trying some more…

GatorLog: All things Weblog

This fellow left a trackback on my website, but it’s not working I think I shall have to spend Thursday figuring out why. Anyway, it was very nice of you, Gatorlog, and I really appreciate your thoughts and explanations. I realize that power means different things in Korean. I knew about the electricity because I tried saying it to one of the office girls the other day, my CD player is out of “him” and she looked at me like I was crazy for a second.

Anyway, your thoughts were interesting. And believe me, I find the fact that most Koreans are deeply influenced by Western (especially American) pop culture, and yet don’t fully understand, feel uncomfortable with, complain about, or even sometimes hate America, a very ironic but also puzzling thing. I know a guy who said that having an ajeng playing on the recent Rollercoaster CD made it a very Korean song. But the ajeng was playing in a pop song, which like it or not is a Western genre of music. The melody it was playing was diatonic, meaning using the notes and tuning of the Western scale.

There’s a book I’d like to get called Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things, which is all about how languages also contain, well, in some ways, programming for how we think. When we program a computer, we teach it categories, classes, sets into which it collects and stores its information. Humans are of course more complicated than that, but in some ways, we do learn basically from our languages, as well as common sense, how to categorize things. For example, the book has its title because in some language (maybe an African one, I’m not sure) there is a natural category known to all speakers of that category that includes fire, dangerous things like pits and snakes and bombs, and women. There’s an explicit word that applies to a category that includes those things.

Another example for me would be how I learned that one of the primary categories in Korea was “foreign”. In my experience growing up, I never really considered anything as mine vs. foreign. Chinese food was Chinese. French food was French. I might be half French and have no Chinese blood, but this has nothing to do with my relationship with this or that kind of food (or music, or whatever). My friends were black, Chinese, Ukranian, and for me, “we” had nothing to do with ethnicity or color, and everything to do with being in the same place. I remember Indian curries my father cooked, and Native Canadian food, and Chinese food, and Ukranian food, all with a feeling of equal familiarity and they all feel like “mine”. Even the line between Canada and the USA was blurry for me as a kid.

Coming to Korea I was shocked, and bothered at first, by seeing how everything seemed to fit into either the category Korean, or “not-Korean”. Now I’m used to it, understand it in historical context, and it’s not a big deal. (I also think it will change more over time.)

After all, what is Korean? What is foreign? And at what point does something foreign become Korean too? For example… I thought ddeok (glutinous rice cakes) was indigenous Korean food, until someone told me it was originally Japanese. I know little kids who don’t believe me when I tell them this.

I read a book (The Invention of Tradition, I think it was called, edited by some historian fellow named Hobsbawm) that claimed (and showed) that many many “traditions” date back no more than a few hundred years.

Anyway, it’s interesting to think of language in some ways as being a conceptual program by which we learn how to think and categorize. That would make language study a way of reprogramming yourself. Interesting, huh?

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