Sunday, January 24, 2010

Earthquake in IT?

Dear Korean,

Why do Koreans refer to Haiti as 아이티 (A-ee-ti)? My understanding is that the Haitian pronunciation contains an "H" sound. I imagine it would have been easy to replace the '아' with a '하'. Is it simply a matter of a single individual's (perhaps someone in the media) pronunciation mistake carrying over to an entire nation? I believe there are other instances of inexplicable pronunciation modifications, but this one seems particularly timely. Of course, I may be wrong about the native pronunciation. I don't believe there's an H sound in French. Is Aiti the correct pronunciation? Is it the English-speaking world that has it all wrong?

Eric M.

Dear Eric,

It is indeed the English-speaking world that has it all wrong. Check out this video of an IMF representative pledging support to Haiti in French.



No "H" to be found in Haiti -- the man pronounces like he is saying "IT".

And you are correct that Koreans refer to Haiti as "A-ee-tee". For example, at this link, you can see the news of an NGO called "Good Neighbors" delivering supplies to people of "아이티".

What comes into play here is Rule of Foreign Words Transliteration established by the National Institute of the Korean Language (국립국어원). Just like L'Academie francaise, NIKL governs all things related to Korean language, including how words that did not originate from Korea are supposed to be written. The overarching principle of the rule is to transliterate the words as they are pronounced in their language. Specifically, the Rule of Transliteration provides a chart that matches up the International Phonetic Alphabet to Korean characters, with more detailed rules in different languages such as English, Spanish, Japanese, French, etc.

The Korean likes this rule because it shows respect. Although Korean language sometimes has a separate name for a famous city in a foreign country -- for example, Sang-Hae (상해) for Shanghai (상하이) or  Dong-Kyeong (동경) for Tokyo (도쿄) -- under this rule, Koreans are supposed to write them as 상하이 and 도쿄, not as 상해 or 동경. (In contrast, English-speakers have no qualms for calling Munchen as "Munich" or Praha as "Prague".) Calling a different country/culture with the name that they gave to themselves shows a lot more respect than calling with the name that we came up for them.

But it must be noted that, despite the good intentions, this rule is really hit-or-miss in practice. Because of some arbitrary elements in the rules, Korean transliteration of an English-based word is often unrecognizable, even accounting for the fact that certain sounds in English do not exist in Korean. This is particularly worse for American English pronunciation, because NIKL apparently based its rule on British English -- you know, where English came from originally. The result is that even though there may be better ways to transliterate things in Korean, following the rule gives out the worse transliteration.

For example, one such arbitrary rule is that you cannot use ㄲ, ㄸ, ㅃ, ㅆ, ㅉ in transliteration, but use ㅋ, ㅌ, ㅍ, ㅅ, ㅊ if necessary. Another rule is that when p, t, k is followed by a consonant, the Korean vowel ㅡ needs to be attached to p, t, k. So the word "sickness" is transliterated as 시크니스 under the rule, while 씩니스 would be much closer to the actual pronunciation. Another arbitrary rule is that [ou] in the International Phonetic Alphabet should be transliterated with 오 ("o"). Under this rule, the word "boat" is transliterated as 보트, while 보우트 might be closer to the actual pronunciation.


At any rate, this is not important. What's important is what is happening in Haiti. Did you donate? It's fast and easy: text HAITI to 90999, and you can donate $10 to the Red Cross in the relief effort.

-EDIT 1/25/2010- To complement the Korean's near-total ignorance of French, David from Ask a Frenchman! came to the rescue. Here is the Frenchman's comment:
Just one detail, the guy is not just "an IMF representative" but he is Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the current Director of the IMF, former Minister of Finances (1997-2002) and Minister of Industry (1991-1993) in the French government, and possibly future French President (in the current polls he'd win if the elections were these days).

Concerning Haiti, the name is originally a Taino name meaning "Mountain in the Sea" or something like that and it didn't have a "H" in its pronunciation, the H appeared when it was first written (by the French) but keep in mind that in French, H is never pronounced (only in "ch" pronounced like "sh" in English). Thus, the original, and subsequent French pronunciation (French still being the official language of Haiti -with Haitian Créole) is something like "A.E.T" in English (that's what Strauss-Kahn says in the video, although it could sound like "IT".
Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@hotmail.com.

21 comments:

  1. My very uninformed comment- both Shanghai and Tokyo were originally written in Chinese characters, as was Korean before the invention of hangul. Does the Korean pronunciation of these city names reflects the Korean pronunciation of the relevant hanja instead of the native pronunciation? What made me think this was that Tokyo in Chinese is "Dong jing," with characters meaning "East Capital" in both Chinese and Japan kanji.

