In our previous spotlight on Korea, we looked at the English mania that has gripped the tiny peninsula. We also touched on “koreanization” as a reason for augmented difficulties experienced by students learning English – a language already alien to their own.
In fact, Koreanised English – known as “Konglish” – is a defining characteristic of South Korean language, and creates as big a divide between South Korea and its northern neighbor as the countries’ shared, heavily militarized border. So significant is the difference between versions of Korean used in the two Koreas, that defectors from the North cite it as one of the most troubling obstacles to their integration into South Korean society. Language, in this case, serves to highlight the divergent cultural changes and growth of the two countries.
On a different level, although Konglish provides a welcome “in” to English speakers trying to learn Korean, much of it is incomprehensible to most non-Koreans. Disregarding the issue of pronunciation and the interchangeability of the letters r/l, f/p, v/b and z/j, some contributing factors are the shortening and lengthening of words to fit into Korean linguistic norms and rules, while other words are put together in ways that are unheard of in the English-speaking world (e.g. office and hotel are joined to form “officetel”; the rice omelette is known as “ommuhrice”). These words are used and effortlessly understood by Koreans, who are often oblivious to the fact that their loanwords have taken on a life of their own. One commentator, Korea Times columnist John Huer, has described this way with words variously, as inventive – which it surely is! – and as cause for concern, if Korea wishes to continue making its presence felt globally.
Regardless of judgments passed on Konglish (or its older cousins in other parts of the Far East), however, it does provide a very good example of the dynamic nature of language, and the way it reflects its cultural contexts.
The Language Inc. team