Wednesday, April 30, 2014

O long-awaited nerdy grammar post...

Every day I receive dozens of messages on the school computer messaging system, and I skim them without really reading, because they're all in Korean, obviously. Sometimes my co-teacher will send along a message in English, especially if she wants my opinion on a question of English grammar. From time to time a non-English teacher will try their hand at English, too, to remind me about teachers' volleyball in the gym after school or ask about the teachers' English class I run.

But I disregard almost all of the Korean messages. If they're short and I have a spare minute, I'll translate them for the purpose of practicing Korean. But the information is usually mundane: administrative stuff, our school in a local newspaper, whatever.

The other day, however, I got a message from one of our secretaries, whose short message included lots of emoticons and an announcement about a new shipment of botttled water for us to take at our convenience. It had been a while since we'd had bottled water, for some unknown reason, so understandably, the secretary was excited. But I couldn't make head or tail of the very first phrase of her message:

아기다리고기다리던 물
a gi da li go gi da li deon mul

The last word, 물/mul, means "water". The rest of it was gibberish to me. If you can't read Korean, it's probably also gibberish to you. But I was mystified: it looked like one very long, nine-syllable word that had some crazy internal rhyme. Having studied Korean for two years, I wondered if this was a new word I'd never seen before, or really just some nonsense sounds thrown together to represent excitement onomatopoetically.

Agi... dali... gogi... dali... deon? 고기/gogi means "meat"... 다리/dali means "bridge"... and I know that 던/deon is a grammatical particle that marks a verb used as a modifer in the past tense. But this still made no sense to me, and I almost laughed out loud because of my confusion and the apparent absurdity of the phrase.

Then Google Translate came in to save the day! Google Translate generally does not work very well for Korean, but I gave it a shot this time, and the algorithms spit out, "Oh awaited". Suddenly, it clicked! Let's break this down:

아 = ah, oh, "O"
기다리고 = from the verb kidalida, which means "wait"
기다리던 = from the same verb, this time with the modifying particle

The sense, then, is that the water is something we have "waited and waited for". O long-awaited bottled water! I can brew tea in my office once again!

I realized that what confused me about the message was not just the unexpected (but completely normal in Korean) repetition, but also the fact that the secretary had neglected to use proper spacing. I see my students do this on Facebook from time to time, and it makes an already difficult-to-decipher wall of text even less compelling to try to read. I mean, imagineifijuststartedwritingmypostsonfacebooklikethisjustbeacuseiwasreallyexcitedoremotional! Um... no thanks! I'm glad that English has CAPSLOCK for that very purpose. AT LEAST WRITING IN ALL CAPS STILL PRESERVES SPACES BETWEEN WORDS.