Mike Klitschko, The Cock Prohibited and The Icy Python

For a few days now, various contributors to Language Log have been exploring the fact that repeatedly typing one letter, character or syllable, or even a string of random letters, characters or syllables, into Google Translate results in ‘translations’ which a) have nothing to do with those letters, characters or syllables and b) are sometimes funny, baffling or seemingly meaningful. In the first such post, Mark Liberman reported that Japanese ュース (which Google Translate translates as juice) entered repeatedly eventually results in:

It is a good thing for you to do.
It is good to know the things you do not do.
It is good to know the things you do not mind.
It is a good idea to have a good view of the surrounding area.

Continue reading

Lotte World Tower, Seoul

In July 2016 I visited Lotte World Tower in the Seoul suburb of Jamsil. At that stage the building was complete (at 555 metres, currently the fifth highest building in the world) but still being fitted out, so the observation decks weren’t open, but a shopping mall at the base was open. It was officially opened last week, on the 3rd of April, preceded by a fireworks and laser display on the night of the 2nd.

Short documentary about the building and the fireworks (from Lotte World Tower-Mall’s Youtube Channel)

News report about the fireworks (from YTN News)

My own photo


I live, therefore I buy

A few months ago I downloaded a mobile phone app for studying Korean. The app shows a sentence, question or phrase in Korean, with the option of hearing it. (I generally use this on the train, which means I turn the sound down.) The user mentally or audibly translates it into English, then clicks ‘Show answer’. After checking the answer and any notes the app programmer has provided the user then can then select a period of time after which the sentence will re-appear.

Last night I read the question 어디에서 삽니까? (eo-di-e-seo sam-ni-kka?). 사 is most immediately the root of the verb 사다 (sa–da, to buy), making 어디에서 삽니까? the formal polite question ‘Where do you buy (it)?’ (The ㅂ is part of the verb inflection.) But the answer given was ‘Where do you live?’. ‘Live’ is 살다 (sal-da). Most inflections of 사다 and 살다  are distinct. For example, the standard polite statement form of 사다 is 사요 (sa-yo, I buy) and that of 살다 is 살아요 (sal-a-yo > sa-la-yo, I live). Just occasionally, though, the ㄹ of  살다 disappears, leaving 사. One of these circumstances is when it is followed by ㅂ (usually /b/ but in this case /m/ because is it followed by ㄴ /n/). This is approximately analogous to the silent ‘l’ in ‘calm’ etc. In English, the sound disappears but the spelling remains. In Korean, the sound and the spelling both disappear.

Continue reading

saeng-il chuk-ha ham-ni-da v Happy birthday to you

This morning my wife was watching a Korean tv reality program about a young man (possibly a K-pop star) travelling around with his grandmother. During the episode, she celebrates her birthday. He sings happy birthday to her in Korean (slowly), then English (up-tempo). Koreans use the standard tune but alter the rhythm to 3/4 + 4/4 by adding a beat to the equivalent of ‘you’. (I get caught out every time.)

The Korean words are: saeng-il chuk-ha ham-ni*-da (extra beat), saeng-il chuk-ha ham-ni-da (extra beat), sa-rang-ha-neun (name) (pause), saeng-il chuk-ha ham-ni-da – approximately: birthday congratulations (to you) we do, loving (name). [*The Korean has an extra syllable here and in the second and fourth lines. These two syllables fit into one beat (dotted quaver – semiquaver).] He made two changes: he sang shin (the formal word for ‘day’) instead of il and hal-meo-ni (grandmother/grandma) instead of ‘(name)’. Korean names traditionally have two syllables, so usually fit those two notes better than English-speaking names (with a greater range in the number of syllables) do. Except that he sang hal-meo-ni, which required two small notes (dotted quaver – semiquaver) in that beat (compare ‘Jennifer’ or a similar name). (hal-a-beo-ji (grandfather) has four syllables: compare ‘Olivia’.)

When he sang it in English, he changed the whole rhythm to 4/4, with an extra beat on ‘day’ as well as ‘you’. Instead of ‘dear grandmother/grandma’, he sang hal-meo-ni, which really messed up the rhythm.

(I’ve been meaning to write about the Korean version of Happy birthday. The tv program was a convenient prompt.)

Textbooks and real life information

Sometimes textbooks contain ‘real life’ information, which is sometimes overtaken by events, sometimes badly presented and occasionally just plain wrong. Maybe I should just leave well enough alone and mark the students according to the information given.

One textbook prompts comparative sentences with facts about countries, rivers, animals, ancient and modern buildings, bridges and precious metals. The example is:

The area of Brazil is 8.5 million km2. The area of Australia is 7.6 million km2. Brazil is bigger than Australia.

True enough. Further down the list of prompts is:

The World Trade Center, New York, is 415 m tall. The Sears Tower in Chicago is 443 m tall.

Yep – the book was published in 2001 (presumably early to mid-.) The students dutifully wrote: The Sears Tower is taller than the World Trade Center, which was true on the information given. Minor point: the Sears Tower was officially renamed the Willis Tower in 2009. Major point: the World Trade Centre was destroyed in 2001, which youngish students from some countries might not actually know. I just couldn’t leave it there. I showed them pictures and gave a brief explanation of the World Trade Centre as it was and on the day of the attacks, then of the new One Trade Centre, which at 541 m is taller than the Willis Tower.

Continue reading

‘put away the table for dinner’

I’ve written a number of posts on the topic of one of the ‘wrong’ answers to a test question being at least partly right. Last week’s chapter included the topic of housework, and one of the housework tasks was ‘lay the table’. I suspect that very few people in English-speaking countries actually lay the table every day, only for special occasions or maybe Sunday lunch if that’s a fixture in the house. (People who only eat tv dinners wouldn’t ever lay the table. In my last year in Korea, I ate at my office desk, reading, viewing or listening to something on the computer.)

During the revision activity one sentence was something like ‘Please ____ the table for dinner’, with two of the choices being ‘lay’ and ‘put away’. A Korean student chose ‘put away’. I suddenly thought about traditional Korean tables, which look like this:


Older tables had/have fixed legs, but modern tables have foldable legs and the table can be put away in a cupboard or other storage space. The Korean student had obviously interpreted ‘the table for dinner’ as ‘the table from which we have just eaten dinner’, so putting it away is a valid choice. In English, ‘the table for dinner’ is ‘the table from which we will soon eat dinner’. In English, the command for putting away a foldable table would be ‘Please put away the table’.

Eating at these foldable tables is highly efficient – except for foreigners with bad backs. For Korean New Year (Jan-Feb) and Thanksgiving (Sep-Oct), my wife’s family could fit 15-20 adults and older children around two of these tables, with younger children coming and going and the foreigner with a bad back perched on the couch. Just as well chopsticks gave me extra reach.

By the way, Google Ngrams shows that ‘set the table’ is far more common than ‘lay the table’, especially so in AmEng, but even now in BrEng.

‘the front car’, ‘the back car’

Often when we are out driving, my wife says things like ‘The front car is too slow’ or ‘The back car is too close’, viz ‘the car in front of us’ and ‘the car behind us’. A few nights ago we picked her niece up at the railway station. Just before she got into the car she said something in Korean we couldn’t hear. After she got into the car, she said ‘The boy in the front car is Korean’, and she’d been speaking to him. So there’s obviously something Korean English or Konglish about the construction.

I asked my wife what she’d say in Korean, and she said 앞차 (ap cha) and 뒤차 (dwi cha), which are simply ‘front car’ and ‘back/rear/behind car’ (there is no equivalent to the in Korean. If the aim is to keep it simple, stupid, then you can’t get much simpler than that.
Continue reading