Somewhere in almost every language these days there is a sloppy mix of the native tongue with the ever-popular English language.  The concoction is often a part of the younger generation as they are force-fed English at every level of their educational lives.

In Korea this phenomenon is no different.  Students here learn English here starting at a very young age (elementary school at least) and so it is no wonder that so many are so very fluent but it is also no wonder that such a large amount of English/Korean mutations exist. The mutations start out as words in English and Korean but will end up as neither English nor Korean.  It is as fascinating as it is nonsensical.  And yet it makes perfect sense: From the student’s perspective, using Konglish as it is called is just as good as speaking English (granted they never actually meet a native English speaker) because it sounds like English and–if it is fresh enough–it might elude the comprehension of the older crowd (though there is an entirely different set of words just for that purpose as well!).  It is perfect everyday code language and maybe even holds a touch of revenge on society for making them learn a new language that they probably didn’t want to learn in the first place. (Though many of them know the usefulness of it in today’s world)

It’s fun to have a look at some of the words:

  • Handu Pone– OK, before we go any further let me help you with Korean.  There is no “F” like English speakers know: the sound of the air moving through your upper teeth and lower lip (Father, fake, fifth).  Instead this sound is pronounced more like a “P” (past, practice, pal).  The other point to make note of is that the Korean language as it is set up with its rules does not allow a word to simply end on a “D” or “S” sound.  Therefore, the most practical thing to do (as is the case in this example) is to throw a very light “U” at the end.  Thus, the word “Hand” becomes “Hand(u)” if only very slightly. With these rules in mind it becomes easier to see that Handu Pone really stands for Hand Phone.  And what exactly is a hand phone??  Why, a Cell Phone of course!  An indispensable item for every Korean student.
  • Bepu– now if you know this one then you are or have been to Korea.  This word is made up of two English words that have been chopped up and smashed together.  The two words are commonly placed next to each other when describing someone who is very close to you.  The problem was that Korean students simply found saying the whole darn thing way too tedious so they simplified it.  See the idiom?  Be+Pu=Best Friend.  Once again, the “F” sound is the thing causing all the problems!  Especially the two consonants right next to each other.
  • Obaitu– This one took me a while to figure out.  There are two words in this one again.  I admit that my transliteration of the word may be a bit crude but the point is there.  Pronounce it as you would in Spanish or Italian (similar vowels are present in these languages as well as in Japanese) and you get the right idea.  This word alone brings about another good point in the Korean-to-English translation problem book: “B” and “V” sounds.  As anyone who knows a bit about both languages will tell you, the difference between these two consonants (as obvious as it may be to a native English speaker) are not at all obvious and in fact indecipherable to many Koreans.  Therefore many “V” sounds in English are simply pronounces as a “B” sound (as there is a similar letter in the Korean alphabet for this sound but not for the “V” sound as I have been told).  In this case Oba then would be closer to Ova in English.  Take into account that the language has restrictions on cleanly ending a word in a consonant and that the original word was chopped up to begin with and the original word emerges: Over.  The ending?  Itu = Eat. Overeat.

Think the mystery is solved?  Think again.  This word does not simply mean that you feel super-stuffed and cannot eat another bite.  It means “I-over-ate-and-my-body-made-me-get-rid-of-some-of-it” Over eat.  Yes, it means to vomit.

  • DIKA– In this example the Koreans have managed to almost completely destroy the original English words until there was nothing left, leaving only the bare minimum it is more like an abbreviation than a word.  DI is the beginning of one word.  KA is the beginning of another word. Can you guess it?  No? Digital Camera.

Here are a few more!

  • Eahkon-Air Conditioner
  • BenduBand Aid
  • Selka– Self Camera.  Self-camera is actually an action.  It is the act of taking a picture of yourself or of yourself and a friend or two.  As this is easier than asking a stranger to take a picture you will find that it is quite popular in Korea.  Thus, it deserves its own Konglish!
  • Fighting– I just decided to spell this one out the way it would be pronounced in English.  “Fighting” is actually a euphemism for “good luck”, “you can do it!” or something similar.  It is used when someone is feeling down or overwhelmed with something, some task, etc. A friend will say it to another who is feeling overwhelmed as a way of motivation to keep “fighting!” and soon this problem will be over and done.


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