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Sino-US English Teaching, ISSN 1539-8072
February 2012, Vol. 9, No. 2, 952-957
An Analysis of Lexical Borrowing From Languages: “Konglish”
CUI Xue-bo
Yanbian University, Yanji, China
This paper analyzes English loan words in Korean language. English words and phrases are largely absorbed into
Korean either out of filling lexical gap or at the whim of fashion. These words have been borrowed and adapted
orthographically and become a part of Korean language. Some loan words have the same meaning or phonological
features as their corresponding words, but some do not. The only real solution to the “false friends” is to be aware of
them, to look out for them, and to learn them. Teachers of English need to raise learners’ awareness of the existence
of English-origin words in their mother tongues.
Keywords: lexical borrowing, “Konglish”, loan words, “false friends”
The practice of taking a word from a foreign language and introducing it into another is called “borrowing”
and the words thus “borrowed” are known as loan words. It is worth mentioning from the outset that, as Crystal
(1997, p. 332) observed in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, since no language ever took a word from
another language with the intention of one day returning it, and since such words are never returned, even once
they have outstayed their welcome in the borrowing language, both of these terms are misnomers. It is more
accurate to speak of one language copying words from another language (Crowley, 1997, p. 155). It is also
important to understand that this is not a modern phenomenon brought about by globalization but has always
taken place whenever different language communities come into contact with each other.
Generally, when a language copies a lexical item, it takes the form of a word in one language and reshapes
that word to fit its own phonological structure (Crowley, 1997, p. 155). It means that non-occurring phonemes
may be replaced with phonemes that are present in the system of the language that is taking new word, and words
may be made to fit the phonological pattern of a language by eliminating sounds that occur in unfamiliar positions,
or inserting sounds to make words fit its patterns.
Words are often taken from other languages to fill lexical gaps—to provide names for new objects or
phenomena. Languages are more likely to copy words from other languages in the area of cultural vocabulary. But
perhaps the most important feature of the borrowing phenomenon for language learners and teachers is that once the
word has been borrowed and, where appropriate, adapted orthographically, it becomes a part of the “host language”.
Some loan words can be trusted and can be a real boost to the language learner’s comprehension and vocabulary
learning, but others are traps. There is, therefore, an alarming stock of “false friend” or “false cognate”—a word
CUI Xue-bo, Ph.D., English Department, College of Foreign Languages, Yanbian University.
which has the same or very similar form in two languages, but which has a different meaning in each (Richards, J.
Platt, & H. Platt, 1992, p. 136)—among words which look thoroughly trustworthy to learner.
English as Borrower and Lender
English was once one of the most assiduous borrowers of words and has been borrowing words from
French, German, Spanish, etc.. These days, however, English, and especially the US varieties of English, has
become far more of a lender than a borrower. When it comes to borrowing words, linguistic receptiveness tends
to go hand in hand with cultural receptiveness and this has certainly been the case in the history of English as a
word lender. As a lender, English was a late starter. There is very little evidence of English influencing the
languages of even its closest neighbors before the beginning of the 18th century. It was at this time that France,
closely followed by Italy and then by other European nations, developed an enthusiasm for all things English,
and this included words. A huge number of English loan words entered French and, directly or indirectly, via
French, other languages of Europe.
In the 20th century and at the beginning of the 21st century, globalization and the level of contact between
countries have meant that English words have spread more widely and in greater number than ever before. This is
largely due to the cultural and political predominance of the USA, in particular. These days, English words enter
the languages of countries worldwide through pop and youth culture, technology (in particular, computers and
the Internet), the media and advertising, among other channels. Governments all over the world, and particularly
in South East Asia, have complained that there is no time to translate these English words into the local language,
and so a hybrid of English and the local language develops, for example, “Tinglish” (Thai and English) or
“Chinglish” (Chinese and English). Borrowing can even lead to loan words outnumbering indigenous words, as
they do in Korea (which borrows heavily from Chinese and English in particular) by an estimated ratio of 40% to
60%. Although lexical borrowing is frequently associated with dominant economic and political powers, any
kind of cultural contact can bring about lexical borrowing between languages.
