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Is English in Korea Only for Koreans?
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2009/08/09
5:23pm
San Diego, California
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Is English in Korea Only for Koreans? «Poor English is enforced, and legitimized, among Koreans when it is used by Koreans among themselves. Most of the time, the users of poor English do not even recognize they are using poor English because no one among them recognizes it or, for fear of ostracism, points that out.»

2009/08/10
5:54am
Glenn
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This article seems to take a rather uncharitable position on the process of assimilating vocabulary. It is ironic that the outrage is over the assimilated English words, when English is so wildly full of assimilated words pronounced in ways unrecognizable to speakers of the source language – think “kow tow”, “chaise lounge”, “cherry,” “skosh” (i just learned this was from Japanese), and countless others. These words are in English for English speakers only and not for the benefit of speakers of the source languages.

More recently, the phrase “mo-gi-ji-ron” was so commonly understood as a Korean word that when it was pointed out that the phrase meant “mortgage loan,” even seasoned Korean teachers of English were quite surprised it was not a Korean word.

Please! Does this author think he is the sun around which all revolves? Try some reality therapy, buddy.

2009/08/17
9:26am
AnMa
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The linked essay is an illustration of the danger of a little knowledge.

2009/08/21
3:35pm
Glenn
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A second opinion — this one more informed — has been published. Bravo.

A Second Opinion

2009/10/21
3:29pm
Word Nerd
Wisconsin
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This article seems to take a rather uncharitable position on the process of assimilating vocabulary. It is ironic that the outrage is over the assimilated English words, when English is so wildly full of assimilated words pronounced in ways unrecognizable to speakers of the source language – think “kow tow”, “chaise lounge”, “cherry,” “skosh” (i just learned this was from Japanese), and countless others. These words are in English for English speakers only and not for the benefit of speakers of the source languages.

I've seen this post with this list of words in three different places now (each of the linked articles, and here). Just out of curiosity, please enlighten me as to the original pronunciation of these words.

2009/10/21
6:48pm
lux rationis
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For many years I taught English to speakers of other languages. Some students, notably those from Korea and Japan, seemed to be very conscious and worried about the accuracy of their pronunciation even as novices. The pedagogical philosophy in this country is that decoding skills generally precede encoding skills, and prowess in both develops in a mutually reinforcing way. Under this view, it isn't reasonable to expect speakers with a low level of pragmatic competence in overall L2 communication to have great pronunciation. If I understand Huer's main objection -- that vocabulary borrowed from English is butchered by people who are not bidirectionally proficient in that language -- I can only respond, what would you expect?

2009/10/21
9:01pm
Glenn
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enlighten me as to the original pronunciation

The Chinese for Kowtow is more like "kuh toe" (ke1 tou2); Chaise lounge is a corruption of the French Chaise longue a bit like "shez long"; Cherry is a backformed false singular from an older form of the French Cerise, a bit like "sir ease"; and Skosh is from the Japanese Sukoshi which sounds remarkably like Skosh but is still reliably unrecognizable to native Japanese speakers.
But these are only a handful of hundreds of borrowed words in English that would be unrecognizable to speakers of the source languages. Depending on how far back you are willing to go, it could be thousands, if you include the words we took from French during the era of the Norman Conquest.
See also recent AWWW discussions of Gyros (and consider other food words) and the recent envelope

2009/10/23
8:15am
Word Nerd
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Thanks Glenn :)

2009/10/24
7:06pm
heteromeles
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As my Korean-American fiancee has been teaching me, we Americans don't even pronounce "Seoul" properly. Hangul doesn't make the distinction between L and R, and "Seoul" is actually pronounced closer to "sour" than "soul," and getting my tongue halfway between l and r is tricky for good ol' monolingual me. Complaining about how the Koreans pronounce pizza is pretty humorous in this regard.

While I think it's fun that Americans are standing up for the purity of English, I do hope we don't go the way of the French. The more interesting question is how English (or the family of English languages) is going to evolve as most speakers of English become people for whom it is a second or third language.

2009/10/26
11:24am
Word Nerd
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Isn't this what pidgin or creole is, the combining of two languages?

