Lexical Borrowings from English in Konglish

Last semester I took a linguistics course and wrote my final paper on Konglish. I received a solid mark so thought I’d share now that the semester is over and I’m graduating.

An Analysis of Lexical Borrowings from English in Konglish using Saussure’s Model of the Linguistic Sign

Saussure’s (1959) conception of the linguistic sign is a key idea within linguistics and semiotics. What can this concept reveal about the adaptation of English lexicon by Korean speakers in Konglish?  How have the sign, signification and value changed? Through discussion of the origins and categorisation of Konglish lexicon, Saussure’s model and its application, it is clear that despite Konglish terms having clear roots in the English language; often the nature of the sign is altered to meet Korean speaker’s unique linguistic, cultural and social needs.

Origins of Konglish

Koreans began learning English a century ago (Lee, 1989) and English has become an increasingly present force within South Korea, in education and media especially. English is a mandatory subject within schools from the third grade and interestingly, while spending the most money on English education according to a 2003 survey,  South Korea recorded the lowest English ability amongst the 12 Asian countries surveyed (Lakin, 2011). Nonetheless, English has certainly has its impact on Korean speakers, with vocabulary being frequently borrowed and adapted. While it is postulated that Konglish simply originated from broken and misunderstood English, Konglish has transcended beyond this, evolving into a variation of language which suits Koreans’ unique linguistic, cultural and social needs (Kim 2012).

A number of different definitions of Konglish have arisen, such as a lexicon of loanwords, a codified Korean English, a sublanguage and an interlanguage system. However, Konglish is likely best described  by Lawrence (2010) as a ‘potential contact vernacular […] a creative mix between English and the local language, which normally include morphology, semantics and syntax but may also include pronunciation, pragmatics and discourse’. This vernacular is absorbed and becomes institutionalised within the language, widely used in Korea.

Categorisation of Konglish lexicon

A number of academics have sought to variously categorise the Konglish lexicon (Cui, 2012; Hadikin, 2006;  Kim, 2012; Lawrence, 2012; Nam, 2010) and in consideration and adaptation of these, the following categories have been generated:

Direct loans words: Borrowed lexicon from English with the generally the same form and meaning

Clipping:  Shortened or simplified loan words from English with the same meaning

Semantic shifts: Loan words with broader, narrower or altered meanings, described as ‘false cognates’ by Cui (2012) as the similarity may mislead second language learners

Mixed-code combinations: The use of English within a compound word

Fabrications: Creative compounding and manipulation of English words with or without Korean to create substitutions for English vocabulary or new words altogether

Examples of Konglish lexicon

Examples have been compiled from public sources and are illustrated in the following table:

Korean term

Meaning

Direct loan words Team Team
버스 Bus Bus
Clipping 셀프 Self Self-service
아파트 Apart Apartment
Semantic shifts 바바리 Burberry Trench coat
미팅 Meeting College student’s blind date
Mixed-code combinations 안전벨트 Ahn jeon belt Seatbelt(Ahn jeon: Korean for safety)
감자 칩 Gam ja chip Potato chip(Gam ja: Korean for potato)
Fabrications 백미러 Back mirror Rear view mirror
베이글 녀 Bagel nyeo Used to describe a woman with a baby face and glamorous body(Nyeo: Korean for girl)

Note: See Appendix A for full list of examples and source list

Saussure’s model of the linguistic sign

Saussure’s (1959) conception of the linguistic sign is a dyadic model composed of the signifier and signified. For instance the phonetic substance or written symbol pen is the signifier for the signified concept or mental construct of an instrument which may be used to write with in ink.  The signifier and signified are inextricably linked, as all meaning is lost if divided.

Within his model, Saussure (1959) explains the two key concepts of signification and value. Signification depends purely on the sign itself and the relationship between the signifier and signified. The value of a sign though is dependant of the sign’s place within the sign system and its relationship with other signs. The distinction may be observed when considered the phonetic substance or written symbol of fish and the Korean 물고기 (mulgogi). Both signs share the same signification of an aquatic animal with fins and gills; however the value of each differs due to their place within their respective language systems. Fish is also used in English to refer to the meal or meat of the animal, while in Korean a separate term word be used – 생선 (seangseon).

