Thursday, October 01, 2009

Names in Foreign languages

Imagine you're a teenage girl in a Confucian country that values neither youth nor females. You try to assert yourself, possibly for the first time, and discuss your opinions about your country to a newspaper columnist you disagree with. What happens next? BizarroBrian shuts you down. Hard.

Alright, there wasn't much controversial or explosive there but I was interested to read his post about the English name for the Sea to the East of Korea and West of Japan, then read an article in the Chosun about the prevalence of English names in Korea*.

"Coffee is imported, so we cannot do anything about the names," says one man in his 60s. "But why are the sizes classified as 'short' or 'tall' in English?"
stress levels began rising in the mid-1990s when so-called "family" restaurant chains began to pop up in Korea. T.G.I. Friday's, Bennigans, Outback Steakhouse and other restaurants featured menus in English, or words created by mixing Korean and English.
Eight students at Doseong Elementary School in Pyeongchang, Gangwon Province sent a letter in 2007 to the heads of confectioners asking them to use Korean names. The petition drew support from around 1,000 people after it was posted on an Internet portal. At about the same time, a survey of third- and fourth-graders in elementary school showed that 79 percent favored Korean names for snacks, saying they sounded more familiar and made it easier to determine what kind of snack it is.

Korean language experts say we may end up thinking that it is only natural for products to have foreign names. This perception becomes ingrained as we become adults and create stereotypes that favor foreign words and developing disdain for our own words.

First, note that the article is not specifically about English infiltrating Korean**. The sizes of coffee are often not in English. The comment about coffee sizes being in a variety of languages is a staple of English stand-up comedy and the like. I am under the impression that 'Grande' and 'Vente' are words in two different languages for tall but used at Starbucks for different sizes.

The mixing of Korean and foreign words for product names has been a source of amusement for, well, forever. I am particularly amused by 'Coolpis', 'Ricetards' and 'Lezpo' - the latter sounding like slang for lesbians, but here is short for leisure sports.

The final paragraph, the one about favoring foreign words and disdaining native ones, is one I am learning to care about. Being from English-speaking Canada, I was annoyed, when I bothered to think about them at all, by the efforts of French-speaking Canadians to protect their language. And that is an international language, while Korean is very discrete and poorly known.
* BizarroBrian has also blogged about this article.

**I remember an ex-blogger, possibly the Lost Nomad, discussing the same thing when a Korean wrote to a newspaper complaining about English names like 'Vita', which I believe is Latin and was the name for a make of car.

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