Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Haeinsa Cafe / Wordplay

A bit of cute wordplay at the Haein Cafe: 해맑게 인사하는 사람들...
A multi-orthographic linguistic puzzle! What does "海맑게 印寺하는 사람들" mean?

If you look carefully, you can see that this phrase uses two scripts: hanja, or Chinese characters, and hangul, the Korean writing system invented in the mid-fifteenth century. In ancient times, Korean was written entirely in hanja, but after Hangul was promulgated, it began to replace hanja. Today, few hanja are used, and then only in specific contexts; you might come across a few characters in newspaper headlines and official documents, but it's slowly falling out of common use.

Now let's examine these hanja. First, you have 海, which means "sea". It is pronounced 해 (hae). Then, you have 印 and 寺, which mean "stamp" or "mudra, a symbolic Buddhist gesture" and "temple", respectively. They are pronounced 인 (in) and 사 (sa).

Anyone familiar with Korean Buddhism will recognize these three hanja as the name of one of Korea's famous temples, 海印寺 (해인사/Haeinsa). What do they mean in the context of this phrase, however?

In fact, there's a bit of wordplay involved. As the Chinese characters are read with the Korean pronunciation, they are not intended to retain their written meaning. Instead of meaning "sea", 海 (hae) is simply part of the word 해맑게 (haemalkge), which means "brightly, purely". This 해 (hae) actually means "sun" in native Korean.

As for 印寺 (insa), the two words are essentially a homophone of 人事, or 인사 (insa). 인사하는 (insahaneun) means "greeting, bowing politely". And 사람들 (salamdeul) means "people", so...

Altogether, the phrase means something like, "People who greet brightly and purely." Maybe it makes more sense like this: "People who say hello with a warm smile (and a bow, because Korea)."

So as it turns out, the phrase has nothing to do with the sea or temples, but the clever part is that this was found printed on the menu for the cafe at Haeinsa. Thus, the cafe used the name of the temple as homophones to welcome its patrons. I love the ingenuity!

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Stray observations:
1. The menu is printed on beautiful hanji (한지/韓紙), a thick, coarse paper that has dried leaves and flowers embedded in it.

2. The spelling of "cafe" in Korean (까페/ggape), is a little unusual. Usually, it's 카페 (kape), with an aspirated [k] from the American English pronunciation. Instead of that, ㄲ represents a tense, unaspirated [g]. Perhaps this came from an attempt to transliterate the French pronunciation instead of the English one.

3. More hanja (한자/漢字) in the top right corner: 茶來軒, or 다래헌 (daraeheon). I've never encountered this word before, but it means a traditional teahouse. Literally, "a house or high pavilion where you can order tea." NB: don't think Korean words written with hanja are just borrowed from Chinese. 茶來軒 means nothing in Mandarin, as far as I'm aware. Also, the more common words for "teahouse" are 찻집 (chatjip) and 다방 (dabang/茶房).

4. Unrelated to linguistics: why does Haeinsa have its own cafe, anyway? Is it so that after you worship and commune with nature, you can get an iced caramel macchiato to keep you tethered to modern society? I enjoyed my seven-dollar (?!) iced 유자차 (citron tea), but the very existence of the cafe seemed incongruous to me, like the Starbucks located inside the Louvre or the stuffed animals sold in the 9/11 museum gift shop. I guess cafes are now just as integral to Korean culture as thousand-year-old temples, so this is an unsurprising mix of new and old.