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Sunday, October 19, 2008

The 100th Entry!

Or probably only about the 80th, if you discount all the entries that consisted of me saying "uh, I did some cool stuff this weekend, and I'll write about it later."

Anyway, a little Korean phone number zaniness I just learned about from the book I use to study. It's kinda cute. In all these examples, the last digits of a company's phone number, when spoken quickly, remind the listener of some aspect of the business. I assume it's a pretty good mnemonic device. For instance:

Moving companies often end with 2424 (ee-sa-ee-sa), because 이사 (ee-sa) means "moving."

Railroad stations often end with 7788 (ch'eel-ch'eel-p'al-p'al), which is close to the Korean onomatopoeia of a steam-engine: 칙칙폭폭 (ch'eek-ch'eek-poke-poke)

Real estate agencies often end with 4989 (sa-gu-p'al-gu), because 사 (sa) means "buy," 팔 (p'al) means "sell," and the particle 고 (go) and its alternate pronunciation 구(gu) mean "and." Buy and sell and...

Other companies which offer some service or other often use 8282 (p'ar-ee-par'ee), which sounds pretty close to the phrase 빨리 빨리 (bbal-lee bbal-lee), which means "quick, quick" or "hurry up."

Korean is pretty cool in its ability to generate this sort of word play. In all of my amateurity, I hypothesize that this is because: 1) Korean syllables are more discrete (and therefore less discreet???) than English ones, by which I mean that if you see a word in Korean, it's immediately obvious how many syllables it should have and where they start and stop. The effect of this is that it's easy to pull a word apart into its constituent concepts. In English, though, if you take some random word like "homogeneous," if you don't know the Greek etymology in advance, there's no reason to break the word up into homo-gene-ous (same-group-full) instead of ho-mogen-ous (indecipherable).

2) Korean, though atonal, takes a large percent of its vocabulary from Chinese, which is tonal. This means that while some word like "sa" might have 4 meanings in Chinese, all differentiated by rising, falling, or stable tones, they all sound the same in Korean.

Thus, because of 1) it's easy to break Korean words into proper segments, each of which has some meaning; and because of 2), each of those segments will likely have several meanings. So if you're willing to be lenient and creative, there are lots of possibilities inside any one word.

Two of my Korean buddies - Julio and Dylan - showed me a little something like this this morning, actually. A bus passed by, and one of the stops listed on the placard was "gwan-eum-dong." They asked me to guess the meaning, but, knowing only that "gwan" is a part of the word for "relationship" and "eum" is related to sounds and the mouth, I had a pretty hard time coming up with anything. They told me, though, that I had the wrong "gwan" and "eum" in mind, and said that these characters meant "darkly" and "watching." I forget which was which. Anyway, this "malevolent watching" they mentioned, according to the dictionary, is "voyeurism." I'm pretty sure this was a dirty trick on their part, and that nobody actually lives in a place called "voyeurism district," but who knows?

I think this is one of the things I like most about Korea, and about living abroad in general, and it's something I expect to miss when I leave. Here, I get to think about this sort of stuff all day long. Even when I'm just hanging out with my friends and having a good time goofing off, there are lot of opportunities to learn quirky and interesting stuff about language(s). How stimulating!

5 comments:

thesnowleopard said...

Hey and don't forget the Rushee and Cashee money lenders' favorite '7979',(chilgoo chilgoo), which sounds like 'friend friend' (chingoo chingoo). I wonder which sort of businesses use -1818 (asshole asshole)?

cheap cheap fun fun said...

tha tspre ttya wesome. imgo ingtoc olle ctlotso fword p uzzl esfor whe nyoucom evis itinmar ch.

thesnowleopard said...

마, 니 계시를 기대한다! 니 재밌는 브로그 때문에 나도 브로그할 동기가 또 생겼거든 니 새로운 계시 업시 어쩌라구?

Mike said...

야 크야, 내 블러그에서 이해하기 어려운 말을 쓰면 안 되는 거 모르냐? 니 능력을 자랑하지말고 쉽게 해 줘야지! 내가 니 말 이해했나 보니 좀 더 써 볼게. 사실말하자면 나도 블러그 기사를 쓸 동기가 필요해서 고맙다. 너도 마이 써라...

Turz said...

Just a 82 comment :-D to thank you for teaching me the meaning of 8282.