Saturday, July 11, 2015

What does 不必疊床 mean?

When I was translating the 1882 Korean document in the post below this one, I came across the following expression:
不必疊床 (불필첩상)
There is no need (不必) to stack (疊) floors (床).
床 can mean either "floor" (마루) or "wooden bed" (평상), but here I think it means "floor." I could not find this expression in any dictionary, so in such cases I usually go to the Korean Web site "Annals of the Joseon Dynasty" (조선왕조실록) and search there. During my search I found a record that said "There is no need to stack roofs, and there is no need to stack floors." That was when I realized that "no need to stack floors (不必疊床)" meant "There is no need to repeat something you have already built or done."

In the case of the diary entry in the post below this one, they had already inspected a place on Ulleungdo called "Big Hwangto Cove" (大黄土邱尾 - 대황토구미), so it would have been a waste of time and resources to do it again. That was why the expression "no need to stack floors (不必疊床)" was used.

By the way, 구미 is a pure Korean word that means "cove" or "inlet," but since pure Korean words are not based on Chinese characters, the inspector who wrote the report had to choose two Chinese characters to represent the sound of the pure Korean word for "cove." He choose the Chinese characters 邱尾 (구미) not for their meaning, but for their sound. Afterall, 邱尾 means "hill tail" (언덕 꼬리), which does not have anything to do with "a cove."

I have also seen the sound for the pure Korean word for "cove" represented by the characters 龜尾 (구미), which mean "turtle tail." The Chinese characters for the City of Gumi (구미시) in North Gyeongsang Province, for example, mean "Turtle Tail City" (龜尾市), but who in their right mind would name their city "Turtle Tail"? Therefore, I think the meaning of Gumi City (구미시) is not really "Turtle Tail City," but rather "Cove City." That means it probably started at the cove of a river, and THIS Korean Wikipedia article on the City of Gumi seems to confirm that.

Have you ever heard of "a rock that floats upright" (一石浮立)?

In 1882 on the 30th day of the 4th lunar month, Ulleungdo Inspector Lee Gyu-won (李奎遠) arrives on the Korean island of Ulleungdo and stays until the 11th of the 5th lunar month inspecting and surveying the island. On the 9th day, Inspector Lee and his crew board their ship at Little Hwanto Cove (小黃土邱尾) and begin to circle Ulleungdo in a clockwise direction with the intent of going to the east side of the island. Inspector Lee describes the trip in the diary entry below.

There are a few inconsistencies between the diary entry and Inspector Lee's map. The first is that Inspector Lee wrote that they reached Hyangmok Cove (香木邱尾) before reaching Big Hwangto Cove (大黄土邱尾), but going in the direction they were going, they should have reached Big Hwangto Cove before reaching Hyangmok Cove, according to Inspector Lee's map. Another inconsistency is that the diary entry mentions "Jukam" (竹岩), but the map does not show it.

There are also a couple of confusing things about the diary entry. One is that it says there are two islands and gives two names, "Dohang” (島項) and “Jukdo" (竹島也), but it gives only one set of measurements, without specifying if the measurements are for just one island or both.

Another confusing thing is the location of Wadal Ungdong Cove (臥達雄通邱尾). First, the map does not show a beach for the cove, so we cannot be sure if it was on the shore of the main island. Second, the map shows the cove between "Seokganju Cave" (石間朱穴) and "Ship Plank Cove” (船板邱尾), both of which the diary describes as being north of "Dohang" (島項) and "Jukdo" (竹島), but modern-day Wadal Village (臥達里) is south of Gwaneumdo (觀音島), the neighboring island Inspector Lee seemed to label as "Dohang" on his map. Third, the report also describes Wadal Ungdong Cove as being a harbor inside one or both of the two neighboring islands (其内浦). Finally, the report describes it as a place you go into with stone walls on the left and right. It also says that when the current goes in and out of the cove, it makes sounds like the musical tempo of drums and gongs. That seems to be describing reverberations inside some kind of enclosed space, possibly a cave.

I also have one opinion on the description in the diary of the "rock that floats upright" (一石浮立) and "looks like a Bodhisattva" (形如弥勒佛). I think it was describing a rock in the water whose base had been eroded by the sea water, leaving a kind of mushroom-head shaped rock that is especially noticeable at low tide. Such a rock might look as if it were floating on the water. As for it looking like a Bodhisattva, Inspector Lee seemed to have been thinking of a painting or statue of a Bodhisattva levitating, meaning he was floating in the air slightly off the ground.

