Showing posts with label basic korean. Show all posts
Showing posts with label basic korean. Show all posts

Friday, May 5, 2017

Basic Korean #3: What is the Korean equivalent of an English vowel?

In the previous post, I mentioned that every Korean letter comes with at least one consonant and one vowel. If you think about it, this premise is a little bit terrifying. Does this mean that the Koreans don't know how to pronounce standalone vowels such as "O (as in O Canada)," or the word "a"?

It turns out that the Koreans language resolves this issue in a pretty ingenious way. The Koreans devised a consonant that is equivalent to zero. The consonant even looks like a zero, and it is the consonant "ㅇ," called "ee-ung." In the deconstruction of the Korean letters, there are three places that a consonant can go into; the places 1, 4, and 5. Of these places, "ㅇ" can go into place 1 to signify the empty consonant, or place 4 (and once it occupies place 4, nothing can be in place 5). This is actually the eighth letter of the Korean consonant alphabet. We're skipping over a few, but why not?

The rules to keep in mind:
  • If it's in place 1, just skip over this symbol, and sound out the vowel.
  • If it is in place 4, the equivalent English sound is the "-ng."
 Some examples, using ㄱ, ㅏ, and ㅇ:
  • 아: The character ㅇ appears in position 1, signifying that we just skip over it. ㅏ sounds like "ah", so this letter sounds like "ah." While it is not a word with a huge meaning, try saying it as a short syllable: "아!" This is the Korean version of "Oh!" used exactly in the same settings.
  • 아가: The composition of two letters that we already know how to pronounce, it's read "ah-gah." It means "baby" in Korean. Weirdly enough, a lot of old people use it for another usage; you can use this word to call your daughter-in-law, especially if she's newly married to your son. This will instantly paint you in the image of a gentle and loving mother/father-in-law.
  • 강: Since ㅇ appears in position 4 (and since position 5 is empty, we stretch it out all the way so that everything looks nice), we know that it sounds like "g-ah-ng." In Korean, this word means "river." It's also a common Korean last name, but most of these people stylize their last name as "Kang," because "Gang" is just weird. In any case, "Gahng" is the right pronunciation. It can also be a part of an adverb meaning "strong."
  • 악: Applying our usual rules and reading it in the order ㅇ-ㅏ-ㄱ, it sounds like "ah-g." It's a fun word with many usages. When Koreans scream, they describe the scream with this word: "악!" This word also means "evil." The third meaning, which has no equivalent in English, is really interesting, though. 악 also means the motivation to do something, fueled by negative emotions. If your ex dumped you, you could hit the gym full of 악 (Koreans say that you're supported by 악.) If you failed an exam, you can study for the next exam fueled by 악. But when someone compliments you on your piano performance, you don't prepare for your next concert because of 악. It's an interesting distinction that does not exist in the English language!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Basic Korean #2: One consonant, one vowel

We're going to take it easy, and learn Korean very slowly. This is because the alphabet system is completely different from the English alphabet (in comparison, when I started learning French, I don't think I spent any time in learning their alphabet. To this day, although I'm semi-fluent in French, I still have to think a little bit before sounding out the names of the alphabet!)

There are two unique features of the Korean language.

First of all, in order to form a Korean letter, you always need at least one consonant and one vowel. If you remember your previous lesson on the deconstruction of the Korean letters, you see that every Korean letter indeed includes a consonant and a vowel; furthermore, the position 1 can never ever be empty, and one of positions 2 or 3 must be occupied!

Secondly, while the English language has the ABC song and one long line of alphabets where the consonants and vowels are mixed together, Korean has two separate alphabet systems. One is solely for the consonants, and another is solely for the vowels. Korean has 14 consonants and 10 basic vowels, but the consonants can compound to make new consonants, and the vowels can compound to make more vowels. Then these consonants and vowels glue together to make letters, so learning it all in a day would be hard. Just to get a feel for the language though, let's just learn one consonant and one vowel, and see what we can do with them!

The first letter of the Korean consonant alphabet is the symbol ㄱ, pronounced "gee-yuk" with a hard G. It corresponds to the letter G in English. The first letter of the Korean vowel alphabet is the symbol ㅏ. It would replace various vowels in the English language. For example, it would replace the "a" in "tart"; it would also replace the "o" in "hot"; it would not replace the "a" in "bath" unless you're British, Aussie, etc.; it would never replace the "a" in "water" regardless of your nationality. I generally think of it as the sound "ah," but not super drawn out. I think the best approximation of this vowel is in "tart."

Using just the one vowel and one consonant, we can actually make out a few Korean words already.

: Since ㄱ sounds like G and ㅏ sounds like "ah," this letter, which has alphabets in positions 1 and 2, would sound like "Gah."

