Category Archives: language

North and South Korea: ‘No Longer the Same People’

From The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story, by Hyeonseo Lee (William Collins, 2015), Kindle Loc. 3255-3272, 3308-3316:

My nightmares had stopped, but curiously, it was here, in this haven, that many defectors’ ordeals caught up with them, and tormented them in dreams. Some suffered breakdowns, or panic attacks at the thought of the super-competitive job market they were about to enter. Psychologists were on hand to talk to them, and medics too, to tend to chronic, long-neglected ailments.

Many arrivals found it hard to shake off old mentalities. Paranoia, a vital survival tool when neighbours and co-workers were informing on them, prevented them from trusting anyone. Constructive criticism, which everyone needs when learning a new skill, was hard for them to take without feeling accused.

I attended classes on democracy, our rights, the law and the media. We were taught how to open bank accounts, and how to navigate the subway. We were warned to be careful of conmen. Guest lecturers visited. One was a North Korean woman who’d set up a successful bakery in the South. Her self-belief inspired me. Another was a priest who introduced us to the Catholic faith (many defectors embrace Christianity in the South), but his justification for the celibacy of priests and nuns caused much mirth among the women. Another speaker was a kindly policeman called Mr Park who told us what to do in case of emergencies, such as needing an ambulance or reporting a crime.

We also attended some extraordinary history classes – for many at Hanawon, their first dogma-free window onto the world. Most defectors’ knowledge of history consisted of little more than shining legends from the lives of the Great Leader and the Dear Leader. This was when they were told that it was an unprovoked attack from the North, not from the South, that began the Korean War on 25 June 1950. Many rejected this loudly, and outright. They could not accept that our country’s main article of faith – believed by most North Koreans – was a deliberate lie. Even those who knew that North Korea was rotten to the core found the truth about the war very hard to accept. It meant that everything else they had learned was a lie. It meant that the tears they’d cried every 25 June, their decade of military service, all the ‘high-speed battles’ for production they had fought, had no meaning. They had been made part of the lie. It was the undoing of their lives.

Ok-hee was very relieved to see me. After we’d embraced and congratulated ourselves on achieving our dream, we sat on the floor and ate instant noodles. Her own experiences since arriving in Seoul made a sobering story. Despite living for years in Shanghai, as I had, Ok-hee was not finding life here easy. She told me of an experience she’d just had after a job interview. The interviewer told her that he would call her to let her know the company’s decision. After days without hearing, she phoned the company and was told that they hadn’t called because it was impolite to reject someone directly.

North Koreans pride themselves on their directness of speech, an attitude that had been encouraged by Kim Jong-il himself. Foreigners are often taken aback by the bluntness of North Korean diplomats. Ok-hee’s experience was the first hint I got that the two Koreas had diverged into quite separate cultures. Worse was to come. After more than sixty years of division, and near-zero exchange, I would find that the language and values I thought North and South shared had evolved in very different directions. We were no longer the same people.

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Filed under democracy, education, Korea, language, migration, nationalism, religion

Wordcatcher Tales: lych gate, barley-sugar chimney, bloater

Here are some more English words new to me that I found in Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth Century to Modern Times, by Lucy Lethbridge (Norton, 2013).

Kindle Loc. 2975:

Designed by a happy lucky-dip [grab bag] of architectural elements taken from all periods – a bit of Queen Anne, some Tudor beams, a stained-glass window over the door, a lych-gate [originally the covered gate into a churchyard (litchfield, from Old English lic ‘corpse’)], a novelty turret or a barley-sugar [corkscrew-shaped (or Solomonic)] chimney – still represented the oldest English ideal of all: the image of the cottage, nestling secure within its own small piece of land.

Kindle Loc. 3019:

Other alternative residential setups included hostels, such as the one where young Bronwen Morris worked as a kitchen-maid, helping to produce three daily meals for ‘young businesswomen’, just off Sloane Square, London. Bronwen was kept busy cleaning the kitchen and peeling vegetables and was later upgraded to the post of cook, producing three large hot meals a day for seventy-two young women who came back for lunch: ‘bacon, bloaters [whole smoked herring] or kippers [split smoked herring] and boiled eggs for breakfast, rabbit stew or rabbit pie for lunch and dinner, or pork, beef with vegetables – also always steam or rice puddings and suet puds‘. By the 1920s there was a proliferation of these residences for girls working as stenographers, typists or clerks or generally what E. M. Forster’s anxious Mrs Honeychurch called ‘messing with typewriters and latchkeys’.

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Wordcatcher Tales: Kedgeree, Koshary

From Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth Century to Modern Times, by Lucy Lethbridge (Norton, 2013), Kindle Loc. 3187:

For Helen Mildmay White, whose family lived at Flete House, breakfast was, without fail, ‘bacon and eggs and when there were visitors, four different kinds of eggs and bacon, sausages, kidneys and always a kedgeree, cold ham and cold tongue and scones with butter and Devonshire cream.’