I will stop with my comments here and let people judge for themselves. Here is Inspector Lee's diary entry for the 9th day of the 5th Lunar Month in 1882

The following is Inspector Lee's diary entry of the trip made that day.
The 9th (初九日)

On the 9th (甲午) there is a red sunrise (朝霞), but the day is clear (午晴). We hold our morning religious service (晨朝) and pray to the Mountain God (山祭祈祷). Sea cloud cover is thin (海雲薄掩). The mountain mist (山嵐) is damp (漏濕). After breakfast (朝飯後), we board the ship (乗船) and depart (離發). We row (以櫓力) out past (越) the first shallow (一湫) breakers (水宗). Then we head east (次向東) and go about 10 ri (而行十餘里) to reach (至) Hyangmok Cove (香木邱尾), but, even though it is called a harbor (則名雖謂浦), the wind and waves (風波) pound us (衝突). As for the shape of the rocks facing the sea (臨海岩形) many are strange (多有奇恠). Most of the red sandalwood trees are among them (其中紫丹香木最多).

Northwest Corner of Inspector Lee's 1882 Map of Ulleungdo

We still row (仍以櫓力) gradually forward (次次前進) and reach a harbor (至一浦). The harbor (此浦) is Big Hwangto Cove, the very harbor at which we spent the night the day before we went into the mountains (卽前日山行時一宿大黄土邱尾也). Since there is no need to cover old ground (今不必疊床), we immediately launch the ship (而卽爲放船) and go quite a few ri (行幾許里) to reach (到) Daepung Harbor (待風浦). The shape of the harbor (浦形) and that of (亦與) Hyangmok Harbor (香木浦) are roughly the same (略同矣). The name “Daepung” (待風之稱) comes from (由於) using it to wait for fair winds (以待順風), but as a nickname (而稱名), this is actually an inappropriate name (此實不符之名也). The strangeness of the rocks on the shoreline (浦邊岩石之奇), the luxuriantly dense growth of valuable wood (珍恠之材鬱密), the difficult, mountainous paths (崎路之難行)--though I write, I cannot record it all (書不可盡記). Therefore, we launch the ship (仍爲放船) and row (以櫓力) down past (進下経) Hyeonjakji (玄斫支) to reach (到) the Japanese Ship Landing (倭船艙). These ports are the same ones we already passed by and had lunch at the day we entered Nari-dong (則此等浦 卽前日入于羅里洞時 所経中火之處也), so, of course, it would be wrong to again record them (亦不可更録矣). Therefore, we launch the ship and gradually move on (仍爲放船漸下).
Next to there is a peak (其傍有一峯). Its height is several thousand jang (高爲数千丈). It is shaped like the edge of garlic (形如蒜稜), so it is called “Garlic Peak” (名日蒜峯). A few ri farther (其下幾里許) there is “Big Rock.” (有大岩). Its height is several thousand jang (高爲数千丈), and it is so towering it is an amazing sight. (而屹立亦一奇観也). On the foothills behind it (其後山麓) there is a big stream (有大川). In the interior (其内), several ranges of peaks overlap (峯巒数疊) to form a screen (爲屏), and beneath them (而其下) there again is a waterfall (又有瀑布一線), streaming layer after layer down to the sea (層層落海者), which, of course, is a grand sight (亦一壯観也). The shape of the mountain below that (其下山形) is a tall wall of layered rock (石壁層峻). In the water offshore is Jukam (其洋中有竹岩). The name alone implies (名色只) it is overgrown with bamboo (有竹叢生). Its height is several hundred jang (高爲数百丈), and its base is steep and bare (而山麓嵂屼).
North Shore of Inspector Lee's 1882 Map of Ulleungdo

