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April 15, 2012

Why I Don't Like Korean Romanization

Korean Romanization is the spelling out of Korean words using the English alphabet. Here are three reasons why I don’t like Korean Romanization:

1). There are too many Korean Romanization systems.

tall stack of booksWikipedia lists six widely used Korean Romanization systems! I recently purchased a Korean/English dictionary which was not satisfied with any of them, and made up yet another system of its own. They are all different, and you can’t always tell which one you are looking at when you view a Romanized word. This is a real problem in online searches, and MORE…

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You can find a huge range of statistics for Korean divorce, many of them badly outdated.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

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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November 12, 2014

KDrama Word of the Day: Pabo (Fool)

A jester wearing a pabo's capPabo 바보 is our KDrama word today. This is another very frequently used word, probably because the range of meaning is so wide, from affectionate “silly goose” to belittling “stupid idiot.” It all depends on whether you are being called 바보 by your best friend as she rumples your hair, or by a pack of school bullies as they hang you head down from a 3rd story window above a concrete courtyard.

There are a ridiculous number of arguments about the correct Romanization of pabo in drama forums. Seriously, people, there is no “correct” way to spell a Korean word in English! Korean sounds are not the same as English sounds! You can only spell a Korean word accurately in Hangeul.

Well, OK, technically, each system of Romanization* has its own “correct” way, and for all I know, they agree (although that is extremely unlikely). However, I didn’t bother checking (why?).

The important question in my mind is how to pronounce 바보. ㅂ transforms to a more P-like sound at the beginning of the syllable 바 in 바보, as with . But wait, ㅂ is also at the beginning of the second syllable, 보. So how come it’s more B-like the second time? None of the transformation charts explain this. I will let you know if I ever find out.

In the meantime, we see 바보 Romanized as pabo and babo, but even where it is Romanized as babo, as in this entertaining Korean Word of the Week video, it still sounds more like pabo to me. At least we know it isn’t ever pronounced bapo. Let us be content with that.

The KWOW video reiterates 2 points I have also seen mentioned elsewhere:

  1. Pabo is not necessarily offensive, it’s all how you use it
  2. EXCEPT when speaking to people older than you. You should never, ever call an elder 바보 – 절대!

* There are at least 6 Romanization systems, including one that’s officially endorsed by the (South) Korean government, but not so much by native English-speakers. North Korean is a whole nother ball of wax.


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November 9, 2014

KDrama Word of the Day: Kada (To Go)

Sign that show a figure walking가다 Kada (to go) is our KDrama Word of the Day today. 가다 is a very common verb. You can hear various forms of it in KDrama all the time. You also hear it constantly in Kpop.

가다 is not only widely used, it is simple and regular, so it’s an excellent verb to start with when you are learning Korean verb conjugations. Which is probably why it’s one of the first verbs taught in every Korean course I’ve ever seen.

Forms of 가다 you may have heard:

가자 Kaja – let’s go (informal)
가요 Kayo – going (present tense, polite)
가! Ka! – Go! (informal)
갈 Kal – verb stem in future tense forms of 가다
갔 Kat (sounds like cot, not cat) – past tense verb stem

Note the transformation on the past tense verb stem. ㅆ has an S sound at the beginning of a syllable, but is pronounced like a T when it comes at the end. Here is a chart of consonants that are pronounced differently depending on whether they are at the beginning or end of the syllable. Most of time, the past tense verb stem will not stand alone, but will be followed by a conjugation beginning with a vowel, which gives ㅆ back its S sound.

You may also notice that the chart gives the sound of ㄱ at the beginning of a syllable as somewhere between G and K. This is why you will sometimes see forms of 가다 Romanized with a G rather than a K, most notably in “gayo” (가요), a term for Korean pop music that includes more diverse styles than “KPop.” I am not certain gayo derives from the verb kada, but it seems a reasonable assumption, since there was an American pop genre known as “go-go” during the formative years of gayo.

Here are all the conjugations of 가자 on dongsa.net (동사), a Korean verb conjugation engine. There are other multilingual verb conjugators (such as Verbix), while dongsa.net is Korean only (dongsa 동사 means verb in Korean). I haven’t tested it, but I would think irregular verb conjugations would be more accurate on a Korean-originated conjugation engine.

Click on any form of kada on the 동사 page to see Romanized pronunciation, and the details of how that particular form was conjugated – very helpful if you are learning conjugations!


One more tip about 가다.
There are two different phrases Koreans say at parting, depending on who is leaving. They sound very similar, because they are very similar – only one syllable is different. The distinction between the two phrases is often explained in a really confusing way, but the trick is to keep in mind that it is not about what you are doing, but what the other person is doing.

Once you know that, all you need to do is remember which phrase you say to someone who is going rather than staying. That’s easy when you know 가다, since the one syllable that is different is 가. If someone is leaving (regardless of what you are doing), always use the form of goodbye with “ka” in it. Easy, right?

