Sunday, November 11, 2007

What are a "sea dog," "sea cat," & "sea mouse"?

海狗 (해구 - sea dog) = seal
海猫 (해묘 - sea cat) = black-tailed gull
海鼠 (해서 - sea mouse) = sea cucumber


  1. Sorry if this is a dumb question, but this site has been encouraging me to try to get to grips with Hanja use, so here goes...

    As far as I understand it, the Korean reading for 海 is 해, and for 狗 the reading is 구

    Now the Korean word I know for 'seal' is 물개

    So does that mean that if a Korean encounters the compound 海狗 then it is read as 물개? Or is it read as
    해구 but understood to mean 물개?

    I get the feeling I'm missing something pretty basic here, but basic stuff on Chinese characters specifically in Korean is hard to come by....

  2. You would read 海狗 as "해구," but you would not use any of these words in conversation because Koreans would most likely not understand them, especially 해묘 and 해서. They are mainly useful for reading old Korean documents. Of course, knowing these Chinese characters helps you understand the Korean culture and language better. For example, now you know what Koreans use "water dog" (물개) to refer to a seal.

    The average Korean does not seem very interested in Chinese characters, but learning Chinese characters gives you a great deal of insight into the culture and language. If you really want to understand Korean language and culture, you should learn Chinese characters. They are really quite interesting. I might start writing some posts to show you what I mean. I have a couple of good books.

    Take care.

  3. Many thanks indeed for explaining that so patiently, especially at that hour in your local time!

    I'm sure I'd not be the only one who would welcome more from you about Chinese characters specifically in Korean. I've already learned quite a bit about that matter from some of your earlier entries and the comments they attracted, and would love to know more. Whereas when I ask Koreans about Chinese characters, they look at me as if I were a one-fingered pianist asking a virtuoso for tips on playing Chopin. "You don't need to know" is the general message.

    The odd thing is that over 40 years ago now I was advised to drop Mandarin in college (and indeed steer clear of East Asian Languages) because I simply couldn't keep up with the character learning schedule, no matter how hard I worked at it (I have a strange inability to "see" visual patterns). But after a working life as a linguist specialising in European languages, I decided to teach myself Korean in retirement. Your blog is one of many helping me on my way. But what's really weird is that now, when I come across a Chinese character in a Korean newspaper headline or in some sort of technical text, I sometimes find that I understand it (though of course I generally don't know its Korean reading) because I learned it all those years ago, though at the time I couldn't remember it long enough for the next class quiz. The brain, especially those parts of it that handle language acquisition, is a strange and wonderful thing...

  4. A quick stroll through the dictionary also yields:

    -. 海蔘
    -. 海馬
    -. 海牛
    -. 海龍
    -. 海象
    -. 海鹿
    -. 海蛇
    -. 海鰻
    -. 海龜 (~귀)
    -. 海豚



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