Also there is a large, unnamed rock (又有無名大岩). Its height is dozens of jang (高爲数十丈). There is also a wide, flat, level rock (又有廣平盤石) that can hold dozens of people (可容数十人). Below that, at the foot of the mountain (其下山足), there are two standing rocks aligned east and west (有東西雙立岩石). As for the eastern rock (東岩則), it has one trunk (一根) and two heads (両頭). Its height is several hundred jang (高爲数百丈). As for the western rock (西岩則), it appears threatening (形容険悪). Its height is close to 1,000 jang (高爲近千丈). They appear like two brothers standing together (形如兄弟雙立). Next to them is also a lofty rock standing straight up (其傍又矗石直立) several hundred jang (数百丈). It is called (名曰) Choktae Rock (燭台岩也). Beside that is another rock floating upright (其傍又有一石浮立). It looks like a Bodhisattva (形如弥勒佛), and at the shore is a rock cave (而其海邊有石穴) that is reddish purple (色紫) with lightly dripping sea water (海水細滴). It is called "Seokganju Cave" (名石間朱穴), but it is not red orcher (而不是爲石朱也). Beyond that is a small harbor called (其下有一小浦名曰) “Ship Plank Cove” (船板邱尾), where there are traces of temporary shelters (而有結幕痕). Behind that is (其後有) a long valley with traces of trees being dragged (長谷曳木之痕矣).
In the sea on the south side are two small islands (南便洋中有二小島). They look like cows lying down (形如臥牛), but one is turned to the right (而一爲右旋) and one is turned to the left (一爲左旋). Each, on one side (各其一便則), has groves of young bamboo (稚竹有叢), and, on the other side (一便則), weeds worthlessly grow (卉雑腐生). The height is several hundred jang (高爲数百丈). The width is several * of land (廣爲数●之地). The length is five- or six-hundred paces (長爲五六百歩). People call it (人云) “Dohang” (島項) and they also call it (亦云) “Jukdo (竹島也). The circumference is about 10 ri (周可十里許). It is too dangerous to climb (危険不可攀登). 
Inside is a harbor named (其内浦名) “Wadal Ungtong Cove” (臥達雄通邱尾), but the current is very strong (而水勢太強), so a ship would have difficulty entering (船路難進). Even on a day with no wind or waves (雖無風無波之日), the rocking of the ship (船之搖動) is like that of a lightly drifting gourd dipper (如瓢子輕漂之像). It is a place one must be extremely careful (極其操心處也). Therefore, I carefully look left and right at the stone walls (仍察左右石壁), which are layers of large and small rocks (大小層巌). They look strange and dangerous (則形容危険奇恠). The tempo of the tide going in and out (潮汐進退緩急) is sometimes like the sound of a beating drum, and sometimes like the sound of a ringing gong (箇中自有鼓鼓然錚錚然).  It is the tempo of music (音楽之節奏矣).

Northeast Corner of Inspector Lee's 1882 Map of Ulleungdo

We board the ship and go down (乗船而下). The cliffs wind like those of Hangju’s Mount Seok-jong (宛如杭州石鐘山絶壁也). The shores of the harbors to which we sailed today (此日周回之各浦沿邊) had nine caves where fur seals and sea lions bear and raise their young (有九窟海狗水牛之産育處). The coastal people who come to the island to build ships (而入島造船之海民) use nets and guns to capture them to eat their meat (以網以銃捕捉食肉矣).
The sun is already setting (日已当暮), so we want to stop and sleep (仍欲止宿), but there is no place we can stop (則無處可留). Moreover, we want to gradually continue forward (更欲漸進), but the sea route is unknown (則水路未詳), so unavoidably we turn around (故不得還) and head to Jukam (向竹巌), where we disembark (而下陸), set up camp (結幕), and spend the night (留宿).

Friday, July 10, 2015

What does 極其操心處也 mean?

I was translating an 1882 Korean document and came across the following Chinese:
極其操心處也 (극기조심처야)
At first I was confused by the character 其 (기), but then realized the guy seemed to be writing the Chinese for the Korean expression 극히 조심할 처다, which means "A place one must be extremely careful." It seems the  (기) was used to represent the Korean particle 히, which makes Korean adjectives into adverbs.

This may have been a common way of writing at the time, but this is the first time I have noticed it.

UPDATE 1: I just remembered that 其 can mean "should," so if that is the meaning here, then the Korean would be 극히 조심해야 할 처다, which translates into English as "a place one should be extremely careful." The problem for me is that I would expect 其 (기) to come before the adverb, not after it, but a "should" in the sentence makes sense. I need to try to find some information on the order of modals and adverbs in a Chinese sentence.

UPDATE 2: I think the character used for the "히" sound is 屎. See LIST.

