Wednesday, October 21, 2009

'Konglish' A Double-Edged Sword

This according to a whimsically under-written article in today's Korea Times. Konglish, in case you didn't know, is English words in hangeul, spoken following Korean pronunciation rules. For instance, Burger King is 버거 킹, or Baw-gaw King. Toast is 토스트, or toe-suh-tuh. Last week, "toast" was the answer in a word game I played with the first graders. I made them repeat it properly about six times before moving on.

Anyway. By "contributing writer" Ines Min, the article wants to make four points:
1) Konglish makes it more difficult for Koreans to learn English. As evidence, the author provides no studies, journal papers or such, just a quote from Brian Deutsch of Brian in Jeollanam-do fame:
"(The overuse of English) actually makes it harder for Koreans learning English," [...] "They are so accustomed to pronouncing these borrowed words the Korean way that they can't adjust to English pronunciations and meanings."
I think he's right about accent and pronunciation, but meaning seems a much more tenuous argument to make. And it's not made here.
2) Konglish has a corroding effect on the Korean language. Min quotes Eric Kim, who authors a well-known series of English education books, with an example:
"The Korean language did not (originally) have the present perfect aspect," Kim said. "The recent introduction has resulted from the use of English in Korean." This could later distort the traditional Korean way of constructing meaning, he added.
3) Exactly the opposite of 2. Her source is Edwin Sunder, whose Ph.D in education is the closest thing to expertise in the whole story (well, there is an SNU professor, but we are not told in what field):
He doesn't feel the use of English is a problem because in India, his native country, a similar occurrence took place, with English becoming the official second language.
4) Borrowed words add depth (or certainly new words) to a language and promote multiculturalism. Fair enough.

I might note here that if you were to try to remove the borrowed words from English, you'd have nothing left. Remind me to do a post about "pia" someday. Not Pia Zadora, no. The suffix Koreans use to suggest Utopia.

Bonus Photographs: These are not exactly Konglish, but they're something. The first is just a typo of some kind, on a banner three feet tall. The second is part of the events calendar of the brochure I picked up at Seoul Olympic Park:


Anonymous said...

Signboards and banners in Korea are usually made by hole-in-the-wall specialty shop owners whose typo-evading skills are often below par. The same can be said of those who accept typo-ridden products, naturally.

You also see a lot of typos on Japanese language signboards in Myoungdong.

Tuttle said...

Thanks for the link, Anon. Fouser, it tells us, teaches Korean language education in Korean and English. He is the ideal source on this topic, short of peer-reviewed papers, but is alas relegated to a punch line at the end of the original story.