Saturday, October 24, 2009

What does 苟且偸安 mean?

Yesterday, I bought a Korean book entitled "이이화의 한문 공부," which teaches the basics of classical Chinese writing. I bought the book not only because it was the only book in the store that taught the basics of classical Chinese, but also because it looked pretty good, at least in the store. However, after getting it home and reading more of it, I noticed a few problems.

One of the problems with the book is that it assumes the reader already knows the Korean pronunciations for the Chinese characters used in many of the book's example sentences. In other words, the book gives you the Chinese sentences and their Korean translations, but it does not give the Korean pronunciations for the Chinese characters. That is not a big problem for me since I know the pronunciations of most of the characters used in the book, but I would still like to have the pronunciations. Another problem is that some of the translations seem to be incorrect. Could such a thing be possible? Is it just because I am a beginner and do not know any better? Consider the following example:

苟且偸安(구차투안)

구차하게 눈앞의 안일함만을 취함

Clumsily take only the peace in front of our eyes.


The Korean is the author's translation of the Chinese, and the English is my translation of the author's Korean, but is it correct?

In Korean, 苟且 (구차) can mean "poverty" or "clumsiness," and 偸安 (투안) means "desire the peace in front of one's eyes" (눈앞의 안일을 탐냄), so the author seems to have just combined and then tweaked the two sentences for his translation, which seems awkward either way. Does "Clumsily take the peace in front of our eyes" make much sense?

Separately, 偸安 (투안) means only "steal" (偸) and "peace" (安), so where did "in front of our eyes" (눈앞의) come from? I think it came from the 且 (차) in the original sentence since 且 can mean "in the future" (장차). In other words, 苟且偸安 (구차투안) may have originally been translated as "[They] clumsily (苟), in the future (且), take (偸) the peace (安)," except that "in the future" was translated as "in front of our eyes" (눈앞의). Later, when 苟且 and 偸安 were separated and placed in the dictionary, the meaning "in front of our eyes" stayed with 偸安 portion. Anyway, that is just my theory.

I think the above Chinese sentence has been mistranslated by Koreans. Why not simply translate it as follows?

"Poverty (苟且) steals (偸) peace (安)."

My translation makes much more sense because, generally speaking, peace and prosperity go together, but poverty tends to lead to unrest, which can be paraphrased as, "Poverty steals peace."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Does 乳以 mean the same as 以乳?

Today, I was reading the 四字小學(사자소학), which was a book that Korean children used to study in traditional Korean schools (書堂 - 서당), when I came across something I did not understand. Why does 以 come after the nouns in lines 3 and 4, but before the nouns in lines 5 and 6?

父生我身(부생아신)
[My] father () gave life () [to] my () body ().
()()()()
My] mother () raised () my () body ().
腹以懷我(복이회아)
[Her] stomach (腹) was used (以) to shelter () me ().
乳以哺我(유이포아)
[Her] milk (乳) was used (以) to feed () me ().
以衣溫我(이의온아)
With () clothes () [she] warmed () me ().
以食飽我(이식포아)
With () food () [she] filled () me ().


From what little I know about classical Chinese, the order of the characters was important to determining the meaning of a sentence. Therefore, I suspect that 以 coming before the noun had a different meaning from 以 coming after the noun. However, the only difference I noticed between the two sets of sentences above was that the nouns in sentences 3 and 4 were either a part of the mother (her stomach) or originated from her (her breast milk), but the nouns in sentences 5 and 6 were just general references to food and clothing.

When 以 came after a noun, did it imply that the noun belonged to the subject of the sentence or originated from him or her? In other words, does 乳以 mean "with her milk," and 以乳 mean just "with milk"?

UPDATE: I think I have figured out the difference in meaning when putting 以 before a noun and after a noun. When used before the nouns above, it means "with": "with clothes" (以衣), "with food" (以食). When used after the nouns above, it means "was used to": "Her stomach was used to" (腹以 ), "Her milk was used to" (乳以 ).

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Was 之 (지) used to make causative verbs?

According to THIS WEB PAGE, the Chinese character 來 (내) was used in classical Chinese to mean, "[He] comes," and 來之 (내지) was used to mean, "[He] makes him come." In other words, the 之 (지) seems to have made "to come" (來) into a causative verb. In classical Chinese, was 之 sometimes used to make causative verbs?

I am curious because I want to know if the following translation is correct:

一僧寺 與餠茶粥醬以食之

A temple (一僧寺) gave (與) [us] rice cake (餠), tea (茶), rice gruel (粥) and soy sauce (醬) and had us eat them.
Does the 之 (지) change 食 (식) from "to eat" to "to have someone eat" ( 食之), or is 之 being used as a direct object pronoun to refer back to the food?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

What's the problem with "뭐가 불만이냐"

뭐가 불만이냐 means "What's your problem" or "What's your complaint." It is a low form that is usually used among friends. If you use it with someone who is not your friend, you are asking for a fight. The problem with the expression is that 뭐가, strickly speaking, is an incorrect construction since 뭐 is a contraction of 무엇, so it would be like saying 무엇가, which is incorrect. The correct contraction for 무엇이 is 뭬. However, since few Koreans say "뭬 불만이냐," you could just drop the subject marker and say, "뭐 불만이냐." I think I will try to use 뭬.

