O great mystery

One of the choirs I’m singing in is rehearsing the motet O magnum mysterium by Tomas Luis da Victoria.

The text is:

O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
iacentem in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera
meruerunt portare
Dominum Iesum Christum.
Alleluia!

One more-or-less standard English translation is:

O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
the Lord, Jesus Christ.
Alleluia!

Every time I’ve sung it, I’ve been struck by how many of the Latin words have engendered English words. English is officially classified as a Germanic language, but many of its advanced words are derived from Latin. In fact, two of the words are Greek and two are Hebrew through Greek. Some words came into English via French rather than directly from Latin. Continue reading

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이민자

My wife has a very good friend named Min-ja Lee (이민자). I was suprised to see her name on the front page of one of Sydney’s Korean-language community newspapers. Except it wasn’t. 이민자 (i-min-ja) is also the Korean word for immigration, and the story was about how the number of visa holders to coming to Australia has fallen in the wake of new regulations brought in by the Australian government recently.

I asked my wife about this, and she said that all Koreans are aware that this rather common name is a real Korean word. I am trying to think of a real English name which is a real English word. This Buzzfeed article (your sensitivity and sense of humour may vary) doesn’t provide any, and joke names like Amanda Hugginkiss aren’t ‘a’ word.

I previously knew the related Korean word 이민 (immigrant), which is often used to advertise migration services; they are immigrant agents rather than immigration agents. Although the surname 이 is pronounced Lee in English, it is pronounced ee in Korean, for reasons I’ve never been able to discover. Continue reading

498th post – Last day as English language teacher

Today is my last day as an English language teacher, after more than eleven and a half years at a language college, provincial government high school and university in South Korea and language colleges in Australia. I am making this move for a wide variety of reasons, related to the ESL sector in general (an Australian student visa requires attendance at classes for 20 hours per week, so most teachers are engaged for 20 hours per week, and there is very little opportunity to advance to a full-time position), the college and colleagues (some classes at some colleges are run as courses – the students start at the same time, do the course, and finish at the same time, but our English classes have been ‘start and finish when you need to’, and I’ve had to share a small office with up to four other people of various degrees of loudness in various languages, as student of various degrees of loudness in various languages come and go), the students (who have different levels of English, life experience and personal and study backgrounds, some of whom attend way less than 20 hours per week, and come and go, use their phone, chat in their own language or sleep when they are there), and myself (basically, dealing with all of the above, and commuting). 

Through English language teaching, I’ve lived in South Korea for two periods totalling three and a half years, met my wife, travelled to Hong Kong and Japan, met all kinds of other people in South Korea and Australia, gained my masters degree (and may yet go on to doctoral study), attempted to learn Korean (하지만 아직 잘 못 해요), developed a serious hobby of photography and started this blog. On the other hand, I’ve had to largely give up my other serious hobby of classical choral singing. (I can and will return to that, but it remains to be seen whether I will ever again perform at my peak.) So now it’s time for a change. From tomorrow …

‘Swiss fork song’

Today is our 10th wedding anniversary. Our wedding was held in a major church in Seoul. Everything was said in Korean and English (my father, sisters and brothers-in-law and all but one niece and nephew travelled and there was a sprinkling of colleagues and people from the English-language congregation of the church). The Korean priest speaks English passably, but the English part of the service was read by a Canadian deacon, who was in Korea as an English teacher. He read the new testament reading in English then Korean, and a friend of my wife read the old testament reading in Korean and English (delightfully mixing up ‘there was everything [viz ‘evening’], and there was morning – the sixth day’). We sang one hymn and said the Lord’s prayer together in both languages.

Afterwards, there was a buffet dinner in the church’s dining room, at which I welcomed people in Korean then English, then about 50 people attended a quieter, more informal reception at a small reception centre near Namsan. I also welcomed people and made a short speech in Korean there, and my wife and I sang a song in Korean.

There was a karaoke machine, which was kept busy. One song listed was Eidelweiss, a ‘Swiss fork song’. This is wrong three times: it’s not a fork song, it’s not even a folk song,* and it’s not Swiss. In the world of the musical/movie, it’s an Austrian song of unexplained origin. At the concert (at least in the movie – I’ve never seen it on stage), Captain von Trapp introduces it as ‘a love song’, and expects the audience to know it and join in. In real life, it was written by the Americans Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers. So it’s really an American Broadway musical song.

(*I could write more about the English letters l and r and the Korean letter ㄹ, but I won’t.)

(PS A Swiss fork song might be sung while eating fondue.)

Korean consonants

In October 2015 I wrote about the consonant sounds of Korean, especially the three series ㅂㅈㄷㄱㅅ (plain, or unvoiced and unaspirated), ㅍㅊㅌㅋ – (unvoiced and aspirated),ㅃ ㅉ ㄸ ㄲ ㅆ (tensed). Yesterday I found a video by Talk to me in Korean which explains and demonstrates these. Even if you are not learning Korean, can you hear the difference? Bear in mind that English p and b, t and d, and k and g sound as alike to some speakers of some languages as these sounds to do us. 

By the way, I met Hyunwoo at an English teachers’ conference in Korea in 2015.

gugak and gagaku

Many years ago, possibly before I went to Korean the first time, I came across a reference to gugak, or Korean traditional music. In the Korea the first time, I saw and heard various performances of traditional music, but did not encounter the word. In Korea the second time, I wandered around the regional city I was living in on various occasions. One day, I saw a museum of traditional arts and crafts. I had always thought that gugak was gu+gak, but the hangeul at the museum read 국악 or gukak. (One advantage of hangeul is that it tells you where the syllables are.) Guk by itself means (among other things) nation (most often found in words like 대한민국 (dae-han-min-guk, the official name of the Republic of Korea), 한국 (han-guk, the short name) and 외국 (oi-guk [way-guk], any foreign country). Ak by itself is related to 음악 (eum-ak, the general word for music) (which I incorporated into my Korean name, which I rarely use). So gugak is literally “national music” (국가 음악).

Last night I came across a reference to gagaku, or the classical music of Japan. Are the words gugak and gagaku related? Possibly, but after some research this morning, it’s impossible to be sure, working across Chinese characters, Japanese kanji, hangeul, pronunciation, transliteration and translation of all three language into English, and dictionary and encyclopedia entries. Gagaku is 雅楽, literally “elegant music”. The syllabification seems to be ga+gaku, because there is a related word bugaku, or “dance music”. Gugak includes court music, folk music, poetic songs, and religious music used in shamanistic and Buddhist traditions. Gagaku is primarily court music and dances, but also Shinto religious music and folk songs and dance. Continue reading

1004 angels

Driving home from my sister’s house this afternoon, my wife suddenly said “Angel”. I said “What?”. She said “That house”. I said “What about that house?”. She said “Cheon-sa” (which I know is the Korean word for angel. I said “What about it?”. She said “That house has the number 1004. Cheon-sa.” Okay, okay, I’ll get Korean puns eventually.

Some Korean (actually Sino-Korean) numbers are pronounced the same as real words, or parts of real words. Il (one) can also be day or work, i (two) can also be this or the surname Lee. (There is nothing unusual about this – English one can also be won, and two can be to or too). With no context, it is impossible to know whether cheon-sa is 1004 or angel.

Even in context, it might be ambiguous. In the “Catalogue Aria” of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Leporello lists the Don’s sexual encounters, ending “In Spain, one thousand and three ”. So he can presumably say to the next one “You are my cheon-sa”. If he knew Korean and if he wasn’t dead by the end of the opera.