Friday, November 03, 2006

32 Introducing Hangeul Mal

So my last update was October 10th and it is now November 3rd. My comfortable easy life ended abruptly on October 16 when I started a course at the Ewha Women's University to try to learn this damn lingo, Hangeul Mal or Korean. For four hours a day, five days a week I am sitting in room 218 of the lnaguage centre trying to make head or tail of a language that certainly has me baffled so far. The Korean alphabet was invented in the 15th century by some scholars who were commissioned by the reigning King in order to make things simple and enable people to easily communicate. Apparently until then, they had all been struggling with various systems mainly based on Chinese characters and this had been too hard for them or something. So in true far east style (Why do cell phones from around the world not function in Korea or Japan? Because they have their own independent non-cooperable systems), they made up their own.

The alphabet, I will admit, is amazingly systematic and easy to learn. If you can ignore the fact that depending on their position in a "letter", the individual characters an have totally different sounds: an "s" positioned at the front of a word sounds like an "s", but at the end of a word sounds like a gorilla grunt, a truncated Ugh sound without the "gh" bit, but with your mouth in position to say it.

Once you have remembered that, you need to start getting to grips with word order. As far as I know so far, time seems to go first, then the subject or the object(it doesnt matter which because you have to remember which mini-marker word to put with each part of the sentence to identify it)and the verb goes at the end (and has various different endings depending on whether you are talking past, present or future and also if you are being polite or casual). If you are using a time expression you must remember to say "Ae" after it, and if you are denoting a place you must also say "Ae" after it - Koreans would do well in Liverpool!

Oh yes, and they have two systems of numbers: a sino-Korean and a pure-Korean set. But when they tell the time, they like to use the pure-Korean for the hours, but the Sino-Korean for the minutes and seconds.

So you can see that it is a positive doddle.

Add to all of this the totally weird sound of the language which makes remembering even a simple syllable quite hard to master, and you are looking at an interesting challenge! Korean numbers 1 - 10 sound like this:

Se(t) (you dont fully pronounce the t)
Ne(t) (same as above)
Ta Ssot
Yor Ssot
Ill Gop
A Hop

In fact, I am totally loving learning it, and in the three weeks I have been going we have really learnt a lot.

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