Language, a mode of communication and English being the universal language is given more preference. English is a language with great reach and influence; it is taught all over the world under many different circumstances
Korean language does consist of certain words whose definitions are so ambiguous that Koreans sometimes confuse their use. For example, many Koreans use the word “blue” to describe something that is “green.” When a traffic light is green, most Koreans say, “It’s blue.”
In English, “a sinner” is clearly different from “a criminal,” but Koreans do not seem to differentiate the two words clearly Things get even more complicated when the word for “sin” is confused with “crime.” The Korean word for crime is interchangeable with the word for sin. Strictly speaking, this implies that there exists no clear distinction between crime and sin in the Korean mind. Therefore, when a Korean says, “I have sinned” or “I have committed a crime,” he uses the same expression and feels the same sense of guilt that accompanies both meanings.
This confusion often causes a major psychological problem. Those who have sinned are likely to feel that they have committed a big crime and thus deserve some type of punishment whether it is eternal hellfire, suffering, or punishment. On the contrary, those who have committed a crime often seem to feel that they have sinned and thus can be forgiven upon penitence. This mindset especially applies to some of our politicians who seem to view political corruption or crime as sins that can easily be atoned.
Many Koreans also confuse the word for “individuality” with “selfishness,” which explains the prevalence of group mentality over individuality in Korean society. Anyone who wants to be individualistic is immediately misunderstood and condemned as a selfish person. In
Koreans sacrifice their personal interests to serve public interests. For example, one can neglect or even abandon his home, if necessary, in order to serve his country. In
Quite a few Koreans are also confused when it comes to “totality” and “totalitarianism.” Mistaking totalitarianism as totality, most Koreans do not even realize that they live in a totalitarian society where different voices are seldom allowed. Koreans frequently chant: “United, we live. Divided, we die,” but that seemingly harmless slogan often invites a totalitarian society where the freedom of speech and the freedom of press are effectively, if not ruthlessly, oppressed. In such a totalitarian society, uniformity and conformity are celebrated, and those who have different opinions are condemned as black sheep. Traditionally, Koreans abhor wet blankets that spoil the mood of unity.
Many Koreans confuse “authority” with “authoritarianism.” For the past few years, Korean society has defied the authority of teachers, bosses and professionals under the pretense of social revolution. Instead of denouncing authoritarianism, people deprecate a person’s authority and integrity. As a result,
Another baffling aspect one may observe is Koreans’ misunderstanding of the English word “victim.” When translated into Korean, “victim” is misconstrued as “sacrifice.” This leads to misinterpretation when communicating with one another. For example, if there is a plane crash or a hostage situation, Koreans would call the unfortunate passengers or hostages “the sacrificed (“huisaengja”), instead of “the victims. Even Saul Bellow’s novel “The Victim” has been translated into Korean as “Huisaengja,” or “The Sacrificed,” radically altering the original meaning of the title. Hopelessly confused with the concept of the two radically different words, Koreans tend to think that they are “sacrificed” when they are, in fact, victimized by something or someone. When a Korean becomes a victim of an accident, prejudice or social injustice, therefore, he thinks he has been sacrificed for some grand cause. Since the meaning of the word is lost in translation, his plight is galvanized by a touch of sacredness and heroism. Naturally, he thinks he deserves a medal of honor, national cemetery burial or monetary reward from the government even though he is nothing but a victim of an incident.
This confusion as to the use of some Korean words well illustrates some of the baffling contradictions found in today’s Korean society.