November 23, 2014

KDrama Word of the Day: Bom (Spring)

Bom (봄) is our next Korean season. It is also Romanized as pom, a closer, but less common, English equivalent to the Korean pronunciation. The Korean word for spring rhymes with “dome.”
A twig of cherry blossoms
KDrama likes to associate bom with cherry blossoms and 애인 (ae-een – lovers). However, the trees are controversial in Korea, due to their association with Japan and the Japanese occupation. Cutting down cherry trees planted during that period was at one time symbolic of taking back Korea. Planting cherry species that are native to Korea has become something of a compromise. You will notice that words for other spring flowers appear on this list of Korean words associated with spring, but no cherry blossoms.

Even less welcome in spring are storms of yellow sand (황사 – hwangsa). These storms blow in from deserts of northern China and Mongolia, picking up a heavy load of toxic pollutants along the way. When inhaled, the dust can be seriously injurious to health. If you see a street scene with pedestrians wearing particle masks during bom, that is probably the reason.

Note ㅁ, the M-ish letter in Korean. In small type or handwriting, this letter can be difficult to distinguish from ㅇ, which we discussed yesterday. Watch for squared corners.


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November 22, 2014

KDrama Word of the Day: Winter (Kyeoul)

Kyeoul (겨울), winter is our KDrama word for today. Does that string of vowels look familiar? You have seen it before in the name of South Korea’s capital and largest city, Seoul (서울).
Stacked kimchi jars in a snowy valley next to a sign in Korean
You’ll see that the second letter is similar but different in these two words. The ㅓ in Seoul has only one left-facing flag on the vertical, while the ㅕin kyeoul has two. A second flag on a vowel, whether on a horizontal or vertical bar, gives it a Y sound at the beginning. So ㅓ (in Seoul) is pronounced uh or aw, while ㅕ(in kyeoul) is pronounced yuh or yaw. Many Korean vowels have these two forms, which are considered to be two separate letters.

Moving on to the second syllable, in both words, it begins with ㅜ, the “oo” U-letter we talked about in the last post. Kyeoul is pronounced kyuh-ool or kyaw-ool, while Seoul is pronounced suh-ool or saw-ool (NOT “sole,” as most Americans pronounce it). Even though both words have two syllables, the syllables are blended together rather than enunciated separately, so it sounds more like a syllable-and-a-half. You can hear the pronunciation for kyeoul and many other winter-related words on this page.

But wait, you may be thinking. The second syllable doesn’t begin with ㅜ, it begins with ㅇ. Well, yes and no. ㅇ has a dual nature. In theory, Korean syllables must begin with a consonant. When they don’t, ㅇ stands in for the consonant, as a placeholder with no sound. At the end of a syllable, however, ㅇ has an “ng” sound.

Have you learned Hangeul yet? You may have some free time next week, so check out these games:


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November 20, 2014

KDrama Word of the Day: Fall (Kaeul)

Fall (가을) is 우리 Kdrama Word for today. Korea is definitely a 4-season country, with chilly winters, monsoon summers, fall color, and spring blossoms. You may also see 가을 Romanized as gaeul, but kaeul is a better phonetic spelling. The vowel syllable is partly absorbed into the first syllable, so kah-eul sounds like one syllable with a dragged-out first vowel, rather than two distinct syllables.
Close up photo of oak leaves turned red in fall
Note that the Hangeul letters ㅡ and ㅜ have different U-sounds.
ㅡ is usually Romanized as “eu,” but it is not, strictly speaking, an English-language sound, so it is difficult to Romanize accurately. The English words “eu” appears in are typically loan words from French. The “eu” is often pronounced “oo” in the English version (which is the sound of Hangeul letter ㅜ). Example: entrepreneur. The “eu” sound is formed just inside the lips, while “oo” comes from further back.

What’s a loan word, you may ask? A loan word is a word borrowed from another language (and usually changed a bit along the way). English is full of French loan words and phrases. Some are obviously French, such as deja vu, faux pas, cachet, nouveau riche, hors d’oeuvre, fait accompli, coup d’etat, dossier, memoir, rapport and restaurant. Others are everday words we may not think of as French – mayonnaise, unique, ambulance, denim, pioneer, detour, corduroy, menu, dentist, portrait, route, soup, zest, bicycle, publicity, and salvage, to name just a few. Watch out for words in Korean that seem like loan words of English words that are themselves loan words from another language. Sometimes the Korean word is a loan word of the original word, not the English version.

