It’s not that simple

I recently discovered a blog which I won’t identify because I am about to disagree with one part of one post. It has a number of contributors and most of the posts are very good to excellent. However, I must disagree with part of one. The blogger writes:

British English speakers have the ability to use the phrase “at the weekend”, when Canadian English speakers would normally say “on the weekend.” We [linguists and other people interested in descriptive approaches to language] that Canadian English speakers can’t use “at” in front of “the weekend”; it’s ungrammatical.

But take a short swim across the pond [North Atlantic Ocean], and the Canadian preposition “on” seems very out of place; British speakers don’t say “on the weekend,” so for them this expression is expression is ungrammatical.

It’s not that simple, for two reasons. Continue reading

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Made from advertising

One of the free samples last week was an ‘oven-baked fruit cake’. I remarked on Facebook that this seemed redundant – all cakes are baked and all baking is done in ovens. Several Facebook friends pointed out that this was not true: some varieties of cake are not baked, and some varieties of baking is not in ovens. Fair enough, but certainly most are/is, and the default are/is. So why advertise the default? It’s like advertising a ‘four-wheeled car’. Surely companies should advertise their products on some point of difference?

Maybe not. Some years ago, an Australian beer manufacturer came up with a slogan “Made from beer”. One of the posters had a picture of a brew kettle with the caption “Made in a big copper thing”. The tv ad had a lot of people in a large field forming the outline of a person drinking a glass of beer while singing “It’s a big ad” to the tune of Carl Orff’s O fortuna. (I don’t like giving free publicity to commercial entities, but in this case I just have to.) 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.)

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

Reading Korean

I have been looking for material in easy but “real” Korean to read. About a week ago I remembered a book I bought during my first stay in Korea (2006-2009). At that time there was a popular tv program called 미녀들의 수다 (mi-nyeo-deul-e su-da), which translates literally as “beautiful women’s chat/gossip”, but which was officially called “Global Talk Show”. Young women from various countries chatted in Korean with a Korean host or panel. The topics focused on the women’s lives in Korea, compared to their own, and varied from insightful to superficial.

In 2008 I saw a book based on the show, with the women’s spoken contributions transcribed and maybe edited, and bought it for my girlfriend/fiancee/wife, who, as far as I know, never read it. For about a week I have been browsing through it. The women’s levels of Korean varies, and I am able to get the gist of most of what they say, most of some sentences and all of occasional sentences. In one case, I understood a whole paragraph:

한국에서 만든 브라지어 너무너무 귀여워서 사고 싶어요. 하지만 나는 못 사. 한국 브라지어 너무 작아요~. D컾까지밖에 없어. 영국에는 F컾까지 있어. 나 영국에서 D컾 했지만 한국 D컾 너무 작아요. 캐서린과 도미니크도 힘들 거야.

I have no idea why I read that paragraph (it’s towards the end of the book – I’ve been browsing) and I have no idea why I can understand it all. If you don’t read Korean, I’ll just point you to the fact that a young woman is talking about D컾 and F컾 and let you guess from there.

From the information at the back of the book, that young woman had been learning Korean for three and a half years at the time. I certainly couldn’t put paragraphs like that together at that stage. In fact I probably couldn’t speak paragraphs like that now.

(I think I’ve typed that paragraph correctly. Anything strange may be her spoken Korean or may be my typed Korean.)

birthdays

My wife has three birthdays. Although the Gregorian calendar was adopted in Korea in 1896, people continued to use the traditional Korean lunar calendar for everyday purposes. So, her family marked her birthday as 196>년 6월 28일 (using the Gregorian year but the traditional month and day). But her grandfather or father didn’t register her birthday, or indeed the birthdays of any of her older sisters, until her first younger brother was born, and then he managed to get two of those dates wrong. Her oldest and third sisters, and her older younger brother, have the correct date, but her second sister has the wrong year and she has the wrong year and day. Her youngest brother, who was registered separately after he was born, has the the wrong month and day.

She said that this happened all the time in those days, and many people have official dates of birth one to three years away from their real one. It is possible to apply to the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages or a court to have one’s official date of birth changed, but with the cost and effort, very few people bother. So, her official date of birth is one year earlier, on another day in June (but her lunar calendar birthday never falls in June anyway).

Continue reading