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  2. For Hanja placenames, I think people now tend to use the native pronunciation but I have heard both native and Korean pronunciations for larger cities at least.
    北京 - 북경, 베이징
    東京 - 동경, 도쿄

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  3. Just one detail, the guy is not just "an IMF representative" but he is Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the current Director of the IMF, former Minister of Finances (1997-2002) and Minister of Industry (1991-1993) in the French government, and possibly future French President (in the current polls he'd win if the elections were these days).

    Concerning Haiti, the name is originally a Taino name meaning "Mountain in the Sea" or something like that and it didn't have a "H" in its pronunciation, the H appeared when it was first written (by the French) but keep in mind that in French, H is never pronounced (only in "ch" pronounced like "sh" in English).
    Thus, the original, and subsequent French pronunciation (French still being the official language of Haiti -with Haitian Créole) is something like "A.E.T" in English (that's what Strauss-Kahn says in the video, although it could sound like "IT"

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  4. Thanks AAK, just ealier today I couldn't understand why google won't find anything relevant about 모로꼬 !

    PS: You got to give a Frenchman his Directeur général du FMI ;)

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  5. What I find interesting is that the Norks are sometimes better at calling people what they want to be called than South Koreans.

    SK 멕시코 = NK 메히코
    SK 독일 = NK 도이츠렌드
    etc.

    (I'm say that from memory, so I might have made some small error above.)

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  6. We Spanish speakers also refer to Haiti as "A-ee-tee".

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  7. When did NAKL become NIKL? At any rate, I'd say their new name is appropriate, because their "Revised Romanization" is worth about a NIKL.

    I'll agree, though, that it is good they try to update foreign pronunciations and make them more authentic (as much as han•gŭl allows).

    I sort of wish native English speakers would do the same thing. I once made someone from the Midwest quite angry by constantly referring to Venice and Florence as Venezia and Firenze.

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  8. I could care less about Haiti. What's worse is that I care more about not caring for what happened in Haiti than what actually happened in Haiti. I'm a horrible person.

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  9. It's interesting that you say that it normally follows the British pronunciation because one of the bog problems I had deciphering foreign words written in Korean is that typically when something is spelled with an 'o' in English (like 'hot'), it is written with a 'ㅏ' in hangul. I'm thinking of 핫윙스 etc. It drives me insane.

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  10. @Kushibo: "I sort of wish native English speakers would do the same thing. I once made someone from the Midwest quite angry by constantly referring to Venice and Florence as Venezia and Firenze."

    European Languages don't call other European cities by their original names. Pretty much every city in Europe has a different name in pretty much any European language, the reason being that the relationships between those cities, languages, countries (former and current) date back from sometimes two thousand years ago or even more, the three evolving together and sometimes in separate ways. Whereas cities from the rest of the world have been interacting with Europe (and their languages) for much less time and different circumstances, hence the tendency to keep the original name more.

    And I'm sure it's the same in other parts of the world.


    In English, one says Germany and Spain, not Deutschland and España. For the same reason, one says Florence and Venice, not Firenze and Venice.

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  11. I quite agree (I'm French) with the last comment on the naming cities in Europe (from David). I understand this respect thing, but it's really out of the point here (if the expression exists, i'm not sure anymore). Languages have changed, evolved, and London hasn't always been London. It has been Londinium before, and probaby had others names. Talking about this city for centuries, the name adapted and changed so that it wouldn't twist our mouth too much when our own language, French, evolved from Latin. And the name changed in England as well in 2000 years.

    No one in France would ever think calling Paris Pari[sse] or Parigi abroad is disrespectful. But if someone was speaking French and say for example: 'Oh, je suis allé à London', it would sound either a bit or a lot conceited.
    And we say Mexico, New York and Seoul... probably for the reason David stated. Or maybe because the world is now "smaller" than it used to be, so information travels quickly - and now immediately...

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  12. Wanda, you have it exactly right.

    Kimchikraut, you are exactly right as well. But technically under the rules, only one of the two is correct.

    Eun-sung, you have a point. South Koreans hate admitting that, however.

    Kushibo, the Korean saw that comment coming from 100 miles away.

    Frenchman, thank you very much for more information.

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  13. The Korean wrote:
    Kushibo, the Korean saw that comment coming from 100 miles away.

    Well, I was only keeping with the theme of "It is indeed the English-speaking world that has it all wrong." You, sir, wrote an entire post about how Haiti isn't pronounced with an H. :)

    Aurore wrote:
    No one in France would ever think calling Paris Pari[sse] or Parigi abroad is disrespectful. But if someone was speaking French and say for example: 'Oh, je suis allé à London', it would sound either a bit or a lot conceited.

