Welcome to the 2002 FIFA Worldcup, er, make that WorldCup, um...
February 24, 2002 11:49 PM   Subscribe

Welcome to the 2002 FIFA Worldcup, er, make that WorldCup, um... "The efforts being made by organizations of all kinds to ensure that a positive image of [Korea] is projected this summer deserve the highest praise. It is a crying shame, however, that so many of these efforts will be undermined by the comedic quality of much of the English being used." Not intended as a poke at Korea, but an interesting example of how hard it is for people (or a people) to change their mindset (more inside).
posted by Bixby23 (13 comments total)
English is commonly found in printed media, and even on TV commercials & programs in Korea. But, as in Japan, English is generally used to produce an image effect -- to look cool, in other words -- rather than to communicate. This, I believe, is why it often doesn't even occur to people to look up spellings or check facts, which leads to things like this sign (which is the same, by the way, as the embossed lettering on the stadium itself). Then again, maybe I'm just making excuses for organizations and people that really didn't do their jobs. Is it carelessness?
posted by Bixby23 at 12:16 AM on February 25, 2002

Have some Engrish.
posted by suprfli at 2:19 AM on February 25, 2002

Apologies for the length.

I teach English at a university here in Korea, and it never ceases to amaze me how badly English can get mangled, by the government and large corporations as much as by individuals. It's either frustrating or amusing, depending on my mood on a given day. I've littered this post with self-links to longer explanations on my weblog. If you're interested in a cranky bastard's take on the place, you can find a lot more info there. If you're not, please ignore the linkage.

The linked article makes a linguistic point, which is only part of the story. It is true that the 'official' romanization of the Korean alphabet changed recently, and that makes things even more difficult than they already were. The second largest city, for example, known in English since way the hell back when as "Pusan" is now written "Busan". In fact the actual initial sound is a hangul (the Korean alphabet - perhaps the most cleverly designed, efficient and easy-to-learn alphabet on the planet) character whose actual pronunciation is somewhere between 'b' and 'p', when in an initial position in a syllable.

But the re-romanization is not the biggest issue. The Confucian way (Korea is generally recognized as the most Confucian country in the world) of organizing a business, or a government department, or a family, means that an underling will never correct a superior, a 'junior' never contradict a 'senior'. One of the primary values of Confucianism is the acceptance of authority from above, which without fail is the oldest male in the room at any given time. At the risk of over-generalizing, this often means that mistakes are preferable to disagreement, and efficiency is subordinate to ki-bun, which can be roughly translated as 'harmony', amongst co-workers. All is subordinate to making a buck, of course, because the Koreans are nothing if not mercantile.

The outflow of this rigorous hierarchy is that seemingly inexplicable mistakes are made, too often. It makes the Koreans seem inept, and nothing could be further from the truth. But if your 'elder' in a situation where signs are being designed says that the sign should say "Pugok Roiling Stork Yards", when in fact it should say "Bugok Rolling Stock Yards", or that a full-page ad reading "It's KT! It's Future!" should be placed in the national English-language newsaper, well, you don't correct him, even if you know that he's wrong. You just make sure the ad is placed or the signs made, per his instructions.

I have a theory, too, that the hard-working, hard-drinking, sleep-deprivation lifestyle that most Koreans put themselves through most of their young lives means that people are running on autopilot a large portion of the time, and simpy make mistakes.

So to answer bixby23's question, yes, it's carelessness, in part. It's also the fact that Korean and English have very different structures and entirely different alphabets. It is due in part to cultural factors, and, sadly, it's also due in part to the very poor quality of English instruction that most Koreans receive, both from Korean teachers and waeguk-in (foreigners) like myself.

But that's another story.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:56 AM on February 25, 2002

I know the answer of course. Old Korean men. Fuck, how I hate them with a white-hot eye-popping passion. Take their blithe conviction that the world revolves around them, sprinkle with the assumption that the sun shines out of their asses, and slather the whole lot in Confucian Gravy, and it's a Nasty Casserole. >>>>huge explosion of nostril-exiting coffee type laughter..!
BTW, what do Koreans put in their authentic 'Nasty Casserole'? (cheap shot, i know..)
posted by dash_slot- at 5:17 AM on February 25, 2002

stavrosthewonderchicken : don't apologize for the length. The best comment I've read to a post in a long time. If more people would think as much about their posts as you do, this place would rock.

As of right now, you rock.
posted by terceiro at 5:28 AM on February 25, 2002

That was lovely. Twice in a row trying to visit that site it created a pop-up that crashed Mozilla.