2009/10/27
11:31am
heteromeles
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Hi Word Nerd,

re: creolization: yes and no. This is more a discussion of "Panglish" and "International English", about how English evolves as the majority of its speakers start using it as a lingua franca, rather than a mother tongue. It's a continuation of the evolution of English, from the standardization into a few forms of the last century, into further standardization (and probably diversification) as more people use it. Gibson's quote: "The street finds its own uses for things" is certainly true here. It's unclear whether the next big thing will be some form of standard international english promulgated by a successful ESL network, or more laissez-faire ad hoc changes as people who need to talk with each other find ways to do it. The web makes this even more interesting, as translation tools proliferate. "Google English" might become the international standard by default, scary though that seems.

2009/10/27
12:47pm
lux rationis
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heteromeles said:The more interesting question is how English (or the family of English languages) is going to evolve as most speakers of English become people for whom it is a second or third language.


This has already happened. It is a major bombshell that really hasn't hit home for the majority of grammarians and usage mavens. The importance of this phenomenon can't be overstated, so let's be bold in announcing it:

The overwhleming majority of English users are non-native speakers.

English is undoubtedly the only living language where this is true. Those of us who work in TESOL/ESL circles talk about this quite a bit. For a long time there was no real way to measure this, but the use of computer models designed for census work to project how many people in various countries have pragmatic communication skills in English has recently provided a plausible estimate. Using sampling techniques that measure the number of English speakers who rank Intermediate-Mid or higher on the ACTFL-ETS scale, it appears that about 1.2 billion people worldwide have significant proficiency in the use of English. The two countries of China and India alone will likely have over a billion English speakers by 2020. Using the commonly cited figure of 375 million as the population of native speakers, this leaves us with the shocking news that barely 30% of English speakers are native speakers. Including bilinguals who have native-like proficiency in English, but claim some other language as their first language moves that figure up by less than 1%. When one considers that this figure only reckons in those who already have pragmatic competence in English and a far higher percentage aspire to learn it but are still at the novice level, the former preeminence of the native speaker is brought into humbling perspective.

Descriptive linguists are fond of pointing out that English is not as highly codified as most other world languages. Accepted practices, they argue, are regulated by a "democracy of speech communities" and that "the rules" are established by usage, not codes. It is important to understand that second-language users of English see this as an elitist view. The implication is that a full grasp of correct English will forever be an exclusive birthright of those whom the roulette wheel of geography has favored with inclusion in the favored caste of English language natalism. Those of us in education, of course, take a more prescriptive view. We simply HAVE TO find ways to codify the pronunciation, grammar and usage of English in a way that makes it accessible to the 70% of users who lack the native speaker's ear. If we don't, then Panglish will replace standard English the same way that Italian replaced classical Latin. Where is L.L. Zamenhof when we need him?

2009/10/27
3:42pm
Portland, OR
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This was an issue recently when I corrected a professional Baduk player who used "stuffs" as a plural in an article.

I was surprised when she cited examples from her dictionary showing a plural "stuffs" as proper usage.

2009/10/28
4:17pm
heteromeles
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@Lux rationis,

I was with you right up until you argued that rules being established by usage, not codes, favored the native speakers of english over those for whom it's a lingua franca, and that this makes the case for a formal, rules-making system. I'm not sure I buy that. I have heard anecdotes of ESL speakers communicating just fine with each other, but not with a monolingual english speaker, for whom the ad-hoc nature of the ESL communication was a hindrance for his highly-trained ears.

The question is, who makes the rules? A democratic process would say that the ESL speakers would, and English might splinter, turn into panglish, or whatever. If the natalist experts are the de-facto rule makers, we may get a situation where there is a rules-based English language that joins French, German, and Latin on the pages of former lingua francas. The third possibility is that the translation software geeks might create a universal english by default, simply through their choices for translation software. After all, I'm typing this on a QWERTY keyboard, and the only reason I'm doing that is because of decisions an engineer made over a century ago that are totally irrelevant to this machine.

Not that I'm disparaging your efforts to codify english to make it easier to teach! I'm just not sure I agree with your arguments for doing so. Please keep up the good work!

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