    So when talking with Anglophones (Oh, scusi mi... I meant English speakers), you consistently pronounce Paris as "Parisse," you add a Z to the end of Calais, and Nice is not "niece" but "nice" (as in pleasant, agreeable, and satisfactory)?

    Okay, got it. Henceforth, I shall pronounce the capital of Japan as Toe-key-oh instead of とうきょう, and that Korean martial art that's all the rage will be Tie-kwan-doh instead of 태권도.

    Silly me. Since I'd actually spent a considerable time in Firenze and Venezia, those Italian names were indelibly etched into the language part of my brain, and the "English" names — particularly Firenze, which is far from Florence — would cause a drop in the fluidity of my speech.

    But I guess it's all for the better. Were I to mention the Shroud of Torino (instead of Turin), it would sound like I'm talking about a car cover.

    WORD VERIFICATION: liespre (coincidentally, the Italian pronunciation of Spokane)

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  15. "and the "English" names — particularly Firenze, which is far from Florence — would cause a drop in the fluidity of my speech. "

    I guess you don't care if you annoy or confuse the person who is listening to you then.

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  16. kush, kimchikraut -- you guys are both inching close to personal attacks. Watch out.

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  17. Kimchikraut wrote:
    I guess you don't care if you annoy or confuse the person who is listening to you then.

    I had explained in the beginning, right after "Firenze," "Venezia," and "Napoli" had slipped out of my mouth, that I was referring to Florence, Venice, and Naples.

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  18. It is a loaded topic. I wonder how what the acceptance rate is of Seoul's newish Chinese name 首爾. Do Chinese people actually use it when speaking?

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  19. Kimchikraut wrote:
    I wonder how what the acceptance rate is of Seoul's newish Chinese name 首爾. Do Chinese people actually use it when speaking?

    That's a good question. There are a lot of Chinese students in my dorm and university here. I'll see if I can get a general consensus out of them.

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  20. I don’t really understand why you are being so aggressive (I didn’t understand everything you wrote, like, is there something wrong with ‘English speaker’?) so I assume what I wrote was aggressive and/or contemptuous or something else. I therefore apologize for giving the impression that you shouldn’t do whatever you want. I was just expressing an opinion, I didn’t want it to become a law. Like I wrote, I’m French, and my English is not as good as I would want it to be. I’m sorry I don’t possess this proficiency you seem to have with foreign languages, since you seem able to pronounce perfectly so many of them. Personally, my most common experience of foreigners trying to pronounce French is when they try to pronounce my name, experience which always ends up in “Damn French is so hard” and “Do you have an international name?”

    I wish people didn’t mispronounce my name, or French cities names, consequently in my opinion it’s not disrespectful to use for example Parigi. At the same time, one of my friends is Hungarian, she is very pissed that we say Budapest the French way when speaking in French, and she asked me to pronounce it the Hungarian way. I don’t have any problem complying with her wish, though I admit I thought she was overreacting. But I will never be offended going to England and hear people talking about Burgundy (especially when if they say Bourgogne I probably won’t understand what they are talking about).
    Obviously, all this is just from my personal experience, and I hope I’m not offending anyone.

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  21. Sorry, Aurore. I was being playfully sarcastic and may have gone a tad overboard. While I don't think you were being aggressive, you did seem to be implying I was "conceited" for using the original pronunciation of words, and my tone was in kind.

    No, there is nothing wrong with "English speaker." I was sarcastically suggesting that if people had a problem with Firenze and Venezia, then others might have a problem with some "foreign-sounding word" like "Anglophone" instead of English speaker. Since you are French, you might not recognize that "Anglophone" does come across as "foreign-sounding" to some native English speakers.

    And no, I don't have some great proficiency with foreign languages. I have four years of middle and high school French from an Italian and then an Austrian. I was in Italy long enough to internalize the pronunciation of ce and ci as chei and chee, and to use Italian pronunciations of Italian cities and towns as second nature. That's all. I just don't like having people jump down my throat (as the Midwestern person described earlier did) for inadvertently using Italian pronunciation when speaking Italian. That's all.

    And no language is "so hard" if someone bothers to sit down and take a look (or if the native speakers can point something out). Is Aurore pronounced like oh-roar? If not, how is it pronounced?

    Anyway, cheers to you. Your writing does not suggest someone who has much difficulty at all with English, but discussing things in a second language generally brings an added layer of difficulty, so my hat's off to you.

    Cheers!

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