The character 其 is too common, already has grammar functions, and it is not pronounced "히." I should have known better. Well, at least I learned one thing: 極 (extremely) apparently comes before 其 (should), not after it.

UPDATE 3: Yes, it appears 極 (extremely) does come before 其 (should) in a Chinese sentence. Doing a Google search I found 极其操心的人, which I guess translates as either "a person who should be extremely careful" or "a person one should be extremely wary of." I am not sure which it is. Anyway, when I think of the Korean translation, it makes sense that 極 comes before 其 since 극히 (極) comes before 해야 할 (其) in Korean. That is how I will remember this.

The moral of the story is think before you post, and when you translate Chinese, keep both Korean and English sentence structures in mind, but don't go overboard.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Is the past perfect tense alien to Korean?


According to Lee Su-yeol (이수열), a native Korean who taught in Korean primary and secondary schools for forty-seven years, the past perfect tense (대과거) is not native to the Korean language; it was created to imitate the past perfect tense in English. Instead, Korean uses adverbs with the past tense to convey the meaning of past perfect. Therefore, the invented Korean versions of past perfect, such as -ㅆ던, -았(었)던, - 였던, -ㅆ었다, -았(었)었다, and -였었다, are all unnecessary.

I am going to use examples from a page on the "Korean Language Nerd" Web site, which promotes the Korean past perfect tense, to show that past perfect tense is not needed in Korean.

Korean Language Nerd wrote the following:
작년 한국에 왔어요 (past tense)
오다 (here as 왔어요) to come, implies to come to the place you are currently at, therefore the speaker came last year, probably stayed the whole time and is (still) in Korea. This translates to:
Last year (I) came to Korea.

작년 한국에 왔었어요 (past perfect tense)
Here 오다 (as past prefect tense 왔었어요) is a completed action, but since 오다 is used to express “to come here” the speaker must be at the moment in Korea, therefore it is implied the speaker came last year to Korea and left Korea again. This best translates to:
Last year (I) have visited Korea.
The Korean Language Nerd claims that 왔었어요 means that the speaker came to Korea, but is no longer in Korea. However, the way Koreans would normally express that meaning is "왔다 갔어요" or "갔다 왔어요," which is the way Korean was meant to be spoken and is much more easily understood.

Korean Language Nerd wrote the following:
추웠다. (past tense) It was cold and might be still.
추웠었다. (past perfect tense) It was cold but it isn’t any more. 
 This is silly. Do some Koreans really say 추웠었다? I cannot remember hearing it. You simply say 아침 추웠다; 어제 추웠다; 지난 겨울은 추웠다.

Korean Language Nerd wrote the following:
한국어를 공부 했다. (past tense) He studied Korean, and might be still studying.
한국어를 공부했었다. (past perfect tense) He studied Korean but he isn’t any more.
Why not 한국어를 공부한 적 있다 or 전에 한국어를 공부했다?

See! Why make Korean more difficult than it already is?

Finally, in my Dong-A 국어사전, the word "대과거," which is the Korean word for "past perfect," is defined as follows:
"(인도 유럽어 등에서) 과거에 있어서의 완료 (完了) 또는 계속을 나타내는 시제 (時制)"
The definition says "in Indo-European languages" (인도 유럽어 등에서); it does not say anything about the Korean language.

If you still do not believe me, read this 2003 중앙일보 article:

우리말 바루기 181 - 영어식 표현의 남용

Sunday, February 15, 2015

What does 人人親其親, 長其長, 而天下平 mean?

Literary Chinese has a basic sentence structure of Subject-Verb or Subject-Verb-Object, so a character's position in a sentence usually determines rather it is the subject, verb, or object of that sentence. The following sentence is a clever example of how it works.


()()()()(), ()()(), ()()()().
  • 人人 -- everyone
  • 親 -- parents; to love
  • 其 -- his, her, its, their
  • 長 -- elders; to respect elders
  • 而 -- then
  • 天下 -- the world
  • 平 -- level; peaceful

[If] everyone (人人) loved (親) his (其) parents (親) [and] respected (長) his (其) elders (長), then (而) the world (天下) would be peaceful (平).


