Wednesday, May 16, 2018


When I watched "Avengers: Infinity War" the first time around, I was with my Korean buddy JW and his son. The boy is turning into a true movie buff, I think—at least when it comes to the major blockbusters. After we left the cinema that day, the boy and I started talking about what we had seen. One of his more interesting questions was whether Dr. Strange, who had apparently died at the end of the movie (along with a host of other characters), might not have been able to astrally project himself at the moment of death as a way to keep from disappearing completely.* As we talked about the movie, though, I noticed that the boy kept referring to Thanos (the main bad guy) as "Tarnis." When I asked him about his weird pronunciation, the boy unhelpfully explained that Thanos's name is spelled "Ta-no-seu" (타노스) in Korean, and Koreans, for whatever reason, pronounce that as "Tarnis." I'm very curious as to why the unnecessary rhotic "r" makes an appearance, given that the Korean spelling, pronounced faithfully, is "Ta-nos," which is fairly close to the English "Thanos."

I've noticed this verbal tic before, in other contexts: there are times when Koreans, in an effort to sound more anglophone, will inject an unnecessary rhotic "r" into a word to give it a more English-y spin (give me time to think of some examples; I can't conjure any at the moment). But "Tarnis" is pretty extreme, feeling more like an out-and-out mispronunciation to me than a simple warping of some vowels and consonants.

*I don't know how deeply I should dive into this, but one major fan theory is that all the "dead" characters are still alive, in some form, inside the Soul Stone, in which is contained the Soul World (or Soul Realm), a sort of pocket universe inside the stone. Strange isn't the only character with spiritual connections: Black Panther has his own spirit-realm, the Djalia, where he communes with his ancestors and various panther spirits, up to and including the panther god Bast (actually a feline goddess from Egyptian mythology). One of the loopier theories involves Ant Man: his ability to shrink down into the "quantum realm" might put him in touch with people in the Soul World. This sounds nutty to me, even by the nutty standards of Marvel fans, but it's a theory that's out there.


Charles said...

I've never heard a Korean pronounce it as "Tarnis." And I can't think of any logical linguistic reason for the warping. Sounds idiosyncratic, if you ask me.

Kevin Kim said...

The boy insists that other kids do it. I was like, "Huh."

Charles said...

Particular to yoofs, then? I do not make it a habit of discussing Marvel films with Korean children, so I have no idea. Kids do say all sorts of crazy crap.

Kevin Kim said...


I had a brain fart and accidentally deleted your comment. Sorry. Your comment was:

"A rhotic 'r'?"

Yeah, that's the term (which comes from the Greek letter rho) describing the nasal "r" as it's pronounced by Americans in words like "car," "far," "practice," etc. The Brits do it, too, but usually only in certain liquid groups (consonant pairs in which the second consonant is "L" or "R," e.g., "group," "blind," "crud," etc.). The Brits also unconsciously add a rhotic "r" to separate contiguous vowel sounds, e.g., "Wanda and I" sounds like "Wander and I" when a Brit says the phrase.

The term "rhotic" has gained, from the British standpoint, a connotation of incorrect pronunciation. From this point of view, "car" should be pronounced "cah," not "carrrr." More here.