BH Discuss: Do K-pop and K-Drama fans abuse the Korean language?
Above is a spoken-word poetry performance by young poet Stephanie Yun in which she speaks about struggles with her Korean American identity and connecting with her Korean heritage and the problem she has with K-pop and K-Drama fans decorating their language with random Korean words. In case you can’t watch the video below are a couple of the most important exerts from the poem but make sure you check out the real performance if you can.
“Annyeong! Wae?! Oppa neomu saranghae!”
They swallow Hangukmal, fervently
Sucking context out of meaning
Like sucking flavour out of gum
Just maybe their breath will lure Korean men and women to their lips
The best alternative for idols they will never meet
And the conclusion
So, to the f**kers who insist that they’re just appreciating my culture:
Stop treating our language like merchandise from your favourite TV show
Being able to read English subtitles does not make it yours to keep
If you earnestly care about our culture,
Tie up the loose ends in your understanding
And trim the fragmented scraps from your tongue by taking the time to learn our language properly
We’ve previously written about the idealisation and fetishisation of Koreans and Asians as groups of people but this raw and impassioned performance raises some important questions about the way that many Hallyu fans use and talk about Korean language and culture. Using fragments of Korean scattered throughout sentences has become a normal part of fandom for many K-pop fans but it can be grating, irritating and even offensive to Koreans, Korean speakers and people of Korean heritage.
On one hand, the use of Korean words in this manner could be seen as a positive sign that Korea is starting to gain greater cultural influence across the world but on the other, the misuse and appropriation of the culture and language has the potential to be offensive or damaging to those who belong to it.
Due to many different historical factors, Korea has a very widespread diaspora. As Yun so eloquently points out in her piece, for many people of Korean heritage, she talks specifically about her experience as a Korean American, the struggle to find their own identity somewhere in between their Korean culture, language and identity and the culture, language and identity of the country they were born in or moved to can be very difficult. Are K-pop and K-Drama fans trivialising this by using broken Korean or insisting that they are experts in Korean culture?
Of course Korean is not the only language that this happens to. French, German and Japanese are just a few languages whose words have been used by English speakers for different purposes in order to sound cool at various points. On top of this, English words are also heavily used by modern South Koreans; scattered all the way throughout 21st Century Korean, often in ways that would be unrecognisable to native English speakers.
Korean terms which have no direct translation into English such as aegyo (애교), makjang (막장) and han (한) can be very useful for the discussion and understanding of Korean pop culture products but does the scattering of random words and phrases which have direct English counterparts (sarang (사랑) , annyeong (안녕), wae (왜) etc.) really add anything to the communication? Does the Korean language at that point just become an accessory or a piece of merchandise ripped from its original context as Yun argues? Is this a problem and should K-pop fans do something to discourage it?
Let us know what you think. When we shared this on twitter it got a really interesting response so it would be great to be able to facilitate a real conversation about it!