Sunday, 7 July 2013

Languages Around The World (Part 1 - Korean)

Strange vowels, hand necks and the 'f' rule


As a fan of the Swedish language, I've previously featured a few posts collecting some of my favourite Swedish words and expressions.  However, I've come across lots of other cool languages and cool linguistic expressions on my travels, so I thought I would take this opportunity to expand beyond the theme of Swedish and cover a few other languages in a series of occasional posts creatively entitled 'Languages Around The World'.

First up are a few quirks from the Korean language...

"I'll have a vowel please, Carol."

1) Vowels and consonants


Something I found weird when I first visited Korea was that in the Korean language, 'w' and 'y' are classed as vowels.  I'd come across 'y' being classed as a vowel when I went to Norway, but it seemed a bit weird for 'w' to be classed as a vowel.  To me with my English background, 'w' should blatantly be classed as a consonant.

However, when you analyse it it's not as daft as it seems...

Say ‘oo’ (as in ‘cool’).  Now say ‘u’ (as in ‘duck’).
Now say them both together in quick succession.
oo u
oou
w

Basically ‘w’ is made up of two vowel sounds (oo and u) so really it’s us in England who are daft, and Koreans who are the intelligent ones.

As I mentioned, 'y' is also classed as a vowel and you can analyse this a similar way with the vowel sounds 'ee' and 'u'...

Say ‘ee’ (as in meet).  Now say ‘u’ (as in duck).
Now say them together in quick succession.
ee u
eeu
y

You can also try it with 'j'.  It doesn't work though, cos 'j' is a consonant ... even in Korean!




2)  The 'f' rule


Another thing I found  unusual when I first visited Korea was that the Korean alphabet doesn’t include a sound for ‘f’.  When pronouncing western words, Korean people therefore get around this problem by substituting ‘f’ with a ‘h’ at the start of a word and at the end of a word they replace an 'f' sound with a 'p'.

During my time in Korea I discovered that this 'f' rule can sometimes cause confusion, specifically when I went on a tour of Jeju Island and I was the only westerner on the tour.  The other tourists on the trip, who were all Korean, were all very friendly, so before long we were all engrossed in a friendly group chat.

I now pronounce you 'Man and Wipe'.
Things soon got a bit weird though, when one of the women suddenly announced that her friend wanted to be my 'wipe'.  Her friend looked a bit shy at this comment and all the other Korean women were laughing, so I thought to myself, 'That sounds a bit inappropriate,' and my mind was ticking away wondering what a 'wipe' could be.

The first woman then went on to explain that her friend had already had three husbands and she was looking for husband number four, so remembering the 'f' rule I realised that 'wipe' was actually the Korean pronounciation for 'wife'.

Imagine that in church on your wedding day...  "I now pronounce you man and wipe."



3) Hand necks and foot necks.


Finally, this last one was a bit weird at first but when you think about it, I can sort of see the logic of it.

Pimsleur KoreanThe Korean word for wrist is 'sonmok' and if you break it down then 'son' means 'hand' and 'mok' means neck, so in Korea a wrist is basically known as a 'hand neck'.  The Korean word for ankle also follows a similar pattern.  'Bal' is the Korean word for foot so an ankle, or 'balmok', is actually a 'foot neck' which I suppose when you think about it, is exactly what an ankle is.

. . . . . . . .

You can find more language themed trivia in these Swedish themed posts:
10 Cool Swedish Words And Expressions
10 More Cool Swedish Words And Expressions
10 Cool Swedish Words And Expressions (Part 3)

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1 comment:

  1. Trips to Korea8 July 2013 at 14:07

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    ReplyDelete

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The 'How To Save The World' books
by Charles Fudgemuffin
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