a native speaker to proofread it.

(If there are any mistakes in the preceding, bear in mind that this is not a full-scale production, and I don’t have a team of proofreaders.)

Rock law

My wife and I are trying to plan a holiday to Europe later this year, which is being complicated by having very different ideas about what constitutes an enjoyable holiday, how to plan for one and the possible impact of the coronavirus. A strong possibility is joining a group package tour of central and eastern Europe by bus. My preference is an international company guided in English, and hers is a Korean company guided in Korean, which I am understandably less enthusiastic about, except that one tour she has found goes to so many places for an unbelievably low price (there’s got to be a catch somewhere). Unfortunately, the information for this tour is entirely in Korean. I can decipher the names of the cities and towns the tour visits, but not the details of hotels, daily activities etc. 

Deciphering the locations is complicated by 1) the transliterations of central and eastern European names into hangeul, 2) the fact that Korean more often uses the country’s own pronunciation of locations (for example, for 프라하 (peu-ra-ha, Praha) for Prague and 바르샤바 (ba-reu-sha-ba, Warszawa) for Warsaw, but at least I am familiar with those Czech and Polish names) (but compare 비엔나 (vi-en-na) for Vienna rather than 빈 (bin, Wien), and the fact that some of the locations are very small towns. (I later found a map at the bottom of the web page, which would have been very helpful.)

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Afraid of what?

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. Continue reading

PyeongChang v Pyeongchang

The Winter Olympic Games open on Friday this week in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The venue is officially styled as PyeongChang, but is better transliterated as Pyeongchang. There is no reason for the second capital letter, and no other Korean city, town or geographical feature is given with a capital letter in the middle (sometimes called camel case (or CamelCase)). The 1988 Summer Olympic games were not in SeoUl. (That just looks weird.) Wikipedia states that this style has been adopted to prevent confusion with Pyeongyang (citing Agence France-Presse). The most common transliteration of the northern capital’s name is Pyongyang (possibly following the DPRK’s own use) while that for the southern county* is Pyeongchang (following Revised Romanisation). It’s the same spelling in hangeul. Searching for ‘Pyeongyang’ and ‘Pyongchang’ automatically reverts to the official/most common transliteration.

*Pyeongchang is not even officially a town, let alone a city. Gangneung, the venue for most of the skating events, is city.