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Archive for August, 2015

Mini-series on Korean words, part 3: Agglutinative language

Posted by smathermather on August 31, 2015

Short linguistics aside

For me, understanding a language, beyond a memorization of terms, is predicated on the idea that I understand something of the underlying logic to the language. So today, instead of a Korean word, we’ll talk about the term agglutinative. (bless you)

In short, what it means is that a language uses a lot of prefixes, stem words, and suffixes, and that these components of larger words don’t change their sound in order to be put together.

Let’s take some English words as a counter example. When we look at English numbering, we have this weird thing that happens in the teens. The first thing we notice, is that for numbers between 10 and 20, we call them teens not tens. English is not agglutinative, it is fusional. When prefixes and suffixes come into play, often (but not always) the sounds change. Think of thirteen (not three-ten or three-teen) vs. Fourteen.  Fifteen is another departure — we might expect five-teen.

And don’t even get me started on twenty (two tens), or thirty (three tens)… .

Korean Numerals

By contrast, Sino-Korean numerals are agglutinative.

FYI, in the Korean Language, there are two numbering systems: the native Korean system, and the Sino-Korean system. More on that another time.

So, if I say the number three (sam), the number ten (sheep), and the number three again (still sam), I get 33, or sam sheep sam: 삼십삼. If I want to say 13, that’s just sheep sam, or 십삼. You prefer the number 88? Well that’s 팔십팔, or pal sheep pal.

FYI, the proper romanization of the word 10 (십) is “sip”, but as the s sound in front of the long e sound is pronounced sh, we’ll just consider the whole process an homage to counting sheep. Somehow apropos given the nation is 13 time zones away from me… .


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Mini-series on Korean words, part 2: Land of Mountains and Sea

Posted by smathermather on August 30, 2015

A good logo is hard to come by. I love the logo of Korean National Park Service. It’s simple, beautiful, has elements of complexity to it, and makes a simple statement: land of mountains and sea. The mountains and the sea are sources of life in Korea, from the resources and farming found on the edge of the mountains, the peace found hiking and visiting temples in the mountains, to the resources and seafood found in the sea. More to the point with KNPS, many of the national parks lands are reserves of mountains or protected ocean.

Today we will look at the second word in our mini-series on Korean words (see the first here): the Korean word for mountain: san.

The Korean character 'san'

Look to the individual characters that make up the syllable, and we see ㅅ(s),ㅏ(ah),ㄴ(n). This is a simple enough word.

As Seoul is surrounded by mountains, you will encounter san as a syllable in many contexts. Take for example a mountain to the north of Seoul, Bukhan Mountain, or Bukhansan: 북한. This name mirrors one of the names of North Korea: Bukhan. Buk means north, Han is the river that flows through Seoul. So the full name is “Mountain north of the Han”.

Buhkansan 북한산 is also the name of the national park that contains the mountain it is named for.

If you visit Seoul for FOSS4G, I highly recommend a hike in the mountains. It’s a rare megacity and capital that contains a 30 square mile national park inside its boundary. If you do visit, I recommend doing so during the week — weekend visits are very busy.

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Google Maps won’t help you much in Seoul…

Posted by smathermather on August 29, 2015

That could be my whole blog post. Just a PSA. Google Maps in Seoul is like Apple Maps was when they launched — dangerously inaccurate. *I don’t know what is helpful on iOS. I traveled last year with Android only, and my searches so far on iOS are coming up short.*

So what should you use? Anything OSM-based isn’t too bad. I really like OSMAnd. I haven’t done any deep analyses in this space, but OSMAnd has served me well. Also, you can record tracks, so if you see something wrong or out of date, OSMAnd will help you fix it in OpenStreetMap.

Icon for OSMAnd

I adore Seoul’s subway system. It’s considered one of the largest in the world,  ranks among the best, cleanest, etc.. Many stations are like 5 story malls that happen to have trains at the bottom; it’s really surreal. Oh, and for an English speaker it is not hard at all to navigate. Almost everything is in romanized characters / English + Korean, and the trains play nice sounding music as they approach.

It doesn’t hurt to have a good app, however. Subway Korea, though a little strange in interface is absolutely amazing once you use it. I say the interface is weird — it’s just transit graphic at a single static scale (it doesn’t change appearance as you zoom). But that graphic allows you to route between locations calculating train changes as necessary, let’s you optimize for time vs. number of train changes, and allows you to do routes by way of particular stops you may want to take on the way. It is great in large part because it’s designed with a deep understanding of how transit works and the kinds of questions people who don’t know the system need answers to. That’s a tall task. I can recall my first time navigating public transit in Boston, Cleveland, New York, DC, San Francisco, Portland, and Denver. Each of the above (even Portland!) was a little more difficult than Subway Korea and Seoul’s amazing wayfinding.

Icon for Subway Korea

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Mini-series on Korean words, part 1: Big Bang in Asia

Posted by smathermather on August 29, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-08-29 at 11.59.02 AM

I am going to do a little mini-series on Korean words starting with this post. If you are traveling to Seoul in September for FOSS4G Seoul, this may help a little. I am no Korean language expert (nor even fluent yet), so any corrections are welcome. Let’s start with the Korean word “bang”.

This is the romanized version of the Korean word 방, which is composed of three letters ㅂ, ㅏ, and ㅇ. If you are from the US Midwest like me, the “a” sound “ㅏ” is not nasal like some pronounce “angry”, but more an “ah” like “bah-humbug”.

This word has been used in reference to FOSS4G. For example, from slashGeo (emphasis my own):

Sanghee Shin, CEO at Gaia3D and Representative of OSGeo Korean Chapter explained his motivations for leading Seoul’s bid to make Seoul the starting point of a FOSS4G big bang extending the FOSS4G throughout the region via this conference.

Generally in English, we would see this as a single dimension of the word “bang” — referencing the cosmological term “big bang” to signify the rapidly expanding beginning of open source geospatial in South Korea.

The “big bang” in Asia was referenced again in the video on FOSS4G Seoul shown at the end of FOSS4G North America. In that context, it was paired with Psy’s Gangnam Style horse dance, which perhaps made it a double entendre.



But the meaning of the word “bang” in Korean is “room”. So “big bang” means “big room” or “big house”. It is often used similarly to how the word “house” is used in English. So sojubang is a pub (소주방 — a place that serves the Korean alcoholic drink soju) and norebang (노래방 literally song room) is a karaoke place.

If you are going, I’ll see you at the big bang. I recommend we retire at the end of the day to the norebang.

If you want more on the word 방, check out this tutorial from Sweet and Tasty TV on Youtube:




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