06 March 2008

a konglish primer

the joy of language.

technically, "konglish" is when (mostly) english or english-derived words are used in korean vernacular, typically with grammatical and/or usage errors. while it isn't typically as bold or wonderful as its japanese younger brother, engrish, this guy's thesis posits that a single word, "konglish," has fully permeated the korean vernacular, whereas the same can't be said of "chinglish" or "japlish" (the latter sounds awful).

snarky in any language (sorry, i can't remember where i found this image).

in my experience, there are several kinds of konglish:

1. word(s) retain their original grammar and usage.
2. grammar and/or usage has changed but connection to original loan word can be made.
3. direct connection to original word(s) cannot be made.
4. all the above but in reverse... korean words that have been integrated into english vernacular.
re: #1, for example, "ice cream," (아이스 크림) "wine" (와인) and "computer" (컴퓨터) are all standard words in korean. the pronunciation is different, but the word(s) and meaning are identical.

in the case of #2, however, some local or otherwise non-american flavor has been added. "haen-deu-pone" (핸드폰) is what most koreans call their cell phones. while foreign to american ears, the term was borrowed from english's other bastard child, singaporean english (singlish) ...in my experience all singlish is unintelligible to american ears.

additionally, in the 20th century, many konglish words came from japanese phonological derivations of english, thus "apartment" (アパート or a-pā-to in nihonese), became "a-pa-teu" (아파트) in korean. but, in korea most a-pa-teu are owner-occupied, whereas in the states, an "apartment" suggests a rent-paying tenant.

파이팅! (from here.)

somewhere in-between #2 and #3 is a common exclamation that escapes precise translation. if you live here, no doubt you've already seen (or indulged in, yourself) a feel-good "hwa-ee-ting!" (화이팅) with a smile and a raised, clenched fist (another variation is "pa-ee-ting!" (파이팅!) - thanks amanda). sure, it was taken from "fighting!" someways back, but the korean meaning is more along the lines of a "if you don't give up there will be victory!" sentiment.

in my opinion, "seo-be-seu" (서비스) definitely takes us into category 3. it's supposed to sound like "service," but really means "on the house," as when a restaurant's ajumma brings your table a round of free "sa-ee-da"'s (사이다) from the fridge. that beverage, which sounds like "cider," is just korean for 7-up. ...then again, don't u.s. southerners call every carbonated beverage "a coke"?

re: #4 (the growing number of korean words that are being absorbed into the english vernacular), that's another post for another day.

let's go live at "we've"!

i admit that i am a little frustrated by the doosan company's apartment complexes around seoul that are simply named, "we've". not the slightly better, "let's," but, "we've." and, yes, there are many times that menus or instructions intended for english-speakers are horribly mangled. that aside, it's tiring to overhear another favorite past-time of english-speaking expats in korea, which is to laugh hysterically at / become hysterically mad about, the ubiquity of konglish in signage and on clothing. maybe it's because most are english teachers, but there's an obvious point they miss.

i've noticed that many koreans love wearing clothing covered in long, rambling, nonsensical konglish. these passages are brief (not much of a canvas) but capture the essence of konglish (left from here, right from here).

less than 2% of seoul's 10+ million residents are foreigners. of those, only 12% come from english-speaking nations (i'm generously including india, bangladesh and the philippines). do you really think all these konglish signs were made for you, mr. english teacher?

more than likely, they're for korean companies marketing to their overwhelmingly korean customer base. because english is the globe's vehicular language (lingua franca), it makes sense that countries would take some hip american english (global!), but change it to fit their cultural reality (local!). this does not make koreans or other english language learners stupid or in need of a better copy editor. i mean, most amurricans can't even speak 2 languages fluently (myself included).

...and before you hate on the hate-deserving "korea, sparkling!" slogan, it was a british dude who was paid six u.s. figures to come up with it.


Amanda said...

Interesting. But I've never seen it written 파이팅. I've always seen 화이팅!

matt said...

you're right.

i think "화이팅!" is still more common, tho "파이팅!" is gaining acceptability since it's phonetically closer to "fighting"... at least that's what i think my sogang u teacher was trying to tell us.

thanks for commenting. mk

Jon Allen said...

I loved those T-shirts.
My all time favorite was
"The Convex Magnum Opes"