Saturday, May 13, 2017

Walk Thoughts #213: today's lunch

Almost two weeks ago, I had a craving for Chinese. Lately, I've had a craving for fried-chicken tenders. I asked, and Namji-eup answered: there was a Nae Nae Chicken joint right up the street from my motel. Once the chicken guy heard my story, he gave me a pair of face masks for free: "Watch out for the fine dust (misae meonji)," he said.

The chicken was celestial.


Charles said...

So I guess you're deliberately romanizing 에 as "ae." I suppose "ne ne" and "mise" would not encourage proper pronunciation, but how then do you distinguish 에 from 애. Maybe ae/ay?

Kevin Kim said...

I got into an extended (and stupid) Twitter debate with Peter Schroepfer on this issue. My justification for idiosyncratic romanization is that Koreans themselves often fail or refuse to follow the government-mandated scheme. And yes, I'm going with the current street wisdom that 에 and 애 essentially sound the same to the younger generation. My mother's generation insisted that 에 was like the "e" in bed, and 애 was like the "a" in "bad," but that insistence seems to have fallen out of vogue, like older Americans' insisting you should never split infinitives.

My general rule of thumb for romanization is that transcription is better than transliteration: the spelling ought to make the word easy for a foreigner to pronounce, so it should convey sound, not spelling. This is why I romanize 순대 as "soondae" and not "sundae." The latter spelling evokes the wrong pronunciation for anglophones. The same would go for "misae" versus "mise," or "waegugin" versus "oegugin." I'm not an absolutist about this, though: the vowel represented by "eo," for example (어), is one I simply spell the government-sanctioned way: "seon bulgyo," etc.

I had an African-American coworker who once signed a card "Nana," which I read aloud as 나나. "No!" she said: "That's 'Nay-Nay'!" Romanization is a minefield.

Charles said...

Fair enough. One of the problems with official systems for the romanization of Korean is that they have all been transliterative as opposed to transcriptive. If the goal is simply to approximate pronunciation, then a looser system is perhaps more desirable. Then, of course, you have the problem of assumptions--is "sun" supposed to be 선 or 순? This is only a problem for people who have been exposed to a lot of romanization, though.

I will agree that 에 and 애 do sound very similar in current Korean (although I'm not sure about 애 being equivalent to the "a" in "bad," though--are we talking about Seoul dialect here? I don't know if it was ever that open), and if preservation of the original spelling is not a priority, for transcription purposes "ae" might be best. (Worse than 에 and 애, of course, are 외 and 왜, which are for all intents and purposes pronounced identically these days). I will still twitch involuntarily every time I see it, though. I'll just try to remember that it's not for me.

Kevin Kim said...

"(although I'm not sure about 애 being equivalent to the "a" in "bad," though--are we talking about Seoul dialect here? I don't know if it was ever that open)"

As a practical matter, Koreans still seem to equate "애" with the English [ æ ], as when they write "캠핑" for "camping." Or maybe "equate" isn't quite the right word, here; maybe it's more that they've concluded that "애" is the closest approximation to [ æ ], thanks to some lingering phonetic sensibility from my mother's generation. I dunno.