A Reconsideration of Kongleeshee

These misty Korean mountains don't know who's boss.

Oh what an annoying word! And how often has the annoying idea behind this annoying word annoyed us? How many times have we found ourselves standing inside a bus, overhearing, relentlessly overhearing, an impenetrable Korean conversation, a garble of rapid syllables we have heard a thousand times before without ever managing to divine their meanings—how often has a word from our own beloved English gleamed forth from this slew of sludge as brightly as a sunbeam on the surface of a lake, only to be sullied and generally mucked up by the unconscionable accent of the Korean speaker uttering one of the few treasured English words he or she possesses? It happens every day! Konglishee!

Bussuh! Subisuh! Konsetuh! Pija! Taekshi! Kamela! Hond-uh-pone! Bideo! Beejon! Cheekeen! Wondupul! Olanji! Gay! Banana! Jew!

Wah-oow!

Incidentally, the great nation of Korea may be the only nation on Earth that is actually (and totally) in love with Judaism. I can’t even count the times I’ve had schoolchildren, teenagers, adults, and even old people come up to me and say: “Let’s go to the Jew! Isn’t the Jew so much fun? The Jew has so many animals! I love the Jew!” There really aren’t too many Jews here, which must account for the fact that there only seems to be one in each major city, and for some reason Koreans are convinced that Jews are zoophiles, but still, this peculiar cultural quirk, that of Jewophilia, or Judaephilia, or Pro-Semitophilia (interesting how English appears to lack a word to describe someone who admires Jewish culture…), certainly merits further study.

Anyway, about Konglishee, or Konglish—this is the interesting thing. Most of the words that the Korean language has picked up from the English one aren’t even English at all. Let’s look at that list I wrote above one more time, in a way that native English speakers who have never been to Korea can understand.

Bus! Service! Concert! Pizza! Taxi! Camera! Hand phone! Video! Vision! Chicken! Wonderful! Orange! Gay! Banana! Zoo!

And what about their etymologies? How many can be said to belong to the pure core of luscious English that rolled forth from the tongue of that nameless bard who wrote Beowulf? Let’s take a cursory glance.

Bus comes from omnibus, Latin for “for-all.” Service comes from the Latin word for slavery. Concert is Italian, as is Pizza. Taxi comes from the French word for tariff. Camera is obviously Latin! Phone is Greek! Video is Latin, and comes from the same place as Vision! Orange is Arabic! Gay is French (duh)! Banana, that unchangeable word, that word that is always the same everywhere you go, is from Mali! And zoo is Greek!

Wow!

What words remain?

Hand, and wonderful, can be said to have their roots in Old English. A modern Korean who (unluckily) found himself time-teleported to Heorot could potentially understand these two words, especially if one of the mead wenches were to begin flirting with him and his pale, powdered, soaped, recently-manicured, perfumed, fingers, and declare, why, what a wonderful hand!

So I think it’s obvious that Konglishee needs a re-evaluation. These words entered the Korean language through the English one, but very few of them are actually English, so it has to be said, instead, that English is the vehicle that transported these words across time to the Hermit Kingdom, and not exactly their source. This is just like those endless debates about the nature of Jesus Christ that consumed the Byzantine consciousness for a thousand years, obviously. As a white person I am naturally a stickler when it comes to English, and I just wanted to say this: the English words that Koreans almost always mispronounce are not even English.

This sub-dialect deserves a different name. I propose Internationalee, with the addendum that any word familiar to English speakers spoken aloud with that ridiculously strange Korean accent will invariably sound terrible.

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