Daily Archives: 30 March 2009

Wordcatcher Tales: Dappokusha/Talbukja

How widespread is the economic downturn across the globe? Well, it’s now affecting many North Koreans, because funds from South Korea that might help them escape their workers’ paradise are not as plentiful as they once were, according to an article in Japan’s Mainichi Shimbun. I’ll quote just the first paragraph from White Peril‘s translation.

The number of dappokusha fleeing from North Korea … has decreased substantially [to] Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, Jilin Province, China, which abuts the PRC-DPRK border. It’s the biggest stronghold of the refugee business, but the activities of the brokers who maneuver behind the scenes guiding refugees through are at a standstill. This year is the sixtieth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, and in addition to a heightened level of alert at the border, the effects of the financial crisis have stopped the money that gets to them from South Korea. However, the defections supported by the brokers are a “necessary evil.” Beyond the border, there’s a backlog of desperate people.

The term dappokusha 脫北者 (lit. ‘escape North person’) caught my attention. The same compound is read 탈북자 in Korean (talbukja in the official SK romanization), but its usage in SK is now discouraged in favor of the euphemistic 새터민 saeteomin, which I’ll translate here as ‘new localites’.

The agentive sense of 脱 datsu ‘escape, desert, quit’ also shows up in the following compounds.
脱船 dassen (‘quit ship’) ‘jump/desert ship’
脱線 dassen (‘quit line’) ‘jump the (train)track’
脱サラ dassara (‘quit salary’) ‘quit one’s job as a salaryman’

But a similar 脱 datsu, in the agentive or instrumental sense of ‘remove’, occurs in some more common words.
脱水機 dassuiki (‘remove water machine’ =) ‘dryer, dehydrator’
脱脂乳 dasshinyuu (‘remove fat milk’ =) ‘skim milk’
靴脱ぎ kutsunugi (‘shoe removal’ =) ‘place to remove shoes’

Without an agent or instrument, the same kanji translates as ‘missing’.
脱文 datsubun ‘missing passage (of text)’
脱字 datsuji ‘missing word/character (in text)’

HISTORICAL/COMPARATIVE NOTE: One of the more remarkable regular sound correspondences between Sino-Korean and Sino-Japanese is SK *-l and SJ *-t (the latter often -tsu in final position, or assimilated to the following voiceless consonant), as in 出発 : 출발 chulbal : しゅっぱつ shuppatsu (< shutu + hatu) ‘departure’. This sound correspondence is part of what gives Korean its characteristic abundance of rolling liquid sounds and Japanese its characteristic abundance of staccato geminate obstruents amid otherwise open syllables (like Italian).


Filed under China, economics, Japan, Korea, language, migration