With English words being so avidly and speedily absorbed into foreign languages either out of necessity
or at the whim of fashion, and with borrowing being the free and ungoverned process, it has always tended to
be, interpretations of meaning are often quite mistaken or quite deliberately disregarded. Loans take a number
of different forms, though many will fall into more than one category, and they can all lead to the creation of
“false friend”.
In many cases, a word or expression is taken into the receiving language wholesale with its spelling and
orthography intact as an Anglicism, but is then applied to something different. In other cases, the word is adapted
to the orthography and pronunciation of the borrowing language.
Sometimes an English word is shortened and the new shortened form is applied to the same thing or concept
as the original longer word. Korean is particularly avid of shortening of English loan words, and by so doing, it
creates an alarming number of “false cognates”. The similarity may cause second language learners to use the
word wrongly. Table 1 shows Korean words that are transliterated into the closest English words and the
corresponding meaning in English.
An added problem with some loan words being “false cognates” is that they often denote an object or
concept in the same general semantic area of the lexicon, thus increasing their deceptive trustworthiness. They
may have a broader or more general meaning, or a narrower or more specific meaning. However, the problem is
that they are more than likely to turn up in the same context as their false cognates. Table 2 shows Korean loan
words from English that can illustrate the potential for confusion.
Table 1
Transliterated English Words in Korean and the Corresponding Meaning in English.
“stainless steel”
“health club”
remote con
“remote control”
“classical music”
air con
“air conditioner”
“sewing machine”
Table 2
Korean Loan Words From English and Its Corresponding Meaning in English.
one piece
“nail polish”
“cassette recorder”
apartment building
“office building”
What Is “Konglish”?
“Konglish” is the use of English words (or words derived from English words) in Korea or the use of Korean
dialect mixing with English loanwords. It is Korean lexical items, consisting of loan words from English and
nativized into the Korean language. It also includes the use of non-English words that are perceived to be English.
For example, these could be “Konglish” words that have a different meaning from their corresponding English
forms, words that merely look or sound like English, or words that are a mixture of Korean and English. Koreans
usually use the word “Konglish” exclusively in the latter sense.
Through a direct absorption of these loan words into the Korean language, these words became
institutionalized into the language. This combination of Korean and English, or Koreans’ interpretation of
English is widely used and accepted in Korea.
In the 20th century, a large class of “Konglish” words came into Korean by way of Japanese. These include
words that originate from English and other languages, but their meaning were modified or transformed as they
were first adapted into Japanese, and then were adapted into Korean. Because of this, many of these words were
made to conform to Japanese phonological features, and therefore can be unrecognizable if they are English loan
words or not (see Examples 1-2).
Example (1) wa-i-sha-sseu (Korean 와이샤쓰 “shirt; dress shirt” < Japanese—ワイシャツ waishatsu <
English “white shirt”; in standard usage, wa-i-sheo-cheu—a form closer to the English
pronunciation—is preferred)
(2) ppa-kku (빠꾸, “back up”—nonstandard usage)
As longer English words were often abridged when they were adopted into Japanese, many words of English
origin show up in Korean as follows (see Examples 3-5).
Example (3) a-pa-teu (Korean 아파트 < Japanese—アパート apāto < English “apartment”)
(4) mi-sing (Korean 미싱 < Japanese—ミシン mishin < English “sewing machine”; in standard
usage—jae-bong-teul, a Sino-Korean word—is preferred)
(5) te-re-bi (Korean 테레비 < Japanese—テレビ terebi < English “television”; in standard
usage—tel-le-bi-jeon—is preferred)
Some words came from other European languages, but are generally classified as Konglish as well, for
example, a-reu-ba-i-teu (아르바이트 “part-time job”, from German Arbei, “work”; Japanese アルバイト
arubaito, with the same meaning as its corresponding form in Korean).
Generally speaking, “Konglish” can be divided into five types: (1) words whose meanings have been altered;
(2) brand names; (3) phrases that have been fabricated to mean something totally different from what the words
mean in the original language; (4) words where pronunciation has changed; and (5) words or phrases which have
been abbreviated. Konglish also incorporates “pseudo loan-words”: English terms that are used by Koreans but
only after making a direct translation from Korean to English. One of the more obvious examples is the word
Konglish, which is formed by taking Ko, the initial syllable of the word Korean, and then combining it with
nglish, the second part of the word English.
