Friday, January 29, 2010

Language Hanguage

Okay, I'm a little hesitant to open this ole box of Pandora's again, but there is a fairly in-depth story in today's Korea Times about a controversy swirling around the Cia-cia or Jjia-Jjia or something, anyway a tribe in Indonesia, who seem interested in adopting Hangeul as the written alphabet of their language.

The last time I wrote about this, pointing out how the Korean language lacks certain sounds, and that therefore the Hangeul writing system doesn't actually provide for them, I received several interesting comments.

Which, by the way, I am always grateful to read. And publish. Well, unless they're spam. So comment away.

Anyway, I was attempting to make the point that the Jjia-jjia or whoever have hopefully made the determination that Hangeul can adequately represent the phonemes of their language, since otherwise they will end up with Jjiageul. Or Kongjjia. Or something.

The Korean language, as was saying at the time, has no "eff" sound. It also has no "vee" sound. And I could go on, without intending to slight the Korean language or its speakers in the least. Hell, English lacks those wonderfully expressive click sounds I love so much in Swahili and maTonga. I'm just stating facts.

So, since Korean doesn't have an "eff" sound, it is quite understandable that Hangeul doesn't have an "eff" symbol. This is simply and unequivocally a fact.

This fact has two significant results:
1) Koreans as a rule don't ever make an "eff" sound, even when saying English words that have an "eff" sound in them. Instead, they substitute a sound they do have. So, instead of a fork, you get a pork. Actually, you don't even get that, because of the second point:
2) Hangeul simply cannot reproduce certain words. Period. I just said that the Korean for fork was pork, but I was lying. Other aspects of Korean linguistics also come into play. For example, many English diphthongs are disallowed by Hangeul, one of which is "rk". "Lk" is okay (like in a word for chicken flesh), "ng" is infuriatingly ubiquitous, "ch" and "sh" are pretty common, too.

Phonemes, individual syllables, also have particular rules, especially about ending consonants. Coming back to the fork-pork example, calling it a pork won't do, because the "r" is disallowed in conjunction with the "k". Considering the availability of "lk", I am unsure why people don't eat with a polk. But in Korea, they don't. Instead, they eat with a pok-uh.

An anonymous commenter on the previous post asserted the following:
A writing system doesn't need to conform with any specific pronunciation in any case; it's just symbols.

This explains why I review comments--even if I let this go through; it was probably my intent to respond, though I never did (I have a life, y'know). I'll do so here:
Friend! Yes. Yes it does. That is the function of a writing system. "It's just symbols" that represent how you move your mouth, tongue, lungs, diaphragm, etc, in order to create meaningful sounds of your language.

Well, now that I've expended 500 "symbol groups representing meaningful sounds" I see I haven't even touched on the new controversy of Hangeul and the Cia-cia. I mean, the Jjia-jjia. Or however you say it.

Bonus Photograph: Mr Hwang's young son enjoying gopchang in our neighborhood "Korean beef innards specialty restaurant":


SuperDrew said...

I called bullshit on this when it first came out. It looks like I wasn't exactly correct, but close enough.

Anyway, the thing that irked me the most about this is that...well ok a lot of things irk me. Basically it seems that these people are forcing hangeul down the throats of the cia cia by offering them cash and things. That's cool.

Then there were all the statements to the effect of hangeul helping the cia cia preserve their own culture, which seemed ridiculous. Even more ridiculous because one of the secondary aims was to build Korean language schools and Korean cultural centers. How they will help preserve cia cia heritage is beyond me...

Anyway it looks like it was done completely half assedly, so my guess is it will just peter out and nothing will come of it. Of course I am not surprised, neither by the half assedness or by the fact that it is going to peter out.

Oh, and the flawed text book? That reminds me of the in house books made by my old hagwon. Totally embarrassing! It always does warm my heart, however, to see professionalism take a back seat to over-zealousness.

조안나 said...

I would imagine, though, with enough creativity, you could create new characters to represent sounds in that language, and use them in the hangul format to write. Hangul is a really efficient writing system, and I think that you probably could edit it enough to work for another language. Look at Vietnamese and how they use English letters. Obviously Vietnamese is TOTALLY different from any western language, in terms of sounds and probably in grammar and other things too, and yet, with some little squiggles on top of the letters or just changing the sounds of the letters completely, they use our alphabet to make completely different sounds.

I didn't read the korea times article you linked, I'm too lazy today.

Anyway, I always kind of assumed that that tribe would be kind of changing the sounds to fit their language anyway. No idea what the situation on the ground is. MAYBE they make the exact same sounds as Koreans, that would be convenient, wouldn't it?

Adam said...

I remember stumbling over the pronunciation of coffee in Korean when I was there (something I ordered a lot more often than pork). I had just gotten used to the Japanese pronunciation, "kouhee," and then to be confronted with "kyopi" (or something like that) was too much for my brain at 7am, the usual time to be ordering kyopi.

Anonymous said...
->Interesting comments here.

I think you need to distinguish between pragmatics and phonemics when you talk about effs and vees. Anyway, the real culprit is the old transliteration system which is about 65 years out of date. It irritates many Koreans just as it does native English speakers. Korean language does not desperately need to conform to a foreign language these days, thank God, but it still needlessly does to the one that pronounces coffee as "kouhee," you know.

Mass media portrayal of this Jjia-jjia thing has been "bullshit" as usual, but I still find it fascinating in historical/political/psychological context. Sooooo Korean!

--A Korean