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Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer in Old English

“Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer / Had a very shiny nose” The story of the Rudolph who was mocked by his fellow reindeer for his glowing red nose but came to be loved after leading Santa Claus’ sleigh on a foggy Christmas Eve first appears in a booklet written by the American Robert L. May in 1939. A Chicago-based retailer named Montgomery Ward used to send out promotional booklets for free every Christmas, and to save on the costs of buying them from…

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The origin of the word ‘kangaroo’

There is a myth that the word ‘kangaroo’ derives from the reply that Aboriginal Australians gave meaning “I don’t understand” when the British asked for the name of the animal. As the story goes, the British mistook that reply for the name of the animal, and it stuck. It’s a good story that is often repeated, but it is not true. In 1770, the Endeavour, captained by Britain’s James Cook, docked in the northeastern coast of Australia. It was near the…

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Two pronunciations now accepted for ‘gimbap’

Gimbap (김밥, in the Revised Romanization of Korean) or kimbap (in McCune–Reischauer romanization) is a Korean dish made of rice and other ingredients rolled up in dried seaweed. The Korean name 김밥 literally means ‘laver rice’, from 김 [ɡ̊iːm] (‘laver, a type of edible seaweed’) and 밥 [b̥ap] (‘cooked rice’). Until recently, the only recognized standard pronunciation of 김밥 was [ɡ̊iːm.bap]. Standard Korean is theoretically based on the contemporary speech used in Seoul by refined folk, and according to that definition, [ɡ̊iːm.bap]…

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Lisboa and Gusmão: representing Portuguese s-voicing in Korean transcription

The Portuguese capital Lisbon (pronounced [ˈlɪz.bən] in English), famous for the trams climbing up and down its hills, is known as Lissabon [ˈlɪ.sa.bɔn, ––ˈ–] in German and as Lisbonne [lis.bɔnə → liz-] in French. But the Portuguese name is Lisboa [Portugal: ɫiʒ.ˈbo.ɐ, Brazil: ɫiz.ˈbo.ɐ], and this is also the name in Spanish, where it is pronounced [liz.ˈβ̞o.a]. In Korean this city is known as 리스본 , which the Great Dictionary of Standard Korean (표준국어대사전) implies is a transcription of the English name ‘Lisbon’. Strictly…

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Satirical bilingual pun poem in Classical Chinese and Korean

The seismic political scandal surrounding South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye and her friend Choi Soon-sil has inspired a remarkable piece of bilingual wordplay in the form of a satirical poem in Classical Chinese which, when read in Korea’s traditional hanja readings, results in a poem in Korean with a different meaning. The text, which originally appeared on Korea University’s 대나무숲 (meaning ‘bamboo forest’) Facebook page (a forum for anonymous submissions from students), consists of five-character lines, following a popular form of…

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‘Loanword Transcription Rules’ section open

I have added a new section on the website with the English translation of the Loanword Transcription Rules (외래어 표기법 外來語表記法 Oeraeeo Pyogibeop), the official regulations in South Korea for transcribing other languages into hangul, the Korean alphabet. This is quite possibly the first time that translations of these rules are appearing in English anywhere. These rules are by no means perfect, and suffer from quite a few ambiguities and inconsistencies. For now, they are presented without commentary for the…

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Starting out

I have decided to stake out a tiny corner of the internet as a repository for my language-related musings in the English language that don’t fit into my previous online ventures. These include a blog in Korean and more recently pronouncer.org, a website conceived as an online pronunciation resource.

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