Posted by: rbbadger | May 18, 2010

The phenomenon of Konglish

One thing which is surprising about the Korean language is the large number of words borrowed from other languages.  While there is, of course, a large native Korean vocabulary, much of the vocabulary is borrowed from Chinese.  However, this is not the only place from which Korean has borrowed.  A very common word in Korean is 빵 (bbang) which means bread.  It has its origins in the Portuguese word pão.  Prospective employers often use the word 아르바이트 (arŭbaitŭ) to advertise for job openings.  It comes from the German arbeit meaning “work”. However, the bulk of Korean borrowings now comes increasingly from English.

Sometimes, when Koreans adopt English words, the meanings become skewed.  Sometimes, because of certain sounds the Korean language lacks, the results can be unintentionally funny.  This store advertises itself as selling clothing and “home fashion”.  Korean, however, lacks an f sound.  The f becomes a p.  That’s right!  Home passion! (홈패션=hom p’aeshŏn)

Home passion?  What kind of business are you in?   Korean also lacks a v sound.  Thus, when things get borrowed into the Korean language from English, the v’s all end up sounding like p’s.  I used to regularly pass by the Venus Motel every day in Gwangju.  Now imagine “venus” prounounced with a p rather than a v.  I don’t think I really need to spell it out for you!

Often, restaurants and other businesses will give complementary things which is known as a 스비스 (sŭbisŭ, kind of pronounced like “service”).  And sometimes, the missing f in Korean by some mysterious process ends up as an h.  One major chain of convenience stores in Korea is known as FamilyMart.  For the Japanese, this doesn’t produce much difficulty in pronunciation, as Japanese has an f.  In Korean, it becomes 홰미리 마트 (Hwaemili matŭ).  Gyms are often know under the name of 회트니스 크러브 (hwitŭnisŭ kŭlŏbŭ). 

A hairdresser shop in my building likes to advertise their 디지털 펌 (tijitŏl p’ŏm) or “digital perms”.  What makes them digital is anybody’s guess, other than the fact that human digits are very much involved in applying said perm.



  1. I want a digital perm! Ha, ha! 🙂

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