* "Korean language evolves into Konglish?"
* "Hangeul still best Asian writing system for fucking up English word the least."
* "Happy 한글 Day."
* "Too much English in Korea? Yep, and don't look at us, it's not our fault."
is my latest piece in the Korea Herald, trotting out one of my hobby horses, the overuse of English in Korea. Here are a few excerpts:
I've been treated to some articles in the papers lately dealing with English in Korea and asking if there's too much of it, specifically in restaurants, on billboards, and on product labels. I strongly believe there's too much English used in Korea, that this overuse has negative consequences for students of English and regular citizens alike, and that it'd be healthy to use more Korean in Korean. However, one point I always like to make is that the overuse of English in Korea is a domestic phenomenon, one created and continued by Koreans, and any campaign to replace it ought to be a fight for thoughtful language use, not a crusade against a foreign invader.
Some of the English here is what I call "Gibberlish," a portmanteau of gibberish and English that means words or combinations of letters used for decoration. Gibberlish is found when online translation tools are used, creating a meaningless arrangement of words such the sign in Suncheon that reads "Rain blood vessel & skin the government serviece." It is found in pop songs, where rappers and singers will randomly insert English words and phrases, and it exists to such a great extent in the fashion industry that it's tough to buy a t-shirt without ridiculous English on it.
Because much of the English in Korea doesn't make sense to native speakers, isn't created with the intention of being correct or comprehensible, and certainly isn't understood by Koreans, it's fair to ask, why use it at all?
I first read about The National Institute of the Korean Language last week, and the webpage on which they offer suggested replacements for imported "English" terms. I like what they're about: after all, why the impulse to borrow words when Korean ones are perfectly suitable? Their website might be translated as "Pruning Our Language Together" (모두가 함께하는 우리말 다듬기), and you can take a look at some of the words recently reviewed here.
But what I'd really like to emphasize is the recent changes to "Our Language" were brought about by Koreans, and campaigns to prune it shouldn't be waged against English itself or its speakers, but rather against the thoughtless use of it. It's Koreans who choose to import these words, to use mangled English instead of Korean, to write their advertisements without Hangeul, to isolate Korean speakers, and to limit their language's creative power. This isn't a foreign invasion, and any efforts at Koreaning-up the Korean language really ought to be a fight against incomprehension and thoughtless language use, rather than a xenophobic one against a foreign language.
From August, 2008.