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 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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