Somewhere between 50-70% of Korean words are loan words from Chinese, due to a long history of military and economic domination from the west. For this reason, Chinese speakers may be able to understand a great deal of Korean without studying the language. Korean also has many English loan words, especially for technology (like 핸드폰), and other aspects of modern urban life (like 뉴스).

And then there are cognates. Cognates are similar-sounding words in related languages that come from the same root. For example, I am able to understand quite a lot of words in Spanish that I have never studied, because they sound similar to the English words. You have to watch out though, because cognates have sometimes evolved different meanings in different languages, even though they sound similar and came from the same parent word.

And finally, there is Konglish. These days, the term is generally used to describe Korean loan words from English. However, I have read that it originally referred to the clever use of Korean words that sounded like English words to convey a double meaning in English and Korean.


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November 19, 2014

KDrama Words of the Day: Hanok | Hanbok | Haengbok

Hanok (한옥) begins our trio of somewhat similar-sounding KDrama words for today. A 한옥 is a traditional Korean house, as we have all seen in sageuk. The pronunciation of the first syllable is hah, and the o sounds like oak, so “hah-noke” rhymes with awoke.
A well-kept hanok house in the country with a rocky mountain wall behind itThis might be a good time to talk about final consonants in Korean words. English speakers enunciate last consonants completely, often finishing up with a little puff of air (while paying attention to the inside of your mouth, say: cat. Feel it?). For Koreans, on the other hand, the final consonant is barely hinted at, and sometimes not audible at all, unless the next word begins with a vowel.

A hanok house has sliding doors, heated floors, compact bedrooms and is usually all on one story. You can read more about regional differences in hanok design here.

A man and woman wearing Joseon hanbok stand under a tree talkingOur next word, hanbok (한복) is also related to Korean traditions, of dress. We have all seen hanbok in drama, whether historical or set in the present. They turn up on men, women and children, at weddings, at bowing ceremonies (because managing that in a full length skirt shows you really mean it!), and on children at birthday parties. We also see hanbok on pansori singers and traditional Korean dancers. Korean modern styles have been influenced by hanbok in obvious ways (short sweaters with long sleeves, for example), and the influence is beginning to circulate outside of Korea.

Last but not least is haengbok (행복), which is Korean for happy. Haengbok is pronounced pretty much the way it is Romanized, for once! As with 사랑, 결혼, and 이혼, adding 하다 to 행복 for the verb form 행복하다 (haengbokhada), “to be happy.”

To top off our post today, we have a charming video of 해피 young Koreans dancing to the Pharrell Williams song, “Happy.”


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November 18, 2014

KDrama Word of the Day: Saram (Person)

Silhouette of a personSaram (사람), or “person” is a word you may have heard in KDrama and mistaken for 사랑, for good reason. As you can see, the spellings in Hangeul are very similar. If you can’t tell the difference, the bottom letter in the second syllable of 사람 (person) is square, while the corresponding letter of 사랑 (love) is round.

Not only do Koreans say “our” instead of “my,” they may speak of themselves as “this person” instead of “I.” The word for “this” in Korean is 이 (which you remember is pronounced “ee”). If you hear someone say 이 사람, they may be speaking of themselves in the third person. Then again, they may actually be speaking about a third person. Look around. Is there a third person?

You may also hear the phrase reversed, with 이 coming after 사람. In that case, 이 does not mean “this,” but is a marker syllable that determines the sentence structure.

이 can mean a lot of things in Korean – it also means 2 in one of the number systems. How many numbers systems are there, you may ask? Why, I’m glad you asked that. There are 이 ;)

“This” and “that” are more complicated in Korean than they are in English, so we’ll get into that another day. If you can’t wait, here’s a great Talk to Me in Korean lesson about the differences.


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November 17, 2014

KDrama Word of the Day: Ihon (Divorce)

Road sign for a fork in the road ahead - one arrow splits into twoIhon (이혼) – divorce – is our KDrama word for today. Ihon is the common Romanization, but remember that the Korean letter Romanized as “i” is pronounced “ee,” so eehon would be a better English spelling for it. Like 사랑 (love) and 결혼 (marriage), 이혼 becomes a hada verb: 이혼하다 (ihonhada), “to do divorce.”

