Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pronouncing "brotherhood" in Korean

A JoongAng Ilbo editor writes: We are fortunate that the difference in dialects within South Korea only sometimes causes childish ridicule, and not something much more serious.

The situation is different, however, for North Koreans who come to the South. They often find that their Northern dialect becomes a stigma and makes their life painful here. Youth who have defected from the North are often ostracized by their classmates. They remain quiet out of fear that they will speak in the Northern dialect. Employment of adult defectors is often canceled at an interview due to their North Korean accent. When they make a phone call to answer a job posting, they are often hung up on once their potential employers hear their Northern accent.

Even though they risked their lives to come down to the South, this country is not a place where they can even talk freely in their own language.

The Korean Institute of the Korean Language will begin an online class, “Standard pronunciation class for saeteomin [North Korean settlers].” It will be good news if the class can improve the unfortunate situation that the defectors find themselves in. But I wonder how easy it will be to change someone’s native dialect that they have learned since birth.

I think South Koreans who are embracing the defectors as neighbors must first change their mind-set about the “correct” pronunciation of Korean, in order for us to live together.

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