The Beauty and Perils of Konglish, the Korean-English Hybrid

Ran Park is a graphic designer from Ulsan, a coastal city in South Korea. Not long ago, she visitedher home country after five years of studying in London and Los Angeles, and noticed something strange: the local language had changed. People had started using English words as if they were Korean, she says. Local fruit vendors sold , pronounced banana. Electronics stores had posted advertisementsfor , pronounced keomp-yut-eo, or computer. The words looked Korean, but they sounded distinctly English.

Parks observations inspired her latest art project, a zine filled with artfully smudged definitions of English words that have burrowed their way into the Korean language. She calls it Lost in Konglish, after the macaronic form of English sweeping through South Korea.

Konglish follows fewstrict rules. It includes loanwords likecamera (written as “,” pronounced like “camera”), and ice cream (once again, written as “,” but said like, “ice cream”). Not all terms copy English exactly; nail polish (), for example, is pronounced like manicure. Konglish also encompasses mistranslations, as well as fabricated phrases that incorporate English words but aren’teasily understood by English-speakers. The Korean translation for “cell phone,” for instance, is “hand phone.”

ButKonglishdoes follow therules ofthehighly phonetic Korean alphabet. Known in South Korea as “Hangul,” the language’s phonemic and syllabic characteristics, and even the shape one’s tongue makes when pronouncing specific sounds, are encoded into the structureof the written characters, themselves. If that strikes you as exceptionally cool, it’s because it is; linguists love the Hangul alphabetfor how it marriesthe form and function of its letters. It is a simultaneously beautiful and practical system.

It also accommodates, and morphsaround, other languages-particularly English, the cultural cachetof whichis evident in the rise of Konglish throughout South Korea. In Seoul, luxury apartments go by names like Luxtige (a portmanteau of luxury and prestige), or Forestige. According to The Korea Herald, these Konglish names help promote a premium brand image. When the City of Seoul selected a new promotional slogan, “I.Seoul.U, Koreans mocked it on social media, saying it didnt make sense in English. Park, too, acknowledges the ascendency of the English language in her home country: Itis really important for going out and gettinga job, she says.

But Park is also skeptical of English’s increasing influence on the Korean language. For one thing, she says, pseudo-anglicisms oftenlack the descriptiveness of native words. (In North Korea, for example, people don’t call donuts “donuts”; they insteaduse a termthattranslates loosely to a ring of bread.) People havent really realized that theres a phenomenon, that we are losing our own language, she says.

To that end, she designed “Lost in Konglish” to become less and less legible as you flip through it.She alsocreated graphics of new letterforms that fuse the shape of Korean Hangul letters with English ones.The artful distortions and smudges grow more intense, until the text becomes indecipherable.It becomes more chaotic, because the phenomenon is more serious, she says. There is communication missing.

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