Speaking of language users’ ability to create sentences which have never before been spoken or written in that language, not everyone can do it with style of John Clarke, the New Zealand-born, Australian-based writer, actor and satirist, who died on Sunday. As part of a regular segment on The Gillies Report, a satirical tv program broadcast in 1984-85), he created the fictional sport of farnarkeling.

Farnarkeling is a sport which began in Mesopotamia, which literally means ‘between the rivers’. This would put it somewhere in Victoria or New South Wales between the Murray and the Darling. The word Farnarkeling is Icelandic in structure, Urdu in metre and Celtic in the intimacy of its relationship between meaning and tone.

Farnarkeling is engaged in by two teams whose purpose is to arkle, and to prevent the other team from arkeling, using a flukem to propel a gonad through sets of posts situated at random around the periphery of a grommet. Arkeling is not permissible, however, from any position adjacent to the phlange (or leiderkrantz) or from within 15 yards of the wiffenwacker at the point where the shifting tube abuts the centre-line on either side of the 34 metre mark, measured from the valve at the back of the defending side’s transom-housing.

On the program he would deliver passages like this in the style of a sports commentator – rapid-fire, deadpan, without hesitation and seemingly in one breath.

The Sydney Morning Herald’s headline on Monday was ‘Gone to the great farnarkeling grommet in the sky’.

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.)

tv and movie titles, translation, loan words and nativisation

Last week I saw references in a Korean magazine to the tv show 왕좌의 게임 (wang-jwa-e ge-im, throne-of game) and the movie 스타 워즈: 깨어난 포스 (s-ta weo-jeu: ggae-eo-nan po-seu, star wars: wakening force). 왕좌의 and 깨어난 are Korean words and grammar, while 게임 (game), 스타 (star), 워즈 (wars) and 포스 (force) exist somewhere on the spectrum between being totally foreign words transliterated into hangeul at one end, and being ‘Koreanised’ or even ‘Korean’ at the other.

게임 is the most often used. A Google search returns ‘About 642,000,000 results’, often in compounds such as 컴퓨터  게임 (computer game), 비디오 게임 (video game), PC 게임 and RPG 게임 (the last suffering from RAS syndrome). It co-exists with the Korean 놀이, which is used for traditional games such as 윷 놀이 (yut nori, yunnori or yut) or for general play.

스타 returns ‘About 66,200,000 results’, in combinations such as 스타 크래프트 (StarCraft), 스타 킹 (Star King; the same spelling is also used for stockings) and 스타벅스 (Starbucks).  The Sino-Korean word 항성 (hang-seong) seems to be used only for astronomy and the Korean 별 (byeol) only for astronomy and geometry.

워즈 returns ‘About 5,630,000 results’, almost all related to Star Wars. The Korean word 전쟁 (jeon-saeng) appears not to be used in the main title of Star Wars, but is used in the sub-title of 스타 워즈: 클론 전쟁 (Star Wars: The Clone Wars).

포스 returns ‘About 5,180,000 results’, mostly about POSCO (kr; en), the post office and point-of-sale equipment, but a few related to Star Wars. The Korean word 힘 is a multi-purpose word encompassing ‘strength, energy, power’.

Undoubtedly ‘game’ and ‘star’ are more ‘Koreanised’ than ‘wars’ or ‘force’, but can we call them ‘Korean’ yet? If not, then when?

‘Mind your language’

In the late 1970s I watched a British tv comedy called ‘Mind your language’, which about ‘a motley crew of foreign students’ (Wikipedia’s words) in an  English language class in London, but had almost forgotten it until I started teaching English. I decided not to show it to my students in case they took offence at the blatant racial stereotypes (which would probably not be allowed on tv now). Some time last year I came into the classroom after a break to find one of my students watching an episode on the computer. After I explained the premise to the students, they enthusiastically agreed to watch it and not get offended. The Pakistani students love the Pakistani character and his rivalry with the Indian character, but the Chinese students are perplexed by the now-superseded Mao-quoting Chinese character. I play an episode every now and again as a special treat. We are meant to seriously analyse the language points. (On the recent CELTA course, one of my fellow trainees mentioned watching and loving it. She wasn’t born when it was on tv.)

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