English Words With a Different Meaning
One of the uses of “Konglish” involves words with “false cognates”. Take the word dessert for example. In
English, this word could be defined as “an after dinner treat”, but in Korean, the term dessert is an example of a
word in which the meaning has been altered slightly. While it is still served after a meal, it refers to either a cup of
coffee, tea, or even a soft drink. In some instances, the word service meaning “free of charge”. Service is also
used at a Korean bank when requesting a cash advance with a credit card. Other examples of words with altered
meanings include sharp “mechanical pencil”, cider “a soft drink similar to 7 Up”, gargle “mouthwash”, and
meeting “blind date”.
Brand Names
Sometimes a trademark or brand name becomes a word in “Konglish”. If you go to a department store
looking for an overcoat or trench coat, all you have to do is to tell the clerk that you want a Burberry, the
trademark of a long and light waterproof coat. Or, if you are hungry and want some yoghurt, you had better ask
for Yoplait, which is another example of a brand name that is used as a noun in Korean. Likewise, native English
speakers also use the brand name as a particular noun or action, for example, they use Xerox to refer to a
photocopy or even the action of making a copy.
Altered Phrases
One of the more intriguing uses of “Konglish” involves phrases which exist in English, but their corresponding
phrases which are used in Korean are completely different. A popular expression used by students when they go out
for dinner or coffee is the phrase Dutch pay, which is taken from the English expression Dutch treat.
Other examples of these “fabricated words” include cash corner “ATM (Automated Teller Machine)”, oil
bank “gas station”, hand phone “mobile phone”, light Coke “diet Coke”, and MacGyver knife “Swiss army knife”.
Sometimes the pronunciation of certain words in konglish is different from that in the doner language. For
example, the word margarine is pronounced “ma·ga·rin” and pizza is pronounced “pi·ja”. Although this kind of
pronunciation problem can be readily fixed in the English classroom, outside of the classroom, the “Konglish”
pronunciation prevails.
Konglish is commonly mistaken as the term for Korean Romanization. In South Korea, the term “Konglish”
is used to refer to a variety of English spoken with a Korean accent. Its pronunciation is closest to American
English because of the influence from American TV shows and movies. This makes it the second variety of Asian
English after Philippine English based on American English pronunciation. It is also heavily affected by Scottish
English sound as [r] is pronounced with Korean trill. But there are still some differences between “Konglish” and
American English (see Examples 6-12):
Example (6) eu [u:] pronunciation is added to words end with s, d, and g.
(7) th sound [θ] in words like thrill is pronounced as [s].
(8) initial r is sometimes pronounced as l.
(9) in final syllables, unaccented vowels a, o, and u before consonants m, n, and s are pronounced
as [ah], [oh], and [uh] respectively, rather than as a not schwa, for example, Christian is
pronounced as /chris-chahn/, areas as /eh-ree-yahs/, atom as /a-tohm/, and temptation as
(10) f is pronounced as p, since there is no f sound in Korean. For example, wife is pronounced as
(11) v is pronounced as b, since there is no v sound in Korean. For example, five is pronounced as
(12) z is pronounced j, since there is no z sound in Korean. For example, piza is pronounced as
Finally, there are numerous “Konglish” words and phrases which have been abbreviated from their
corresponding English forms. Some of these words include air con “air conditioner”, apart “apartment building”,
classic “classical music”, and remote con “remote control”.
English words and phrases are largely absorbed into Korean either out of filling lexical gap or at the whim of
fashion. Once these words have been borrowed and adapted orthographically, they become a part of Korean
language. Some loan words have the same meaning or phonological features as their corresponding words, but
some do not.
As with all of the “false friends” discussed in this paper, the only real solution is to be aware of them, to look
out for them, and to learn them. Particularly when teaching to beginners, teachers of English need to raise learners’
awareness of the existence of English-origin words in their mother tongues. In fact, these days, everybody knows a
surprising number of English words but very few people know exactly what they mean in English.
Fortunately, in many circumstances, “Konglish” can be realized and corrected in the English classroom if
the usage by students has not been fixed. To understand better how “Konglish” is widely used and ways that it can
be corrected, a list of “Konglish” words and phrases should be collected. While “Konglish” might be the bane of
English teachers who are on the frontlines of language teaching in Korea, it is a unique cultural-linguistic
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