Analysis of changes to lexical borrowings in Konglish

By applying Saussure’s understanding of the sign, the ways in which linguistic signs have be adopted from English by Korean speakers may be examined.

For the category of direct loan words, the signifier and the signified are retained from English as the lexicon is adopted within the Konglish vocabulary.  For example, bus has the same signifier and signified within both languages, thus they hold the same signification.

For clipping, the signifier, sourced from English, is altered while the signified and signification is retained. For instance the phonetic substance of apartment has been clipped to apart, while still referring to the same concept or mental construct of an apartment, as in English.

Conversely, for semantic shifts the signifier is retained will the signified and signification is altered, such as burberry being used to refer to any trench coat as opposed to the Burberry brand as within English.

In the case of mixed code combinations and fabrications, while the signifier may be derived from English, generally both the signifier and signified are changed within Konglish.  Consider the example back mirror – the signifier has been generated from English vocabulary to signify the concept of a rear view mirror, however the sign does not exist within English. Similarly, bagel girl does not exist as a sign within English and, unlike in the case of back mirror, bagel girl is not a substitution for a piece of English vocabulary, but holds a unique signified concept that reflects the Korean social and cultural environment.

It should be noted, that in the cases where the signifier has been retained from English, that is direct loan words and semantic shifts, phonetic changes and hence changes to the signifier may still occur. This tends to arise due to certain English morphemes and phonemes being absent within the Korean language, thus the signifier is altered to better suit the phonological structure of Korean. For instance due to a lack of a clear ‘z’ sound within Korean, the phonetic substance of the English pizza changes to pija in Korean. So while it may be a direct loan word, the phonetic substance of the signifier has changed.

For all of the categories of Konglish lexicon, whether the signified and signification has been carried over from English or not, it should be noted that the value of each term changes. As value of a linguistic sign is derived from a term’s place within a language system and its relation to other terms, the value will change within respective language systems. For instance, cider has a different value in Korean and English, as while both refer to a juice from apples; English has a separate tem soft drink  to refer to carbonated drinks while Korean does not, using cider to refer to this instead. So as both Korean and English have diverse and different vocabulary and sign systems, the value will always differ for Konglish terms.

Clearly, as discussed above, linguistic signs within Konglish are derived from English but the components of the sign often changes, as the sign is altered to suit the linguistic, cultural and social needs of Korean speakers. Linguistically, Konglish develops to fill gaps within Korean, particularly for new objects and phenomena, or simply due fashion whims (Cui, 2012). Signs may also be altered to suit the phonological structure of the Korean language, ensuring ease of pronunciation. Furthermore, signs are also manipulated and generated in Konglish to suit and reflect the cultural environment and social systems of Korea.

Conclusions

By applying Saussure’s conception of the linguistic sign to examples from the Konglish lexicon, it becomes apparent that while Konglish vocabulary has roots in English, the linguistic sign has often been changed and manipulated to suit Korean’s unique linguistic, cultural and social needs. In the process of lexical borrowings from English, there are cases of either, both or neither the signifier and signification being altered. Similarly the signification may or may not be altered, however in all cases the value is changed due to the differences between the English and Korean language systems. What remains to be seen is how Konglish will develop in the future, whether it will remain a small lexicon, evolve into English-based creole, such as Singlish, or develop into something entirely unexpected.

Bibliography

Chandler, D. (2013). Semiotics for Beginners – Signs. Retrieved March 14, 2013, from http://users.aber.ac.uk/dgc/Documents/S4B/sem02.html

Chandler, D. (2013). Semiotics for Beginners – Syntagmatic Analysis. Retrieved March 14, 2013, from http://users.aber.ac.uk/dgc/Documents/S4B/sem04.html

Cui, X.-b. (2012). An Analysis of Lexical Borrowing From Languages: “Konglish”. Sino-US English Teaching, 9(2), 952-957.

Dictionary.com LLC. (2013). Dictionary.com. Retrieved March 14, 2013, from http://dictionary.reference.com/

Hadikin, G. (2006). World Englishes and Konglish: What is Konglish and what are local attitudes to it? London.

Kim, E. J. (2012). Creative adoption: trends in Anglicisms in Korea. English Today, 28(2), 15-17.

