Saturday, February 7, 2015

North and South Korean Language Barriers

Korea has been divided for over 60 years, the lack of  communication between the North and South has affected the once common language of the country. North Korean Refugees who have come to the South are the first ones to experience the change and the difficulties in communicating in the same country. The language spoken in Pyongyang  and Seoul are different. At present, basic communication is possible, but if we continue going our two different ways, with unification we will have a  problem not easily remedied.

The representative of the bishops' committee for reconciliation of the country writes of some of the difficulties he has experienced in dealing with the refugees from the North living in the South.  He has invited young people from the North to a meal. The answer comes back bluntly, not a refusal but neither  an obvious acceptance: he surmises they don't want to relate with him, not interested, no need to be concerned. This understanding comes mostly from the intonation of their voice, facial expression and rough exterior. He learns quickly that's not the message that they want to give. The answer is actually OK, and is embarrassed in harboring the negative thoughts.

On one occasion after finishing a meal together in a restaurant the person said to his understanding: "my back hurts because of the way I put on my shoes." This was not at all what was said, but: "for no reason my back hurts." What the South would call octopus they call squid. And many similar examples are the  different meanings for words used. Some are completely opposite from their use in the South.

The North has made great effort to exclude foreign words in contrast to the South. Many of the words in the South,  because of the long interaction with the rest of the world, uses many words from English and other languages but the North has maintained a desire for 'purism'  this movement is also present in the South but has not progressed far. A limited use of Chinese characters have been accepted in the North after years of refusal; the South continues with the 1800 characters they work with in the schools.

The article mentions how often they use the same words to mean two different things. In conversation they think they are understanding each other but are not.  This is not an infrequent occurrence.The foreign words that the North Koreans see are one of the biggest problems they have in feeling at home in the South.

When relating with those from the North he recommends to remember how it would be living in a foreign country doing your studies. Gently ask after speaking whether they understand what was said. Because of embarrassment they will not ask you to repeat, but will give the impression they understand when they don't.  Don't force the issue, don't look down on them, don't get angry. Remember how we would be in a foreign country. With this attitude we will come to an understanding and acceptance of each other.                                       

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