A Gibberlish sign in Gwangju or Suncheon, I can't remember. It reads "Rain blood vessel & skin the government serviece."
No. But a few days ago the Korea Times had a piece about different dialects of Korean that have emerged because of the Korean diaspora. It bounces around a lot, but had a couple of interesting points, the first of which is the mistaken belief that nonsense English is related at all to Korean.
The article opens with three pictures of "Engrish"; the captions to two below:
Examples of Engrish, poorly translated English from Korean, riddle the streets of the Myeongdong shopping district Wednesday morning. These errors are comical, but demonstrate the changing landscape of the Korean language. Above: A coffee shop misspells the word “lemon” on their sign in the translation from Korean. Far left: A window promotion on the popular Missha store reads: “All products that are made in many criticisms from makeup experts during the creation process. “
However, misspelling "Lemon" as "Leamon" isn't a sign of development but rather of carelessness when using a language one doesn't understand. Likewise using Gibberlish---as I like to call the meaningless collection of English words you frequently see in Korea---as background isn't reflective of the Korean language so much as it is of Korean culture. Why, one might ask, do Koreans want to use a foreign language in such a way? If the arrangement of words don't mean anything to native English speakers, and don't make sense to Koreans, what is the point of using them at all?
That's not a remarkable example of Gibberlish, but one I had in my Flickr set, from a gas station coffee shop in Bundang in 2006. It says:
A good cup of the coffee can turn the worst day tolerable, can provide all-important moment of the contemplation, can rekindle a romance. The caffee is dedicated to advance the coffee quality through sincerity. The caffe is a great story of the best coffee.
Certainly not as incomprehensible as many of the t-shirts, signs, or pop songs we find, but clearly not compiled by somebody too familiar with English. I'm not going to tell people what they can or can't put on their cups or t-shirts, but it is fair to ask, as native speakers and as teachers, what the point of English actually is when we find it in Korea. It's common to hear how much English there is in Korea, though it's also fair to ask how much of it actually is English.
Now, I'll share a bit from the great little book Confucius Lives Next Door, an excerpt I quoted last summer about the meaning found in the meaningless English in Japan. I won't give Korean English abusers that much credit, or argue that Leamon is anything more significant than a product of someone who doesn't use the language, but it is worth exploring the issue more fully than the article did. From the book:
Over time, as we saw more and more of this fractured English prose, certain patterns began to emerge, and we realized that some of these slogans actually had meaning, in a manner of speaking. For example, that sign we spotted the first night we were in Tokyo--"Fine Boys Since 1987 says Lets Sex!"--seemed like total nonsense at the time. Gradually, though, we realized that this slogan was full of meaning for the Japanese.
In Japanese English, the words "boys" and "girls" are used to describe trendy, popular young people of dating age, roughly from eighteen to thirty-five. The words "fine" and "fashion" are adjectives that suggest "up-to-date" or "cool." (The terms "high-sense" and "high-touch" also convey a sense of living on the leading edge of the latests fashions.) The expression "since 19xx" is used for precisely the opposite purpose of its use in English-speaking countries. In England, snooty shops and manufacturers of luxury goods like to use "Since . . ." on their labels to suggest they have been around forever: "Purveyors to the Royal House Since 1734." In Japan, "since . . ." is used to suggest that a store or product is brand-new, like "since 1996." In fact, the "since 1987" on that billboard was the oldest "since . . ." I ever saw in Japan.
As for the concluding phrase, "Let's Sex," this is simply a translation of a common pattern in the Japanese language. The Japanese verb shimahshō, meaning "let's do it," can be used with any noun: benkyo shimahshō, "let's study;" ryoko shimahshō, "let's travel." And so it seems perfectly normal for the Japanese to take the English translation of their verb "let's" and combine it with any English noun. You see patterns like this all the time: "Let's Skiing." "Let's Business Meeting." "Let's Recreation." "Let's Sex."
So if you want to get across to youthful Japanese consumers the message that your company is a fashionable new endeavor targeting a market of upscale young men with romance on their minds, there's a perfectly clear way to convey this information: "Fine Boys Since 1987 says Let's Sex." What could be more obvious?
However, the Korea Times article suggests that bad English is somehow, well, good, but while I recognize how hard it is to learn and use a language, I won't admit that much of the incorrect and often meaningless English and Gibberlish actually has meaning and should be valued.
Another point the meandering article touches upon is mention of a local institution trying to preserve Korean and encourage the use of Korean words over imported English words when possible.
The National Institute of the Korean Language created a Web site ― Malteo.net ― in 1994 promoting the survival of Korean words over English equivalents that were being adopted into the language.
"It is a natural phenomenon to use foreign words that come into our language in terms of technology and culture," said Jo Tae-rin, an official from the institute. "However, I think that it's better to use Korean words over the foreign ones, in cases where there is a corresponding Korean word available.
"The problem arises when an excessive use of foreign languages undermines our culture and traditions," he added, agreeing, however, that it is inherent in all cultures to adopt foreign words.
King supports the institute's efforts, but cautions that such issues should not be overemphasized or approached from the wrong perspective.
"I think it is a worthwhile endeavor, as long as it is divorced from unproductive nationalist ideological discourse," he said. "And as long as language planners are willing to accept an eventuality where only a small proportion of their suggestions actually find acceptance."
Every two weeks a new word is introduced to Malteo.net and visitors are asked to come up with a corresponding Korean word. Four hundred words are proposed on average, with roughly 2,000 people participating in the vote, according to the official.
The article closes with a table of proposed Korean-for-English substitutions:
Landmark: 랜드마크 to 마루지
Recipe: 레시피 to 조리법
Hot issue: 핫이슈 to 주요쟁점
Junk food: 정크푸드 to 부실음식
Eye shopping: 아이쇼핑 to 눈길장보기
Curtain call: 커튼콜 to 부름갈채
Mentor: 멘토 to 인생길잡이
I firmly believe there's way too much English in Korea. Not only too much English, but too much Gibberlish: English actually has meaning, while Gibberlish is simply decoration, background noise, or a comedic prop. I also firmly believe Korean words should be used rather than simply borrowing words from foreign languages, a process that not only strips the original words of meaning and context but can leave people behind. In some cases, such as on menus or cosmetics labels, Koreans are prevented from understanding what they're reading by the overuse of foreign words for seemingly no reason.
However, and this is a point that must be understood and remembered, this overuse of English is a domestic phenomenon. 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.
A visit to Malteo.net shows they're currently looking at different options for "커플룩," couple look, a phenomenon that's all the evidence you should need that English-speakers aren't behind the overuse of English. *cough*