I read this passage a few days after having had my first—very pleasant—taste of an Egyptian dish spelled “koshary” at a restaurant named for that very dish in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina. It turns out that British (Anglo-Indian) kedgeree and Egyptian kushari are from the same Sanskrit source, transliterated kichdi in English Wikipedia. Its basis is rice with legumes, like rice and beans in so many other cultures, but the added ingredients vary greatly around the world. A relatively recent addition to the Egyptian version is macaroni.

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Roles of British Servants in India

From Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth Century to Modern Times, by Lucy Lethbridge (Norton, 2013), Kindle Loc. 1718-1740:

The servant in India conducted his work with a commitment that even in Britain would have been hard to command. The duties, for example, of the khitmagar, or bearer, might include standing behind his master’s chair at mealtimes and stirring his tea, cutting his meat – everything short of actually eating the food for him. By the mid-1920s, even the most self-important pukka sahib found this kind of behaviour a little embarrassing.

Her servants were generally the first people from whom the Raj housewife, if she were curious, learned about India. There were the minutely calibrated differences in religious observance and caste to begin with. Intricate sectarian distinctions meant that each job came with its own religious significance to be carefully respected. The cook (always a man) would not touch pork if he were a Muslim or beef if he were a Hindu. The khitmagar, who had the task of managing the other servants, would not undertake anything but his own tasks; even moving an article of furniture would be beneath him. The work of sweeping, scrubbing or emptying chamberpots was done only by Untouchables; the work of looking after dogs by yet another caste – and often a young child. Untouchables would not handle dead animals, the disposal of which required the services of another group altogether, and the Goddens remembered that ‘if a crow fell dead into our garden or one of our guinea-pigs died, Nitai, our sweeper could not pick up or touch the corpse; a boy of a special sect had to be called in from the bazaar; he put on his best shirt of marigold-coloured silk to do this grisly work’.

Most servants were men, with the exception of the ayah, who was the household nanny, but the cook (khansama) would often have helping him in the kitchen a tunny-ketch, a woman permitted to feed the poultry, grind the spices and cook the rice, attend to the lamps and clean the master’s boots, work considered beneath the dignity of the cook. A musalchi helped with the washing-up, a kind of scullion, described in 1890 by Flora Annie Steel: ‘bearing, as his badge of office, a greasy swab of rag tied to a bit of bamboo’. In most large households, a derzi, or tailor, endlessly stitching at clothes he was mending or copying, might be found sitting on the verandah; then there was the dhobi, who had the never-ending labour of the family’s laundry (and most people changed at least twice a day in the heat, and then for dinner). In those places where there were no telephones, chuprassis were employed to send messages and acted as informal bodyguards, always on the lookout for people going in and out. And because many rural areas had no electricity and therefore no electric fans, there was also the punkah-wallah whose sole duty was to pull the rope that operated the fan, or punkah, day and night to create a cooling breeze. The night punkah-wallah could do it by fixing a rope to a foot and could perform the movement while almost asleep.

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Filed under Britain, democracy, labor, language, religion, South Asia

Cherokee Language Revitalization

From Talkin’ Tar Heel: How Our Voices Tell the Story of North Carolina, by Walt Wolfram and Jeffrey Reaser (UNC Press, 2014), p. 212-213:

The English-only policies of the boarding schools were largely effective in achieving their purpose with respect to language. Across the United States, the vast majority of American Indian languages that survived the initial contact period have been lost or are currently endangered. Even among reservation groups, few people under fifty speak the heritage language. For example, a 2002 survey of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma found only about 10,000 fluent Cherokee speakers—almost all of whom were older than fifty—out of a population of 288,000. The situation is not much better in North Carolina. The 2000 U.S. Census reported 1,147 of the approximately 12,500 Cherokee in North Carolina as having some fluency in the language; however, a 2005 survey conducted by the tribe identified only 460 fluent speakers—of whom 72 percent were over fifty—a number that tribal elders claim has since dwindled to somewhere between 200 and 300. The tribe estimates that even with its preservation efforts, they are still losing an average of three Cherokee speakers a month.

This stark finding launched an intensive, community-based language revitalization project. For the community, more than the language is at stake. Native Cherokee speaker Myrtle Driver notes: “Our language is who we are. Once you start learning the language, it branches out to all other areas—history, culture, traditions. So, when they’re learning the language they’re learning, you know, everything about the Cherokee people as well.

The revitalization project has a number of initiatives, the first of which is the Kituwah Academy, an early childhood immersion program that teaches parents and children from seven months to age five to speak and read together in Cherokee. This early childhood component prepares the children for a total immersion curriculum that extends from preschool to fifth grade. To support the teaching of this program, the community has partnered with Western Carolina University, which boasts strong programs in elementary education and the Cherokee language so that students can now learn to deliver elementary school content in Cherokee. Jean Bushyhead, a local teacher, is optimistic about the chances for success in preserving the language: “The Cherokee culture and language will survive because of the great emphasis that has been going on for the last five or six years. And I think that we are getting to the children at the right time. And that is [from] birth … on.” Although the program directs most of its efforts toward young children, since 2007 all Cherokee students have been required to speak Cherokee in order to graduate from high school. While students sometimes resist such imposed mandates, and success in language learning is closely tied to a person’s desire to learn the language, in the case of Cherokee, many students are eager to learn….

