Wednesday, 18 May 2011

A Short Rant About Koreans and Their Colours

Something that can really irritate me about some Koreans (and "some" here refers to a rather large portion of the population) is their idea about colours and that the Korean language is so much better because they have so many more different words for different colours than English does. This either drives me up the walls or make me want to puke. Whenever the topic of colours come up, Koreans tell me how limited the English language is compared to Korean that has such a big lexis of colour related words. Koreans seem to think that the spectrum of colours in English is limited to Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue and Purple / Violet, Brown and shades of light or dark (e.g. light red, dark blue, etc.). All this illustrates to me is an ignorance of English and a limited vocabulary.

I get angry at this because it has happened enough times now that I have to accept that Koreans have been indoctrinated to think that English (and other languages?) is limited in colour vocabulary and so Korean is vastly superior. Then I start to name them some colours in English: lime, azure, teal, crimson, tan, olive, khaki, periwinkle, maroon, amethyst, turquoise, sage, sapphire, jade, ivory, clover, saffron, cream, amber, eggshell, terracotta, denim, mustard, bronze, auburn, chestnut, plum, sienna, coral, aqua, aquamarine, indigo, navy, salmon, garnet, burgundy, apricot, cerise, magenta, beige, pearl, ruby, chocolate . . . these examples do not even include the noun phrase colours (i.e. modifier adjective-noun colour combinations) like: light green, dark green, military green, forest green, fern green, sea green, spring green, yellow-green, pine green, pale green, sap green, neon green, Islamic green, Irish green, atomic green, moss green, bottle green, puke green, blue-green, lime-green (which is different from just lime), kelp green and the list goes on. (Afrikaans: En laat ons nie vergeet van Afrikaans se kakgroen en kapoen nie!)

So don't come and tell me that Korean has more greens (noksaekeui 녹색의, chorokbiteui 초록빛의, pulbiteui 풀빛의) than English.

The first couple of times I told Koreans I plan to translate Korean poetry into Afrikaans and English they told me it would be impossible because English does not have enough colour words. Nonsense. Yes, in some cases it is impossible to do direct translations but it is hardly because of a limit in vocabulary; rather it is because of the differences in thinking. (Koreans have a high context culture, while Afrikaans is used by more low context cultures, and this is reflected in the respective languages.)

And did I mention that only Korea has four seasons? I kid you not!


Franco said...

Haha that's funny, sounds like they want to be superior.

Must say people with that vibe is always a pain in the ass, like students at university who always rant about how superior their degree is and how much more work they have compared to other students...

Think you know what I'm talking about :)

Skryfblok said...

I strongly believe nationalism is an evil.

Yip, I know exactly. When I was an undergraduate I hang out with engineering students who was convinced that someone studying Humanities (like me) had a breeze. Let me not start on that debate!

Christine said...

It's classic ethnocentric thinking. People often like to think their ways are superior. Of course English has countless names for colours. We are very descriptive. It helps out a lot in the fields of interior design and art.
I do like some of those poetic terms for colour such as "verdant" and "azure".

okkun said...

It is true and very sad that we Koreans were raised by forced education to believe "OUR NATIONAL LANGUAGE is better than any other tongues". I am totally against to this kind of unilateral thought of Korean Society. Every language is so beautiful by itself for having its unique sound, structure, meaning and perfectly fit for its speakers : )

Skryfblok said...


Yeah, unfortunately my own (?) culture has a long history of ethnocentrism.


You speak how many, five, languages? You definitely have a unique vantage point to appreciate the uniqueness and beauty of different languages (and different cultures). I only speak two and a quarter languages, but I concur.

okkun said...

I would say I am trying to understand those languages, but I give thanks to the Lord for being able to distinguish different sounds among those tongues : )

However, my personal opinion about Korean language is “very flexible” on its structure which allows to put vocabulary in random order. This could be the most difficult part to learn for non-Korean native speakers. But don’t be afraid my broer, there are still many Korean native speakers who speak in misunderstanding way even for Koreans. Perhaps, those “AJOUSSI”s from National Parliament ^_^

Skryfblok said...

That flexible nature of Korean is also what makes Korean easy, I think. English grammar is much more difficult that Korean. I'm hoping that this allows me to learn it easier.

But I agree, Korean can also be very ambiguous. It can be very vague at times that requires lots of interpretation from the context. (I think that is the most difficult part in translating Korean.)

Christine said...

I had a female student named Chorok. We both know a Bora, and most likely a few more.

I do remember my students telling me it would be easier for me to learn Mandarin Chinese because the sentence structure is closer to English than Korean. Chinese also doesn't have the articles in it.
I don't know about that because of the tones.