Sunday, January 23, 2005

What does 바람이 분다 mean?

Which of the following would you use to translate "The wind is blowing hard?
  1. 바람이 몹시 분다?
  2. 바람이 몹시 불고 있다?

Sentence 1 is written in the present tense, and Sentence 2 is written in what could be called the present continuous tense. Since the English sentence is written in the present continuous, one might expect Sentence 2 to be the correct translation, but, in Korean, the present tense can often be used to refer to present continuous, too. In fact, many Koreans might say that Sentence 1 is more natural.

The verb 불다 normally implies a continuing action. In other words, the wind does not just blow a puff and then stop, but continues to blow for a certain period of time. Therefore, the Korean logic seems to be, "why add '고 있' if you do not have to since it is obviously a continuing action?"

Compare the following:

  • 지금 잔다.
    지금 자고 있다.
  • 지금 운다.
    지금 울고 있다.

Like 불다, 자다 and 울다 are actions that continue over a period of time, not just an instant; therefore, there is no need to use "고 있" with these verbs when explaining an action that is currently happening, especially when 지금 is also used.


  1. Nice blog. Pls keep it up.

    However, when you venture beyond hanja and into the wide open sea of Korean grammar, and particularly semantics as expressed through grammar, I think perhaps you're venturing a little far from home.

    First and foremost, I think it is dangerous and even less than entirely conscientious to reduce semantic structures of Korean grammar into what they mean in English. Your point of departure is "how would you say the following sentence in that is in English in Korean." There are many structures that make sense in Korean that do not carry the same weight in English, and Korean as a language is more than the sum of what can be translated into it from English.

    You say many things that IMHO cry out for explanation, and furthermore I think you are splitting hairs so thin that you talk about what might been seen as "technically correct" but of little use to the everyday fluent speaker of Korean or anyone hoping to be. As someone who financed much of his masters degree correcting papers written in Korean, yes, I can tell you that I would have taken a red pen to a whole paragraph full of one ....고 있다 type of sentence ending (종결어미) after another and maybe changed it to a '-ㄴ다' or two. That being said, the occasional appearance of that sentence ending would not have warranted attention. Why? It is not incorrect, sometimes it feels just as natural (perhaps even more in academic writing), and furthermore - and this point is critical - BECAUSE NATIVE SPEAKERS OF THE LANGUAGE USE IT ALL THE TIME, even when it is, as you seem to say, unnecessary because the '-고 있다' at the end of 바람이 몹시... is "obviously a continuing action."

    Korean, like English and every other language, has lots of things that seem so utterly obvious that to speakers of other language, especially speakers of other languages who are looking at Korean not as Korean but through their own languages, that seem entirely unnecessary. English, for example, usually includes a subject in each sentence, whereas for Koreans that seems unnecessary. Korean, on the other hand, does not use anywhere as many pronouns as English does, and often repeats the noun in being discussed over and over again. Sometimes you're going to be right with that approach, but I'd hesitate to say something is wrong or even slightly problematic because it is repetitative or obvious or the like. Koreas say "지금 몇십니까" all the time, and they're not wrong to do so, but to ask in English "What time is it now?" would be silly.

    I think that .... 분다 is generally going to make a smoother sentence than ... 불고 있다. But any suggestion that ...불고 있다 is wrong or somehow incorrect would be utter nonsense.

    You say "one might expect Sentence 2 to be the correct translation, but, in Korean, the present tense can often be used to refer to present continuous, too."

    Problem is, "can often be used to refer to present continuous, too" does not make Sentence 2 wrong. It, too, can be the "correct translation."

    I don't see you actually say that '-고 있다' is wrong in the above cases. I imagine you'll admit that the sentence endings in 바람이 몹시 불고 있다, 지금 자고 있다, and ..울고 있다 are all very common in Korean. If you do, then that just begs the question: are native speakers wrong to use that sentence endings, or at lesat wrong to use them with those verbs, or if they are not wrong to do so, then in what cases would it be correct or at least acceptable to use them with or w/o those verbs?

  2. Oranckay,

    Haven't you heard of the expression, "Nothing ventured; nothing gained?" Besides, what is so "dangerous" about discussing Korean semantics? Isn't the worst case scenario a simple case of foot-in-the-mouth?

    The reason I started my post with a question was to get people thinking, especially native English speakers. My point was not to say that one is right and one is wrong, but to say that both are used. You may disagree, but I think knowing that would be helpful to someone studying the Korean language, especially Americans who may not know that the Korean present tense can also be used to refer to ongoing action.

    If the ...고 있다 pattern is not wrong, why did you mark it as wrong when grading papers? Just because you felt it was overused? Or was it because the ...ㄴ다 ending made the writing seem tighter and more polished for some reason? As you know, Oranckay, good writing is more than just writing correct sentences. It also involves pruning "unnecessary" words and being particular about words and expressions; at least, that is what my Freshman English Composition professor taught me. And I know it also applies to Korean composition.

    The Korean language is changing, as all languages do, but many of the changes in the Korean language are being disproportionately influenced by the English language. For example, many Koreans seem to know English grammar better than they know Korean grammar and are substituting English-style structures for Korean. In fact, the problem is serious enough that Korean scholars are writing books complaining about it. I have not read anything that talks about the ending ...고 있다, but I wonder if Koreans living in the 1960s used it as often as Koreans do in 2005?