You may notice the words for marriage and divorce both include the syllable 혼 (hon). As a standalone word, 혼 means “Soul.” We know this because it was the Korean title of Lee Seo Jin’s striking 2009 horror drama. Does it carry the same meaning within the words for marriage and divorce? Don’t know, but that would make sense.

You can find a huge range of statistics for Korean divorce, many of them badly outdated. Non-Koreans living in Korea contribute to this, reporting divorce as extremely rare, because it is not necessarily talked about. However, the statistics show a different story. Although there is still a strong cultural value to keep families together, especially where there are children, Korean divorce has been steadily rising for more than a decade. Until recently, divorced people rarely remarried (probably because they were not seen as desirable mates), but this too has started to change.

One reason for the change is probably that courts have become a little more sympathetic to Korean women. The prevalence of rural Korean men marrying women from outside of Korea with no preparation for cultural differences is also a factor. Divorce is most common among people over 40. Extreme abuse from or of “lineal ascendants” (i.e., parents or grandparents) of a spouse is listed twice in the six grounds for divorce, but abuse of children is not specifically mentioned. Presumably it would be covered under a catchall item.

Couples can divorce by mutual agreement, or take the divorce to court if they cannot agree on terms. There is a division of property acquired or sustained during the marriage, and child support, but no alimony. Child custody is far more likely to be awarded to the father. There is also common-law-marriage in Korea, which does give spouses some economic rights, but no inheritance rights.

Check out this example divorce case.


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November 16, 2014

KDrama Word of the Day: Kyorhon (Marriage)

Clasped hands of two people on a beachKyorhon 결혼 (marriage) has got to be one of the top 5 KDrama words. The verb form, “to marry,” is 결혼하다 (kyorhonhada). As with 사랑 (sarang), the verb form consists of noun+하다 (hada), the verb “to do.” So 사랑하다 literally means “to do love,” and 결혼하다 is “to do marriage.” There are MANY hada verbs in Korean. That’s why it is the default verb in the 동사 verb conjugator.

You may also see 결혼 Romanized as gyeolhon. Seems like an entirely different word from an English-speaking perspective, right? But no. I’ve ranted enough on this topic. I rest my case.

Korean marriage is the uniting of two families, not just two people, so it can be fraught with complications. We have all seen this in Korean drama, and by all reports, it is not much exaggerated. First there are blind dates, a KDrama staple. Arranged marriage is still common, and is typically initiated by parents, often with the assistance of a matchmaker, who sets up meetings with potential candidates. A good marriage partner in this context is someone who is good-looking (by Korea’s rather narrow standards), and of a similar economic, educational, and social status.

If a couple agrees to date, the 100-day anniversary of the relationship is a noteworthy milestone, and may be a good time for a marriage proposal, or if not that, at least for couple rings. Married people do not necessarily wear wedding rings, so couple rings, or matching clothes, phone or other accessories may be the only public acknowledgment of a relationship.

Once marriage is agreed to, wedding gifts between families are crucial. A home for the couple is provided by the groom’s family, and furnished (including major appliances, if they are in that kind of income bracket) by the bride’s family. Additional gifts of money and other things are expected on both sides, and also from guests (parents may expect to keep money gifts from guests to offset their expenses, a frequent source of contention between parents and couples). Major rifts can result when marriage gift expectations differ.

The families share the cost of the the wedding and honeymoon, and the bride keeps her own family name, but children take their father’s family name. There is no government-sanctioned same-sex marriage in Korean, but gay and lesbian couples may privately marry if they choose. More about Korean marriage.

Women marrying an oldest son should be aware that he is on the hook to support his parents for life, which may mean moving in with them, or having them move in with you. Women are expected to help the women of their husband’s family with domestic chores, and the usual Korean hierarchies of age apply between daughters-in-law (according to their husband’s ages, not their own).

There has been a huge influx of non-Korean women marrying rural Korean men, often with unhappy results. Abuse, divorce and even murder have become such a problem that the Korean government has stepped in, setting up education and support resources for international couples and special requirements for international marriage. The couple must show that they have sufficient funds to support themselves, and that they have a language in common.

