Sunday, October 17, 2010

The "Grunt"

KOREAN is by no means an easy language to learn. That I can even order a beer as the locals do is an achievement in my book. As for holding a conversation - well, Seoul wasn't built in a day. Or something to that effect.

But after a short time wandering the streets of Seoul one may wonder whether there is any point learning the language at all. Why? Because a great deal of communication between Koreans doesn't involve words. There is another way. That way is the "Grunt".

You will experience the "Grunt" on any street corner. You'll hear it in shops and on the subway. "The Grunt" knows no boundaries. What is it? Well, it consists of a range of non-verbal "uh"s, "ah"s, "oh"s and "oo"s, commonly used in casual conversation. But people everywhere rely on the odd "um" or "ah" when chatting, so no big deal, right? Not quite. Koreans manage to take speaking without really speaking to a whole new level.

People here can seemingly have whole conversations employing only the "Grunt". A typical exchange might go like this:

"Ah."

"Uh."

"Oo?"

"Eh."


Despite the apparently limited range of the "Grunt", Koreans mange to infuse the system with a whole range of emotions and meanings, ranging from the affirmative "uh", to the rising "ooooo", signifying the "speaker" is impressed.

The "Grunt" can also often be observed in people on the phone, leading a colleague of mine to ponder whether in fact the caller at the other end of the line is ever similarly reticent, resulting in a bizarre extended game of nonverbal ping-pong.

That said, the "Grunt"can only convey so much, and newcomers should be advised that actual words may be required for the transmission of more complex or subtle thoughts or ideas. So, with this mind, surely I'm going to keep up the Korean lessons?

Uh.

(That'd be yes.)

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