It has several meanings, but try saying it authoratively: "가!" This, in Korean, means: "Go!"

Due to some Chinese influence, this word can also mean "street." For example, "3rd Street" would be written as "3가" in Korean, but nowadays only the older people, like 50s and up, would use it.

It could also mean "house," in the sense of "the house of Stark." You would write it as "Stark 가," but you only see this usage in fantasy novels or historical novels about the Western culture nowadays.

가가:  Not a real Korean word, but if you wanted to write "Lady Gaga" in Korean, you'd write "Lady 가가." Thought I'd through it in there, just because.
각: Remembering that the deconstruction of the Korean letters also give you the order in which it's supposed to be read, this letter would sound out as "G-ah-g." In formal Korean usage, this word means "angle." It can mean geometric angles, and it can also mean photo angles. There's actually another slang usage of this word, but it's fairly advanced; just file it away for now, and come back to it later!

For example, as you're working out in the gym, your trainer might say, "pay attention to the 각 of your elbows." You might also compliment your friend on her wonderful photo, saying that "the 각 of your photo is very artistic."

: This one is a curveball. The consonant "ㄱ" has compounded to form a new consonant "ㄲ." This new consonant still sounds like a "G," but it's harsher than the usual "G." Think about the difference between the usual sound of "Z" and the sound that you make in "pizza." Koreans stylize this by using "Gg." So this would sound like "Ggah" with a very strong accent placed in the first two G's.

While the word itself has no meaning, it is used as a conjugation to a verb, when you're making a gentle suggestion (so you want to pronounce it like a question "까?"), and also when you're making a very polite inquiry to your superiors. Conjugation in Korean is a pretty complicated topic, so I won't belabor the point here.

까까: Well, if you know how to pronounce "까" already, then you know how to pronounce this word too. Just pronounce it twice since it's two letters, so it sounds like "ggah ggah." This is not a real word, although Koreans young and old would use this word to a baby. In baby-talk, 까까 means cookies or snacks. If you wanted to offer a piece of your cookie to a toddler, you might say, "Do you want some 까까?"

깍깍: It's getting more complicated! But it's not hard to read; it sounds like "ggag ggag," and it's a Korean onomatopeia for the sound of crows. Crows are thought to be unlucky (in Korea, they are said to be able to feel impending death, and if a crow wouldn't leave a house, that mean that they were waiting for someone in the house to die. So if the Koreans hear a crow near their home, it's not unusual for them to go out and shoo them away), and if you ever see the words "깍깍" in a novel, you can be sure that the author has set an eerie mood, and something bad is about to happen.

Those are some weird first words to learn; not the usual "My name is..." or "mother" or "father," but hey, these are pretty simple and they require minimal knowledge, so why not? :)

Basic Korean #1: Deconstructing Korean letters

Korean letters are confusing! While we have alphabets, there must be thousands of independent characters. So it must look intimidating at first glance. If I were to start learning Korean as an adult, this is how I would want to start.

I would first want to know that the Korean letters can, and should be deconstructed. Here is one of the most complicated words that you might encounter (it's not a real word; it's just constructed that all the "parts" are visible.)

So, there are at most five parts that will appear in any given Korean language. It takes nothing more than the knowledge of the Korean alphabet to be able to recognize each part, but you should already see that these groupings exist. Some things to remember:
  • The parts are labelled in the order of pronunciation. So, the most important part of any letter would be the part labelled 1, then 2 and 3, then 4 and 5.
  • The parts 1, 4, and 5 are always occupied by consonants; the parts 2 and 3 are always occupied by vowels.
  • It is very rare that all five parts are present. For the rest of this post, I give you some (mostly meaningless) Korean letters, so that you can practice deconstructing them. Notice that they do get increasingly complicated, and in some cases, since you don't know the Korean alphabet yet, the deconstruction is going to be complicated. But try your best, and try to recognize the recurring components, because those are the Korean alphabet at work!
Letters that use just the 1-2 positions:

두, 조, 교, 소, 뉴, 므

Letters that use just the 1-3 positions:

아, 먀, 서, 쳐, 기, 얘

Letters that use 1-2-3 positions:

뭐, 의, 과, 취, 왜, 뉘

Letters that use 1-2-4 positions:

불, 물, 못, 홋, 윷, 돛

Letters that use 1-3-4 positions:

막, 철, 옛, 벗, 낯, 삿

Letters that use 1-2-3-4 positions:

왈, 확, 뫗, 월, 긜, 읭

Letters that use 1-3-4-5 positions:

없, 닭, 칡, 덨, 릮, 넒

Letters that use 1-2-4-5 positions:

굷, 춞, 얾, 첛, 핅, 낡

Letters that use 1-2-3-4-5 positions:

놝, 뷁, 뭓, 붦, 칆, 틺