“Nice Korea” and “Naughty Korea”

For some years there was a free commuter newspaper on Sydney’s and Melbourne’s trains, generally focusing on lighter news and popular culture rather than incisive journalism. Each day of the 2012 summer olympics in London, it published a medal table and stories of interest. After several days of competition, South and North Korea were fourth and fifth on the medal table. The paper named them “Nice Korea” and “Naughty Korea” respectively. The (North) Korean Central News Agency was not impressed, issuing a statement accusing the paper of “a bullying act little short of insulting the Olympic spirit of solidarity, friendship and progress and politicising sports”. (I think there should be a comma after progress”.) It went on, seemingly without irony, “Media are obliged to lead the public in today’s highly-civilised world where [the] mental and cultural level of mankind is being displayed at the highest level”. Including, presumably, the (North) Korean Central News Agency. It might have been worse; they might have referred to them as “nasty Korea”.

On Thursday, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea held a military parade. Last night, the Republic of Korean hosted the opening ceremony of the winter olympic games. Take your pick.


mesdames et messieurs, ladies and gentlemen,  신사 숙녀 여러분

At the opening ceremony of the winter olympic games (video, article), announcements were made in French, English and Korean. French is a holdover from the pre-World War I origin of the IOC. The opening formulas in each language are mesdames et messieurs, ladies and gentlemen and  신사 숙녀 여러분 (shin-sa sung-nyeo yeo-reo bun, gentleman/men, lady/ies, all people) (thanks to my wife for the last one; it hasn’t cropped up in Korean for foreigners books, as we are unlikely to be giving formal speeches).

French and English puts the women first. Is this just courtesy to the “fairer sex”? I once read somewhere that the formula was originally ‘my lords, ladies and gentlemen’, addressing the men and women of the nobility and the men with knighthoods, but I can’t find anything about that now. And that doesn’t explain the French. Most French nobles had their heads or titles removed during the revolution. The wording “gentlemen and ladies” does exist, but is about one-tenth as common as “ladies and gentlemen”. Conversely, “boys and girls” is about four times as common as “girls and boys”. “Gentlewoman” is now obsolete. 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.

Chung Hyeon, or Hyeon Chung

The Australian Open tennis tournament is currently being played in Melbourne. I’m not particularly a tennis fan, but the tournament, players, matches, results, future matches and extreme weather conditions are in the news.

Last night my wife came home with the news that a South Korean player Chung Hyeon, or Hyeon Chung had beaten former champion and world number one Novak Djokovich.

Korean names are given family-name first. Chung’s family name is Chung. Korean given names are usually two syllables, but one or three are not unknown. In fact, Wikipedia reports that there is a law requiring given names to be no longer than five syllables. I have never encountered a Korean with a five-syllable given name, or even a three syllable one. In one class at a Korean high school, I had one student with a three syllable given name and another with a one syllable name. (There are also a handful of two-syllable surnames.) Continue reading

Samsung, Chilsung, Subaru

Samsung is a South Korean company best known for mobile phones and other consumer electronics. Its name in Korean 삼성 (sam-seong), means “three stars”, but doesn’t refer to any three stars in particular. The Korean pronunciation is closer to /samsɒŋ/ (psalm song), but almost everyone in English-speaking countries pronounces it /sæmsʌŋ/ (Sam sung). In fact, I was prompted to write this by a video on photography in which the presenter pronounced it /sæmsʊŋ/ (closest to Sam should). Korean doesn’t have a close equivalent to English /ʊ/.

Chilsung is a very popular brand of lemonade (cider) made by the Lotte Corporation. Its name in Korean 칠성 (chil-seong) means “seven stars”, and refers to the Big Dipper. I haven’t heard enough foreigners pronounce to know how they pronounce it. Spelling both words with a u messes up foreigners’ conception of the vowel. Revised Romanisation transliterates it eo and McCune–Reischauer ŏ. u transliterates ㅜ (/u/) in both systems. Continue reading

Singing in Korean

Sometime about the beginning of November, my wife arranged with the conductor of her church choir that I could join them to sing in a cantata on Christmas Day. (My church choir is singing at a very early service, and I just can’t get there in time.) I have been attending Sunday afternoon rehearsals for about six weeks, and learning the words by myself on the train. The music is straightforward enough, but the words are entirely in Korean. I’ve sung (actually performed) in other languages before; lots of Latin, some German and French, a sprinkling of Italian, Spanish and Welsh, one movement of Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms in Hebrew and all of Rachmaninoff’s Vespers in Russian. As far as I can remember, the words for the Bernstein were given in transliteration, but the words for the Rachmaninoff were in Cyrillic and transliteration. (Hebrew is written right-to-left, and would not naturally fit into in a musical score. I have seen a hymn in Arabic for Arabic-speaking Christians, and the whole score is reversed.)

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While I was making the bed just before, I noticed that the summer quilt we’re using has the very Konglish brand name SHE’S CLUB.

This immediately reminded me of a dress shop I’ve seen in the medium-sized suburb of Strathfield (which has a large Korean community) named SHE’S … something. Is it SHE’S BOUTIQUE? No, that’s in Downers Grove, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago (with no indication of Korean ownership on the shop front).

Google Maps Street View to the rescue. (I don’t usually give free publicity to corporate entities, but I really gotta in this case.)

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