If you want to learn more about Korean goodbyes, check out this Talk to Me in Korean lesson. If you are learning Hangeul, I highly recommend looking at the pdf while you listen to the mp3. It’s a real leg up if you associate words with their Hangeul spelling (instead of Romanization) from the first time you hear them.


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November 8, 2014

KDrama Word of the Day: Cell Phone

Samsung Galaxy S5 smart phoneOur KDrama Word of the Day today is 핸드폰 or cell phone. This is one of my favorite Korean words, and a great example of how English words make their way into Korean.

The A sound in “hand” is one of those English sounds that Korean doesn’t really have, although occasionally ㅏ is pronounced that way. There is also no F sound in Korean, so they use ㅍ, a P-sounding letter, instead. You have heard the same substitution in “Paiting,” which we will get to eventually.

Furthermore, according to the rules of transformation I mentioned yesterday, when ㄷ (a D-ish letter) is at the end of a syllable, followed by ㅍ at the beginning of the next syllable, the D-ish sound transforms to a T-ish sound. So, if you ended the syllable 핸 (hen) with ㄷ, you would get hent-pone, instead of hend-pone, which is getting a little far afield from the English source. Instead, ㄷ gets a syllable of its own to preserve its softer sound, and a syllable must have a vowel. Voila! Hand phone becomes hend-deu-pone.

Despite the modifications, and the clever and cute substitution of “hand” for “cell,” this word is instantly recognizable to English speakers. For some reason, it tickles me no end.

Transformations are one reason many English words acquire extra syllables as they become Koreanized. 뉴스 (news) is another example. You might wonder why it isn’t 늇 instead. 늇 seems to have all of the right letters (n+you+s), but wait – a ㅅ at the end of the syllable becomes a T, so that word is actually closer to “newt” than “news.”

Note also the British English translation of the “ew” sound in “news,” which is more likely to be pronounced “oo” than “ew” in American English. The choice of English source is rather random, sometimes Brits, sometimes us. This explains why the very common Korean name 박 (pak) is Romanized as Park when in fact there is no R-ish letter in it in Korean. In British English, the R in “park” is dropped, so Park is pronounced pak, but here, the translation is puzzling, since we say an R when we see one.

If you would like to learn more about transformations, there is a nice chart here. It is the third chart on the page, under the heading “Running sounds together.” The labels are a little confusing, but the vertical column is the Hangeul letter at the end of the first syllable, and the horizontal row is the letter beginning the syllable that follows.

Getting back to phones, I’m always amused by the way drama characters who are so broke they are sleeping at the 찜질방 have the latest $650 smart phone. Yes, Samsung (삼성) phones are just as expensive in Korea as they are everywhere else. It’s been something of a scandal in Korea lately, in fact.


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October 13, 2012

Dream of the Emperor, Happy Together and a Hangeul note

Life (the other life) descended with a bagful of unexpected deadlines and other demands, opportunities and distractions. Also, I’ve been auditioning alternate themes, as you may have noticed if you visited during an audition. But I haven’t forgotten Damo, and I will return to it, I swear.

Meanwhile, I saw an episode and a half of the new Choi Su Jong sageuk, variously translated as Dream of the Emperor, The King’s Dream, The Great King’s Dream, or if you’re feeling playful and run the Hangeul title (대왕의 꿈) through the Google Translator, The Maharaja’s Dream. Who knew there were Maharajas in 7th century Baekje? Not I. But Google knows…

It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what I didn’t like about Whoever-it-is’s Dream. It just didn’t grab me, seeming more like a 영화 (movie), not something that had 80 episodes to go deep with. There’s also the matter of taking sides in the 3 Kingdoms period. Can I switch allegiances just because a new drama came out? Of course not. What do you take me for?!

It’s airing in a very convenient timeslot, however, so it’s possible I’ll give it another chance later. See, I have learned to be more temperate with words I may later have to eat :)

Speaking of eating, I caught Choi Su Jong and other cast members on Happy Together today, where they were competing to make the best late night snack. Happy Together has another one of those formats that strikes me as distinctly Korean. Cast members from current dramas join emcees and others (Kpop groups, for example) for chats in a make-believe sauna (for which they all dress alike in t-shirts and towels), with various truth tests and other challenges. Since there is not really a concept of TMI in Korea, you can learn all sorts of interesting incidents about the filming of your favorite drama, how the actors really feel about each other, etc.

Language Note: Just recently, I learned that the name which is Romanized as Choi, and which I have, not unreasonably, pronounced Choy for the past year and a half, is actually pronounced Che (as in Che Guevara). If you haven’t read my rant about Why I Don’t Like Korean Romanization, this would be a good time.

September 29, 2012

Damo - Episode 3 - Korean drama recap

Ha Ji Won as Chae Ohk;The third episode of Damo continues to develop the back stories of Hwangbo and Chae Ohk, and their conflict over Chae Ohk’s safety comes to a head. While the Left Police Bureau engages in a sting operation to lure out counterfeiters, the audience sees signs that the counterfeit operation is just the tip of the iceberg.

SPOILER ALERT: Stop here if you haven’t watched yet.
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