Fun with CJKV


The Chinese characters: Korean (and I don’t mean Classical Chinese used in Korea, but vernacular Korean) used sinograms (Chinese characters) for a lot of its vocabulary. The reference books I used (and still have somewhere in storage) for my PhD are full of what we called mixed script – a mixture of hangul and sinograms.

Conversely, a large share of the vocabulary. Although there are “false friends” (either imported from Japanese, or local constructs). 設施 is 施設 (시설) in Korean. 子息 (자식) is, interestingly, the reverse of Japanese/Chinese 息子.

Not all sinograms have a Korean reading. Some characters are indigenous to some southern Chinese dialects, like 冇, 嘢 etc… In some cases the characters do exist, albeit rare, like 唔, which means no/not in Cantonese but means generally in Chinese “hold in mouth” and can be pronounced 오/o in Korean.

Conversely some sinograms like 乲乫乬乭乯, which were made in Korea to represent purely Korean syllables ending in -L, probably have no meaning / reading in Chinese.

Some words that sound almost the same

學生 Cantonese hok6 saang1, Korean 학생 hak saeng.
雜誌 Cantonese zaap6 zi3, Korean 잡지 chap chi, Viêt: tạp chí.
電- Cantonese din6, Viêt: điện.
越南 Cantonese jyut6 naam4, Viêt: Việt Nam, Korean 월남 wol nam (wollam).
緬甸 Cantonese min5 din6 Viêt: Miến Điện.
車 Cantonese ce1, Viêt: xe hơi, Korean 차 ch’a.
咖啡館/室/店 Hokkien kopi tiam, Viêt: tiệm cà phê, Korean: 커피 [전문/체인] 점 k’ôp’i [ch’ein/chônmun] chôm.
護照 Mandarin huzhao, Viêt: hộ chiếu.

On the other hand, In Korean, there are a few words that sound like they come from Chinese, but don’t. The one that comes to mind in my coffee-deprived brain right now is 재미(있다). It means it’s interesting/fun, and sounds like it could be a compound of 在(재) and something else, 味(미) maybe. Especially since 在 and the vernacular verbal part, 있다, have the same basic meaning, there is.

There are a few more, but I can’t dredge them up yet.

However, the young generation doesn’t think, mostly, in Sino-Korean vs Korean. Since the Korean government dropped teaching Chinese characters, people have less and less knowledge about this, and don’t see words written in sinograms (Chinese characters) as being possibly Korean. Even the word 漢字語/한자어 (Korean word constructed from sinograms) seems to bring either blanks, or be associated with the Chinese language, with younger Koreans, even when the word isn’t a valid Chinese word, but a local Korean construct (like 玉編 or 子息).


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