The average Chinese character has multiple meanings, and many can function as a noun, verb, adjective, or adverb depending on its position in a sentence, even though it is the same character. In the above sentence 人 means "person," but two together means "everyone." When 親 is used as a noun, it means "parents," but when it is used as a verb, it means "to love." When 長 is used as a noun, it means "elder," but when used as a verb, it means "to respect elders." When you see 而 (then), you can usually assume it is an "if...then" sentence and, therefore, add the "if" to the front of the sentence when you translate it, if it is not already there. 天下 literally translates as "heaven's (天) under (下), but means "the world [under Heaven]."

Monday, February 09, 2015

How do you translate 其不善者 into English?

Here is a passage from the book I am writing on Literary Chinese. It is from a later chapter, so I consider it somewhat advanced.


(1) ()()()(), ()()()()(), ()(). (2) ()(), ()()(). (3) ()()()()(), ()(). (4) ()(), ()()(), (5) ()()()()()()()()(), ()()()()()().


(1) A certain () person () asked (), saying (), “[If] the villagers (鄕人) all () love () him (), what about that (何如)?” (2) The Master () replied (), “That is not enough (未可也).” (3) “[If] the villagers (鄕人) all () hate () him (), what about that (何如)?” (4) The Master () replied (), “That is not enough (未可也). (5) [It is] not as good as (不如) those of the villagers who are virtuous (鄕人之善者) loving () him (), [and] those of them who are not virtuous (其不善者) hating () him ().”


This passage is saying that it is better to be loved by those who are virtuous and hated by those who are not virtuous rather than to be loved by everyone. The reason, I assume, is that if those who are not virtuous love you, it may be because they think you are similar to them in some way.

某人 means “a certain () person ()” or “someone” and is used when you do not know a person’s name or when you don’t need to mention the person’s name. means “like,” and means “what,” so 如何 means “is like (如) what (何)."  Here, however, 如何 seems to be an abbreviation of 如之何, which literally translates as "if (如) this/that (之), what (何)" since 如 can also mean "if." And "if this/that, what" can be rewritten as "what about this/that?" 如何 can also be written as 何如, which is how it was written here. In Korean, 何如 would be translated simply as "[이러면] 어떻습니까?" (2) Here 未可也 literally means “[That is] not yet () right (可也)” or “not yet suitable.” (3) When is used to mean “evil” or “bad,” it is pronounced in Korean; but when it is used to mean “to dislike” or “to hate,” it is pronounced . (5) 不如 literally means “not () the same as (),” but implies “not as good as.”

鄕人之善者 is a phrase that uses a common pattern expressed as “Noun + + Verbal Phrase + 者,” which is used to specify a subgroup of a larger group. The noun before 之 is the larger group, and the "verbal phrase + 者" that comes after 之 is the smaller subgroup. This sentence can be explained in English, but it is easier to understand if explained in Korean. First, however, I will try to explain it from an English perspective.

善者 in the phrase can be translated as “virtuous () people ()” or “those who are virtuous.” 鄕人 means “the village () people ()” or “the villagers.” To understand in English the in the pattern, you must think of it as being an apostrophe or an apostrophe + s (‘s), which is used to show possession, so 鄕人之善者 would literally translate in English as “the villagers’ (鄕人之) virtuous () people (),” which sounds awkward enough that you would probably want to change it to something like “those [of the] villagers who are virtuous,” essentially translating as “of.” That means that 鄕人之 would translate as “of the villagers,” but the problem with that is that you would be translating out of sequence, meaning that you would have to move the meaning of to the front of the translated phrase. In other words, it does not flow smoothly.

Now here is the Korean perspective. If you translate
鄕人之善者 into Korean, it flows smoothly. In Korean, think of the as meaning “중에” in this situation, which would mean 鄕人之善者 would translate into Korean as “마을 () 사람 () 중에 () 착한 () 사람들 (), which doesn’t seem awkward at all and flows quite smoothly. Therefore, when you see the pattern “Noun + + Verbal Phrase + ,” it might be easier for you to understand the phrase if you first translate it into Korean, with  translated as 중에.

不善 means “[are] not virtuous,” so 不善者 can be translated as “those who are not virtuous” since essentially translates as “those who.” Notice here that instead of writing 鄕人之 in front of 不善者, the 鄕人之 phrase was replaced with its possessive pronoun to form 其不善者, so instead of “of the villagers" (鄕人之), we now have “of them.” That means 其不善者 translates as “those of them () who are not virtuous (不善者).” Remember that in this sentence translates as “those...who.”