The community has also begun adult education programs on the Qualla Boundary as well as intergenerational events that bring together the older and younger speakers of the language. And there is a Cherokee summer camp in the Snowbird community an hour south of the Qualla Boundary where children produce a play in Cherokee by the end of the summer. The Cherokee in North Carolina have also reached out to Cherokee groups in Oklahoma to create workshops to discuss their common language and help adapt it to the modern world. The program’s tasks include adding new words to Cherokee so that it can be used to teach state-mandated curricular content. The Cherokee Language Consortium, for example, has designated new Cherokee words for English words like cell phone, plastic, CD, computer, amoeba, galaxy, axis, biology, and astronaut.

Despite the current incentive, it is impossible to know what the future holds for the Cherokee language. The Kituwah dialect of Cherokee remains below the critical mass of speakers that would all us to comfortably predict it will continue to be a viable and flourishing language.

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Three-way Segregation in Robeson County, NC

From Talkin’ Tar Heel: How Our Voices Tell the Story of North Carolina, by Walt Wolfram and Jeffrey Reaser (UNC Press, 2014), p. 216-220:

Robeson County is the most ethnically diverse county in North Carolina, with minority groups constituting the majority of the population. Contributing to the county’s diversity is the largest American Indian population east of the Mississippi River—the Lumbee, whose tribal members, now approaching 50,000, make up 39 percent of the Robeson County population, with the rest composed of non-Hispanic European Americans (25 percent), African Americans (25 percent), and Hispanics (8 percent). The first three ethnic groups have lived side by side for several centuries now, enduring long periods of legal and de facto segregation—three seating areas in the movie theater; three school systems; and, most recently, three homecoming kings and queens. As the ninth-largest tribe in the United States—and the largest nonreservation tribe of American Indians—the Lumbee Indians of Robeson County are the reason that North Carolina ranks seventh among all the states in terms of the American Indian population. But the Lumbee have been largely ignored by the federal government, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and people outside North Carolina, who rarely know who they are….

At the railroad intersection of the east-west and north-south crossing of the Union Pacific, Southern, and CSX railways lies the heart of what seems at first to be just another small southern town center. But it is hardly that. About 90 percent of the 2,300 people living within the town of Pembroke are Lumbee Indians. Crossing the railroad tracks, a flashing sign at the edge of the campus of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke advertises upcoming events at one of the fastest-growing universities in the state. The school was established in 1887 as the Croatan Normal School to train American Indian public school teachers, opening with one teacher and fifteen students. Today, it educates almost 7,000 students in the liberal arts and sciences. It has always been known as an Indian school, although it was not until 2005 that the governor of North Carolina signed a declaration officially making it “North Carolina’s Historically American Indian University.”

The flickering sign projects the digital profile of an Indian in headdress and welcomes newcomers to the “Home of the Braves.”

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Filed under democracy, education, language, nationalism, slavery, U.S.

North Carolina Placenames

While visiting old friends and enjoying the fall colors in North Carolina, I’ve been exploring local history and culture—and vittles, from lowly liver pudding to fancy shrimp and grits, and a good variety of local craft brews.

One book I’m enjoyin’ is Talkin’ Tar Heel: How Our Voices Tell the Story of North Carolina, by Walt Wolfram and Jeffrey Reaser (UNC Press, 2014). It comes with a well-organized website of audio files illustrating pronunciations discussed in each chapter. The printed book provides links to each audio file in two formats: a unique URL (http) and QR code. The book is written for general readers, so the pronunciations are rendered in English spellings that avoid IPA symbols. Here’s a sample of placenames:

Chowan (cho-WONN), Rowan (roe-ANN), Gaston (GASS-ton), Lenoir (le-NOR)

Icard (EYE-kurd), Ijames (IMES), Iredell (IRE-dell), Robeson (ROBB-i-son)

Fuquay-Varina (FEW-kway vuh-REE-nuh), Uwharrie (you-WHAR-ee)

Conetoe (kuh-NEE-tuh), Contentnea (kun-TENT-nea), Corolla (kuh-RAHL-uh)

Chicamacomico (chick-uh-muh-CAH-mih-co), Nantahala (nan-tuh-HAY-luh)

Cooleemee (COOL-uh-mee), Cullowhee (CULL-uh-whee), Cullasaja (cool-uh-SAY-juh)

Guilford (GILL-furd), Hertford (HERT-furd), Wingate (WIN-get), Wendell (win-DELL)

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