There's an increasing sense among some linguists that English is fragmenting as it becomes the global commercial language, and that regional dialects -- creoles -- will increasingly diverge. It's really hard to say that it's just "improper English" when hundreds of thousands of people use it to communicate. In Defence of Singlish looks at this phenomenon in the context of Singapore, where it's a complex enough phenomenon to merit formal study. Here's some info on Indian English, itself a recognized dialect. There's a scholarly journal on the trend, which has articles not just on English in New Zealand, but in the Falklands, Ghana, and Pakistan.

Now, Korea's use of English doesn't extend this far -- it still appears to be at best a secondary language to most everyone, and more likely many people's knowledge extends to a handful of phrases and a very pidgin grammatical structure, leading to typos and such as described above. But that's where all the other dialects started out, too. A dialect is often a mature pidgin.
posted by dhartung at 5:36 AM on February 25, 2002

It's called Konglish, here, and is the bane of a teacher's existence, or at least one of them. Not unlike Japanglish, Chinglish and so on, as well as Singlish, which dahrtung mentions.

Certainly not a dialect or even a pidgin yet, but who knows what the future will bring?
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:08 AM on February 25, 2002

English in Singapore, The Phillipines and India is different from the English in Korea and Japan. People actually use it every day there. Many families in these places even use English as their first language at home. On the other hand, Koreans and Japanese don't actually use English at all in their country, except as decoration (for signs etc).

Any kind of simplification/creolization of English would come about when two groups used it to talk to one another, which happens only in specialized circles (eg international business, travel, military etc). This is unlikely to happen in the monocultures of Japan and Korea until they have someone they actually need to speak English to.
posted by dydecker at 8:41 AM on February 25, 2002

We accept Ebonics without a problem. Why do we call this the mangling of the English language? Just because the different spellings and switching of b->p and l->r seems funnier to us engrish-speang folk?
posted by kfury at 9:30 AM on February 25, 2002

Whatever your definition of "Ebonics" (a ridiculous phrase which encompasses far too many dialects and slanguages to have any real meaning, IMO), we would hardly accept it as "standard" in any official public communication. No one is suggesting, as far as I can see, that "worldcup" is part of a stardardized korean dialect of english that is getting short shrift from the West.

It's just plain wrong.
posted by jpoulos at 11:07 AM on February 25, 2002

We accept Ebonics without a problem
If pointing and laughing at people who don't speak properly is "accepting"...
posted by owillis at 11:09 AM on February 25, 2002

The saddest example I've seen of "Chinglish" was at Sun Yat Sen's house (near Zhongshan in mainland China). There is a beautful polished stone wall on either side of the entryway to the museum, with an inspirational message about how important Sun Yat Sen is in Chinese history. One side of the entryway has the text in Chinese, the other side in English. The English is just terrible, and it was almost embarrassing to see it and know how much work went into it (the whole thing really is beautiful if you don't read it). I couldn't find a picture of the English side, but if you go to

and scroll all the way to the bottom and look at the leftmost image, you can see the Chinese language side.

The worst part was that all of the exhibits in the museum hall had English and Chinese text (you can see some of them in the other pictures on the bottom row, although not up close), and the English on the little while cards in the glass cases was all perfect (and seemingly all for me, as I was the only foreigner in the whole place, wandering around by myself).
posted by doorsnake at 2:55 PM on February 25, 2002

I worked on the initial Vignette bloatware implementation of the fifaworldcup.com website - no, not the current one run by Yahoo, but the original - organised by ISL (Bust!), implemented by Kabel New Media (Bust!) at a cost of literally millions of unpaid dollars.

Working with both Korean and Japanese representatives from the 'WOCs' (World Cup Organising Comittees), it soon became apparent that whilst all involved were undoubtedly very intelligent, hard-working and dedicated, their attention was not focused on spelling and grammar.

Besides the fact that they could not agree to do the same thing (e.g. a form requesting information) in the same way, so we had to effectively program everything twice over, the Koreans were most obsessed with the correct phrasing of the games. That is, the '2002 FIFA World Cup Korea Japan' - 'Korea' must appear before 'Japan' on ANY promotional material - not just the website. Any media organisation getting it the wrong way round can expect to receive a swift correction from KOWOC.

Similarly, even the simplest spelling mistake on the website had to be escalated through about 5 levels of senior management in Europe before they would even contact the Koreans, presumably for the same Confucian reasons as Stavrosthewonderchicken describes above.

Despite this, I wouldn't mind so much if I didn't think the whole thing next year is going to be such a complete disaster.
posted by barnsoir at 2:38 AM on February 26, 2002

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