Konglish. (2012, March 13). Retrieved from Korean Wiki Project: http://www.koreanwikiproject.com/wiki/index.php?title=Konglish

Lakin, M. (2011, September). Case Study: 21st Century Public System of Education,South Korea: Issues and Aspects of a Flawed System and Recommendations for Improvement. Hawai’i Teachers of English to Speakers of other Languages, pp. 1-5.

Lawrence, C. B. (2010). The verbal art of borrowing: Analysis of English borrowing in Korean pop songs. Asian Englishes, 42-63.

Lawrence, C. B. (2012). The Korean English Linguistic Landscape. World Englishes, 31(1), 70-92.

Lee, S. (1989). The subversion of Korean. English Today, 34-37.

Nam, H. (2010). Konglish, Korean L2 Learners’ Unique Interlanguage: Its Definition, Categories and Lexical Entries. Korean Journal of Applied Linguistics, 26(4), 275-308.

NHN Corp. (2013). Naver Dictionary. Retrieved from Naver: http://dic.naver.com/

Saussure, F. D. (1959). Course in General Linguistics (1st ed.). New York City: Philisophical Library.

 

Appendix A – Full list of examples and sources

 

Korean term

Meaning

Direct loan words Team Team
버스 Bus Bus
택시 Taxi Taxi
와인 Wine Wine
Clipping 셀프 Self Self-service
아파트 Apart Apartment
에어컨 Air con Air conditioner
백 댄서 Back dancer Backup dancer
Semantic shifts 바바리 Burberry Trench coat
미팅 Meeting College student’s blind date
글래머 Glamour Volumtous
사이다 Cider Soft drink
Mixed-code combinations 안전벨트 Ahnjeon belt Seatbelt

(Ahnjeon: Korean for safety)

감자 칩 Gamja chip Potato chip

(Gamja: Korean for potato)

오늘 메뉴 Eoneul menu Today’s special

(Eoneul: Korean for today)

Fabrications 백미러 Back mirror Rear view mirror
베이글 녀 Bagel nyeo (Nyeo: Korean for girl)

Used to describe a woman with a baby face and glamorous body

스킨십 Skin ship Physical touching, such as hugging or holding hands
핸드 폰 Hand phone Mobile Phone

Example Source List

Cui, X.-b. (2012). An Analysis of Lexical Borrowing From Languages: “Konglish”. Sino-US English Teaching, 9(2), 952-957.

Kim, E. J. (2012). Creative adoption: trends in Anglicisms in Korea. English Today, 28(2), 15-17.

Konglish. (2012, March 13). Retrieved from Korean Wiki Project: http://www.koreanwikiproject.com/wiki/index.php?title=Konglish

NHN Corp. (2013). Naver Dictionary. Retrieved from Naver: http://dic.naver.com/

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8 thoughts on “Lexical Borrowings from English in Konglish

  1. myagoingabroad says:

    I think it’s solid too. I’m going to pick up some the reference books you used. I’m really interested in Linguistics and studying Korean as well so I’m going to indulge myself. Thank you for posting it!!!

    • sydneytoseoul says:

      Thanks! I put a lot of effort in. We were able to pick almost any topic for our final paper, so I picked something I knew I would find interesting. Some of the references I used were amazing too, especially ‘Cui, X.-b. (2012). An Analysis of Lexical Borrowing From Languages: “Konglish”. Sino-US English Teaching, 9(2), 952-957.’ Often we put Konglish down to bad English, but really there is so much more to it! Happy reading!

  2. myagoingabroad says:

    Reblogged this on Korea isn't just Seoul and commented:
    It’s interesting how it works but most of all I can actually see that it still has the same categories of lexicon transformation of Spanish…Maybe I’ll extrapolate it and see how it goes ^^.

    • Autonomous Korean says:

      Really interesting!
      It’s good to see something about konglish without derogatory remarks… Many people seem to look at konglish as malformed and “wrong”, when it’s really just a natural process of word borrowing that’s found in all languages.
      Another category could be semantic narrowing – same meaning but in more limited situations. E.g. 치킨 – used to mean chicken only when fried or baked (never 삼치킨탕!). Can’t think of any examples of semantic broadening, but they probably exist

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