Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Test test

김 지**

Is this the word kimchi? Might be. If so, yay!, it means I've figured out the exciting 2-set Korean keyboard. Well, how to turn it on at least. Now, I just need to learn Korean.

I think I've mentioned before how cool the Korean writing system is linguistically. The consonants are quite systematic. The vowels are systematic too but based on philosophical principles, not linguistic ones. But going back to the consonants, let's review how various consonants are made. To make a p or an m sound, you put your lips together. Here is how to write those sounds in Korean:

p m

They are basically little diagrams of pursed lips.

Then, you can make a whole bunch of consonants with your tongue pressing against various parts of the top of your mouth. Imagine the roof of your mouth is a horizontal line. To make a t sound, you place the tip of your tongue forward and up to either your teeth or, more commonly, unless you're French, to the ridge a little behind and above the teeth. Here's the Korean symbol for the t sound.


It's a diagram of the tongue position. Tongue forward and up.

The k sound is done with the back of your tongue pressing against the soft palate further back in your mouth. Here's the Korean for that:


Pretty cool, and then there are varieties of these things based off the basic position. n, for instance, is done at the same place as t and its symbol is


One of the hardest things about Korean for English speakers is that there are essentially three varieties of t, three varieties of p, and such, that each differ mostly on when precisely you start vibrating your vocal cords. They are a real nasty thing to learn to say, but at least the written sign makes them clearly connected.

ㄷ - so-called unaspirated t
ㅌ - so-called aspirated t (there's a puff of air)
ㄸ - so-called tense t

So, go Korean, for being scientific about these things, even if they are impossible to say and hear.

When writing, you then put these things together in little syllable blocks. Remember
ㄱ = k
ㅣ= i
ㅁ= m

Now put them together and you have 김 or kim.

And that's how Korean writing works. It's completely different than both Chinese and Japanese. Chinese uses characters entirely. 你 好. That's ni hao or hello (literally, 'you good'). There's some meaning to the characters. I know three of the four components there. The first half of ni is the common symbol for humans. And then for hao, you have a woman on the left and a child on the right. With a woman and a child, everything's good.

Japanese I don't know much about, but it uses a combination of characters, kanji, and two different syllabaries. The latter means simply that each syllable has an entire symbol for it, unlike Korean which takes each sound and creates syllable symbols on the fly. Here's come complete gibberish in Japanese hiragana: かやらて

These are just random symbols (to me) after turning on my Japanese keyboard, so hopefully it doesn't insult anyone. The main point, however, is that each symbol is 1) related to sound like Korean and English writing, but not Chinese (by and large), and 2) an entire syllable, not individual sounds like Korean or English. Korean and English (really the Latin alphabet) then differ because syllables are not marked in English, while they are in Korean. If one writes "kimchi" in English, you just have to know that there's two syllables there from knowing how to speak. But in Korean, each syllable is its own block.

And that's all I got to say about that.

** The kim of kimchi might in fact be: 킴. I'm too lazy to look it up right now.


Sarah Laurenson said...

Fascinating. I can see why you study about this.

Ello said...

hey I can barely write my name in Korean but that looks like kimchi to me! you are way too smart.