Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Argue with Roboseyo: Jeju Island's Dialect is in Danger... So What?

It was a good show, with a bunch of callers, including a professor from Jeju University, who's studied the Jeju Dialect, and assures us it's a language of its own.
Thank you to Mike Hurt and Rachel for calling, and on Twitter, thanks to @Cocoinkorea, @rjmlee, @DGFEZ, @HJKomo @chrisinseoulsk, and @aaronnamba for their opinions on Twitter, Bora, Charles, Rachel, Danielle and Soyeon for their opinions on Facebook.]

For more information about endangered languages, check out this AMAZING TED Talk by Wade Davis:

And check out the UNESCO "Endangered Languages" map.

Last night, we talked on TBS eFM's evening show about Korea's "Mart Kids" - it was an awesome show, with tons of callers!  (Callers are fun.)

Tonight, we're discussing the Jeju Island Dialect: UNESCO has named the Jeju Island dialect (satturi) a critically endangered language.

If you're a linguist, a heritage lover, or if you have connections to Jeju Island (lived there, taught there, speak the dialect yourself), shoot me an e-mail, because we'd love to talk to you on the show!

These are the issues that come up:

1. When hanok buildings are being bulldozed, and archaeological sites are getting converted into apartment complexes, what's the big deal about a language?  Which aspects of a culture do you think need to be made a priority, in terms of preservation?

2. Why is this dialect disappearing?  

3. With English mania in Korea, should we be concerned that sometime in the future, the Korean language as a whole will be in danger, crowded out by English or some other "global language"? 

4. Is it the cost of progress to lose these kinds of local varieties?  Supermarket culture has led to the disappearance of regional breeds of tomatoes... but if the supermarket variety grows and ships and stores better, 

5. Is it possible to preserve a language?  Languages constantly change, adding new words, ceasing to use old ones -- if the language is falling out of use, that means it is no longer serving a purpose, so why preserve it?

6. Are Korea's other local dialects next?  Everybody's moving to Seoul and watching Seoul-made dramas and movies.  Will the Daegu, Busan or Gwangju dialects be next to go?

7. What steps should be made to preserve it, if it's worth preserving?

Did you learn your parents' mother tongue or not?  (I know I didn't); are regional accents where you're from disappearing?  Write in!


Jin said...

It goes without saying that all of the dialects in Korea reflect the local culture of the provinces or areas in which they originate. But what is unique about Jeju Island is that some of the "true" locals (whose families have several generations of ties to the island) see themselves as belonging to a culture that is distinct from mainland Korean culture. In fact, there was a secessionist movement that once tried to declare independence for the island but was violently suppressed by forces from the mainland. The Jeju dialect is one of the ways that the natives could distinguish themselves from mainland wannabes. I once had a conversation with a Korean grandfather whose son married a woman with deep Jeju roots. He went to a restaurant on the island twice. The first time by himself and the second with his daughter-in-law's father. Despite having the same meal each time, the grandfather noticed a considerable difference in the price and was told by the other grandfather that since the owner recognized him as a local, he was charged less than what would be normally charged for a mainland visitor, whose dialect is noticeably different. But to get to my point, since mainland business interests have been grabbing up all the land and trying to turn it into a Korean Waikiki or Guam, I would argue that the disappearance of Jeju's dialect will represent the complete colonization of Jeju by mainland Korea and the extinction of what was not too long ago a unique and distinct culture.

Anonymous said...

it probably doesn't help the other dialects that Seoulites attach a stigma to them. As such people not from Seoul try to mask the fact they are from other parts of the country.

Roboseyo said...

probably not... then again, seoulites aren't alone there: Stephen Colbert went to a diction coach to lose his South Carolina accent for the same reason, according to the wikipedia page on American Standard Pronunciation (which news anchors are trained to use)

Unknown said...

Sit back and think about the alternative. Would you instead create a law that forbids anyone to not speak in their native dialect? This would be the only way of preventing the transformation of a language.

In the end that is what its all about, transformation. This applies to any language of any place. Over time change happens, modernization takes hold, villages are paved for apartments and shopping malls. The village might be nice for the visitor to "look" at, or for the old timer to "remember" about, but its absolutely horrible for the current occupants to live in compared to the apartments. Are the new apartments perfect? No their are not, but they are a better, cleaner, healthier living standard then the straw huts.

This same approach can be used for languages, they change with time, converge and separate. The dialect of older years changes to the modern speech of today that will someday become the dialect of older years that people research. The English of 200 years ago would not be recognizable today, nor would speaking it as your native dialect be a desirable trait. We remember it in books and plays, and its displayed to everyone as art, but its use as an actual form of communication no longer exists. This has happened to all languages, they've changed adapted and transformed overtime. In a few hundred years the English we speak now will not resemble the English they speak then. They will have scholars who study today's English as a past language just like they have scholars who are studying the Jeju dialect.

One day they will have this same discussion about today's dialect.

Roboseyo said...

I htink you're right, Palladin: you can't force a dialect to be preserved, and if people aren't teaching it to their children, it WILL perish. Which is sad, but it's also how things go in a globalizing world with faster and faster communication.

On the other hand, it's good that somebody on Jeju Island is studying, recording, and preserving the dialect for historical purposes, before it vanishes.

A lot of the literally hundreds of languages that existed in British Columbia, Canada (my home province) have not been so lucky, and vanished quietly from living memory, and that's sad.

Robofakyo said...

Since you come from a country that never cared for minority languages and whose citizens don't even speak their own language well, I'm not surprised, that you don't care about a dialect facing distinction. You're just ignorant and you don't belong to Korea. Go back where you came from.

Roboseyo said...

Robofakyo: kiss! 쪽! Aren't you cute! You even named yourself after me just so I'd be more flattered by your comment. Thanks! Now I know I'm doing something right with my blog, to be attracting devoted readers like you.

Unknown said...

Yes I agree that someone should preserve their dialect through some form of permanent storage so that we can study it throughout time.

When you attract your very own special brand of troll is how you know you've succeeded.

Roboseyo said...

I agree on both points, Palladin.

I think Korea's lucky to have the resources and inclination to preserve the Jeju dialect, and that dialect, even if it isn't used in the marketplace anymore, is an important part of cultural heritage, like Latin or Shakespearean or Chaucerian English, which can still be studied.

Unfortunately, many of the native languages of North America's aboriginal tribes weren't so lucky: less than half of the languages based in British Columbia are no longer spoken. http://www.ydli.org/bcother/bclist.htm