The following are the correct 1-syllable contractions for 무엇 and its subject and object markers:
  • 무엇 = 무어 = 뭐
  • 무엇 = 뭣
  • 무엇이 = 뭬
  • 무엇을 = 뭘

Unfortunately, it is probably too late to save the 뭬 contraction because 뭐가 and 머가 have become so ingrained in the Korean language that it would be difficult to get rid of them now. I think I remember reading that sometime in the past 가 used to be the only subject marker in Korean, which may help explain why 뭐가 is so ingrained.

By the way, if you do use 뭬, do not add the subject marker 가 to it since its meaning already includes the subject marker. Some Koreans even add the object marker 를 to 뭬, which, of course, is also wrong since it would be like saying 무엇이를.

Friday, October 09, 2009

A foreigner teaching Koreans how to teach Korean?

According to a Chosun Ilbo article entitled "American Professor Prepares Korean Language Teachers," American Robert Fouser is teaching Seoul National University students how to teach the Korean language to foreigners, which makes me wonder what exactly he does. For example, does he teach them the English they will need to explain the Korean language or does he teach them language teaching techniques? Or does he teach them both with a focus on dealing with the special problems of teaching the Korean lanaguage?

Mr. Fouser says that Koreans lack a systematic approach to teaching Korean to foreign learners, which I think is true, but I wish he or the article would have given some examples of exactly what Koreans are doing wrong. More on Robert Fouser in ENGLISH and in KOREAN.

Here are some of my suggestions for teaching Korean.

The very first thing that should be taught to foreign learners of Korean is hangeul, which is the easiest thing about the Korean language. Why bother learning Romanized Korean when hangeul can be learned in just a couple of days?

Next, the teacher should give the students a brief summary of how the Korean language works while introducing simple vocabulary words to be used in examples of the language. In other words, the teacher should give a general description of such things as Korean word order and how markers are used to indicate such things as subjects, objects, and verb tense. Korean and English are so opposite each other that without such an explanation many English speakers may waste weeks wondering what the hell is going on. When I first started learning Korean, I wasted about thirty-two weeks wondering what was going on because no one bothered explaining to me the basic concepts of the Korean language. Therefore, I think having a native English speaker teaching a Korean linguistics course concurrently with a native Korean speaker teaching a conversation class would be a good idea. English would be used in the linguistics class, but not in the conversation class.

After teaching hangeul and explaining the basic concepts of the Korean language, I would start piling on the vocabulary while making sure students understand the differences among Korean adjectives and transitive and intransitive verbs. I would have students juggling active and passive voice with every new verb they learn instead of saving passive voice for some future date. If the students were studying in Korea, I would teach them the seven basic Korean sentence patterns from the get-go so that they could start listening for them out in Korean society and start filling in the blanks with the new vocabulary they learn. I also believe in teaching past, present, and future tenses together rather than separately because they will be hearing them all together when they walk outside the classroom if they are learning in Korea.

A Korean language classroom in Korea should just be the staging area for preparing students for the real learning experience outside the classroom. Instead of trying to teach all the language inside the classroom, teachers should focus on teaching the concepts and structure of the language and have the students learn the meaty parts on their own outside the classroom. A sample homework assignment might be to give the students ten questions or statements to ask or say to Koreans outside the classroom, and then have the students record the responses they get. The students could then compare and discuss the responses they get the next day in class. That is more interesting and effective than reading the responses in a book.

Korean language teachers need to start thinking outside the four walls of the classroom.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Why do many Koreans like to eat fish heads?

When you buy a fish at a supermarket in Korea, it usually comes with the head. Moreover, when cooking the fish, Koreans usually cook the whole fish, including the head. My ex-wife, who was Korean, was no exception. She always cooked the whole fish and always ate the head.

I used to think my ex-wife ate the head of the fish so that I could have more of the juicy parts. In other words, I thought she was sacrificing her taste buds for me. I have since learned that many Koreans consider the fish head to be a delicacy, which suggests that my ex-wife's fish-head eating may have been more of a selfish act than a sacrifice.

Today, I came across an old Chinese saying, which suggests that the heads of fish have long been considered a delicacy in Asia:

魚頭一味 (어두일미)
A fish's head is the most delicious

魚(어) - fish
頭(두) - head
一味(일미) - the most delicious

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Why not use 먹이 for human food, too?

Koreans generally use 먹이 to refer to animal "food," "feed," or "prey," and 음식(飮食) or 먹거리 to refer to human food, but why can't 먹이 also be used to refer to human food? I am asking because 먹거리 seems to go against grammar rules since -거리 is usually added to nouns, not verb stems. Here are some acceptable -거리 nouns:
  • 국거리........foodstuff for soup
  • 김칫거리.....foodstuff for kimchi
  • 반찬거리.....foodstuff for side dishes
  • 저녁거리.....foodstuff for dinner

거리 is a noun meaning "material" or "makings," so if it is used with a verb like 먹다, then people should say 먹을 거리, not 먹거리. However, why not just say 먹이 for both animal and people food? If it is possible to say 쇠먹이 (cattle feed) and 말먹이 (horse feed), why not 사람먹이 (people food)?

On a completely different topic, while looking up one of the above words in my dictionary, I came across 사람 멀미, which means "sickness from being in a crowd." I had heard of 차멀미 (carsickness), 뱃멀미 (seasickness), and 비행기멀미 (airsickness), but had never heard of 사람 멀미 (crowd sickness).