KBS has a program about marriages between Koreans and non-Koreans called Love in Asia. There are many episodes with English subs on YouTube. There is currently no way to bring up a list of them all from within the KBS YouTube channel, but you can get a pretty good list by googling love in asia youtube kbs english.

This website by an Australian man teaching in Korea who recently married a Korean woman compares current Korean marriage conventions with Australian customs. As with many other aspects of Korean culture, marriage customs are rapidly evolving.


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November 15, 2014

NEW on Mihansa: Feeds by Topic

I’m pleased to roll out something I’ve been wanting to offer for a long time: subscription to Mihansa.net feeds BY TOPIC. Check out the right sidebar for the feed links. Now you don’t have to get notifications for Korean language posts if you are only interested in Kdrama and film, and vice versa. Since the KDrama Word of the Day series is daily, it has its own feed.

Feeds for all posts and all comments are available in the header.

I’m still looking for a way to offer the same options to my email followers. You would think it would be a common desire, no? If anyone knows of a current WordPress plugin that does this, do tell.

I have also added “like” buttons to posts and pages again. In the past, this feature slowed the site way down, so I removed it, but I think it will work more smoothly this time. I have a lot of catching up to do, so if a post is useful or interesting, please tell the world :)

You may have encountered timeout or slowdown issues trying to view the site over the past couple of days. My webhost says it’s a server issue that they are working on. Please do check back a little later if you run into trouble. So far, none of the slowdowns have lasted for more than a few minutes.

Thanks for reading mihansa.net. I’m really happy to have companions on my Korean adventures :)

November 15, 2014

KDrama Words of the Day: Here & There (Yuggi & Chuggi)

red arrow pointing to foreground with yellow arrow pointing in background미안해 Kdrama Word of the Day yesterday 없었어요. Yuggi (here) 여기 and chuggi (there) 저기 are today’s words. The vowel ㅓ is pronounced uh or aw, depending on region. The same applies to its Y version, ㅕ, which is pronounced yuh or yaw.

ㅈ is supposedly more J-like than ㅊ, which is more CH-like, but the difference can be difficult for westerners to distinguish. I suspect that’s because sometimes there is no difference! When we hear our native language, we recognize the intended word from the context, even when the pronunciation is way off, yet may remain entirely unconscious of variations in pronunciation. Listen to yourself say “what do you know,” and you’ll hear what I mean. I’m sure Koreans do the same thing.

All of which to say, even if 저기 is Romanized starting with a J (which is it in one Romanization system, as “jeogi”), it sounds more like CH. Drama fans will have noticed the same situation with the two very different Romanizations of 조선 (Joseon, Chosun).

저기 is used to call to people who are not near you to catch their attention, particularly wait staff in restaurants. Literally it translates to something like “over there!” It is used where we would use, “hey, you!” However, if you add the ending 요 to make it chawgiyo 저기요 (which you should with everyone but close friends), it is more polite than “hey, you.”


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November 13, 2014

KDrama Word of the Day: Michin (Crazy)

Picture of the Mad Hatter from Lewis Carroll's book Alice in WonderlandCrazy (michin – 미친) seems like the next logical KDrama word, continuing with the popular KDrama subject of mental inadequacy. We hear several variations on the 미친 theme in Korean drama. There are the insults: michinom 미친놈 – male crazy jerk, and michinyun – 미친년 female crazy jerk (or something even less polite than “jerk”).

Then there are assorted conjugations of the verb michida (미치다), to go crazy, such as the present tense informal michyuh/michyaw (미쳐), which means “[pronoun implied by context] is going crazy.” Inflect up at the end of the phrase and it’s instead the question: “Are/is you/we/she/he/they/it going crazy?”

This might be a good time to mention that even though the Korean letter ㅣ looks like the English letter I, and is usually Romanized as “i,” it is in fact pronounced “ee” like the Spanish I. Always. There is no short i sound (like “skip”) in Korean. So all of those “mich” syllables in the previous paragraph are pronounced “meech.” And the chi-something second syllables are pronounced “chee.”

Watch out, I feel another rant about Romanization coming on. English-speakers already have the tendency to mispronounce ㅣ, given the similarity of appearance to our English letter, so wouldn’t it make sense to use Romanization to counteract that tendency by Romanizing ㅣas “ee,” instead of reinforcing the tendency by Romanizing ㅣas I?? Pabos! 미친놈!


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