“No More Old-fashioned Chinese Stuff. We like South Korean Culture”

[imText1]A source inside North Korea reported on November 5th that the North Korean Ministry of Education recently directed every school to stress the importance of Korean language education and to encourage the use of the mother tongue.

In a phone interview with DailyNK, the source said, “At workplaces, there are those who read to the workers from a handbook titled ‘Let’s maintain our superior morals and actively promote the use of our mother tongue!’”

In the March 2007 edition of “Learning Culture & Language,” Jong Soon Ki, the most well-known linguist in North Korea and a professor at the Institute of Linguistics of Social Science Center, urged the public to stop admiring English and Chinese languages, saying, “The difference of our mother tongue between North and South Korea has been getting larger since the division of Korea.”

The source said that the North Korean authorities started to place high importance on the native tongue in an attempt to stop the surge in the use of the Chinese and foreign languages which have been spreading to the country through the circulation of South Korean soap operas since 2000.

After the food crisis in the mid-1990s, the number of defectors, border traders, and Chinese businessmen investing in North Korea have increased, which helped the Chinese culture to spread into the country. Many young North Koreans began to show interest in Chinese movies, Chinese products and the Chinese language. It became popular among them to read the brand names of Chinese products in Chinese.

In North Korea, people use the Chinese words “yaoyunji (搖運機)” or “yaoyun (搖運)” for a remote control. They do not use its Korean name “wonkyuk-jojonggi,” translated and adopted by the North Korean authorities.

As for cell phones, people use the Chinese term “Dakeda (大可大)” or “Souji (手機)” rather than the North Korean word “Sonjeonhwa (literally meaning a handphone).” Blue jeans are called “Niuzaiku,” in the border areas, a refrigerator is called by its Chinese name “Bingxiang (冰箱)” and VCDs are termed “Woicidie.” Indeed, many cosmetic products or medical supplies are called by their Chinese names such as “Kouhong” for lipstick.

The use of foreign languages has become more prevalent across the country especially since 2003 when the frenzy over Chinese culture was replaced by its South Korean counterpart. It is particularly noticeable that North Korean people no longer call South Korea “South Chosun” as they used to but call it “Hankuk (meaning the Republic of Korea).” These days, young people in Pyongyang look down on those who still use the old name, “South Chosun.”

The source said, “South Korean culture is taking over the Chinese frenzy, and the demand for South Korean films and products is increasing. People learn new words from South Korean soap operas and these words are becoming popular.”
The source added, “I guess this is because South Korea is better off than China, and people have a sense of homogeneity with South Korean people.”

“Nowadays, when people go to restaurants, they do not use the words “siksa annae” or “siksa pyo,” a Korean name for a menu. Instead, many people just call it “menu” as it is pronounced in English and widely called so in South Korea,” said the source.

The source continued, “We can see how rapidly the South Korean culture has spread into the country by the fact that many people no longer use the Chinese word for cell phone, Shouji (手機) and instead use the name ‘Hyudaephone,’ as it is called in South Korea.” The source said, “At Jangmadang (markets), people casually say the names of South Korean products as they are presented, such as “Cuckoo (rice cooker)” or “Color TV.”

When asked about the popular words adopted from South Korean culture, he listed following words: “diet,” “wellbeing,” “music video,” “sausage,” “single,” “wife,” “dress,” “pop song,” and “fast food.” (Notice that all of them are English words. In South Korea, people use many English words like the ones listed in everyday life)

32-year old Kim Kyung Wuk (pseudonym), who defected from Kyungsung county of North Hamkyung Province and recently came to the South, also confirmed this phenomenon.

Kim said, “In the past when people felt distressed, they expressed this feeling using the word, ‘uljukhada’. But now many young people use the words ‘jajeong’ or ‘stress’ as South Korean people do.” Kim added, “The North Korean people did not know the word ‘stress’ when they first heard it from South Korean movies they watched only three years ago. But now even the old people know the new word.”

Many defectors say that many new words adopted from South Korean TV dramas are being spread into the country especially among the young people such as “miss-Korea (a beautiful woman),” “show (fake),” “ssonda (I will treat you),” “hwakeun (passionate),” “single” and “wife.”

Kim said, “Those who watch South Korean dramas and listen to its music take a great interest in the everyday language of the South, and try to adopt it as long as they can avoid state regulation.”

Defectors say that the current phenomenon illustrates that North Korean people admire South Korea and greatly hope for reforms and an open-door policy.

Lee Chul Min, the operating manager at the Association of North Korean defectors, said, “For those who live in a closed society, exposure to foreign cultures can be a really fresh experience. It is natural for them to admire more advanced societies and cultures.” Lee added, “The current frenzy over South Korean culture will help bring a change into North Korea and help bridge a gap between the two Koreas.”