Sunday, April 01, 2007

Overcorrection

I was just watching a really useful video done by the New York Times about how to make the Korean pancake Pajun (rhyme's with 'hot sun') and I got to thinking about overcorrection. Overcorrection is an interesting little process that happens when people learn a foreign language or try to use a grammatical construction in their own language that they're not comfortable with.
The classic English example is when people say something like "Jack gave the books to Danny and I." Many people grow up saying 'Danny and me' in sentences such as 'Danny and me went to the movies.', but this, of course, is wrong, according to the grammar books it should be 'Danny and I went to the movies.' because Danny went and I went. So people who have to struggle to talk this way learn the pseudo-rule 'always say " . . . and I"'. In the first sentence above, we should say "Jack gave the books to Danny and me." He gave one to Danny and one to me, not 'to I'. Thus people overcorrect their 'and me's to oblivion, even when 'and me' is correct.
In a foreign language context things get much weirder. I'll use Koreans learning English because I know about it all too well. When English words ending with 'p', 't', 'k', and 's' sounds are transliterated into Korean a sound similar to the 'ooh' sound is appended to the end of the word. So to a Korean 'help' is pronounces 'helpu'. In learning English they learn early on that when a Konglish (borrowed English) word has an 'ooh' at the end you make it into real English by dropping the 'ooh'. This works fine as a general rule:
테스트 (te-su-tu) >test
헤드 (he-du) > head
텐트 (ten-tu) > tent
But what about 'issue' and 'tissue'? You guessed it, scads of Koreans pronounce these words 'ish' and 'tish'. Same problem with any instance of 's' precending 'u', so you get people pronouncing 'soup' as 'spuh' and 'superman' as 'sperman'.
Furthermore, the 'f', 'v', and 'z' sounds are absent in Korean. So 'Jew' and 'zoo' are both pronounced 'joo', 'wife' and 'wipe' are both pronounced 'wipe', and God help anyone coming to Korea named Pat, whose name, people will assume, is 'Fat'. The same overcorrection process occurs here.
텔레폰 (tel-le-pon) > telephone
프론트 (pu-ron-tu) > front
파이브 (pa-i-bu) > five
티브이 (ti-bu-i) > TV
존 (jon) > zone, John
So of course here people say to themself "'p', 'b' and 'j' (no pun intended) are Korean sounds. Avoid them in favor of 'f', 'v' and 'z'." People overuse these sounds like crazy to make their Engish sound good, instead of really focusing on their listening and speaking skills enough to distinguish the two sounds. When you put the 'ooh' problem and the PB&J problem together with other poor pronunciations you can get exceedingly weird mispronunciations, like 'shamf' for 'shampoo' and 'farry' for 'party'.
The reason this comes up is because the cook in the video above does an English-to-Korean pseudo-overcorrection that my dad always does. My father has been to Korea twice, and knows exactly three Korean words. The first is 'kimchi', naturally, and the other two are 'soju' and 'ajumma' which mean, to him 'deceptively mild alcohol that Koreans want him to drink a lot of' and 'middle aged tough permed lady or sexy lady in business suit'. The thing is he cannot resist the temptation to proounce these words with the frenchy 'zh' sound of the words 'pleasure' and 'measure', so it's 'sozhu' and 'azhumma' for him. Classic overcorrection, except that the Korean language doesn't even have the 'zh' sound, my father, and the guy in the video, just think it should. 10 seconds in the cook pronounced pajun respectably as pajohn, but 2:10 minutes in, something deep in his brain tells him "'j' sound too familiar to be right" and he says 'pazhan'. It's an interesting thing about humans that we make these little simple rules to deal with the world and stick with them even when they're too simple to possibly be right.

2 comments:

KristinKC said...

I'm really digging your blog lately.

Joe Mondello said...

I'm glad to hear that.