Taking care of our native language

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Taking care of our native language

Last week, France celebrated La Semaine de la Langue Française et de la Francophonie (Week of the French Language and French-Speaking Nations). During this event, French media discussed how beautiful the French language is and sarcastically criticized those who don’t use it — mostly English speakers. Public debates were held on the notion of a blending of languages and preserving French. Notably, officials accentuated public support for protecting and appreciating the language.

Personally speaking, I think France has already taken many steps to preserve their language. We can find many references by looking at an ordinary item, say, a personal computer.

Instead of using English names for a computer and its accessories, there are separate words to refer to a computer (un ordinateur), mouse (une souris), screen (un écran), keyboard (un clavier) and so forth. They have also adopted the AZERTY keyboard instead of the QWERTY. In daily life, it is rare, maybe slightly awkward, to see restaurants with English names on the street.

This reminded me of my experience in Korea. From the King Sejong Dynasty until Korea’s liberation from Japan, Korean was created for the people and conserved by the people. We have always been proud of the language for its convenience and beauty, but frankly speaking, it seems like we are not putting much effort into preserving our own language. Without any exaggeration, I once received a pamphlet introducing new arrivals at a department store and was overwhelmed by the overuse of English words.

One of the sentences was as follows: Ol seasoneui trendy-han color-neun coral-imnida. I am sure most of us, if not all, understand the
phrase, but was it for our better understanding, difficulty in finding words with the equivalent meanings or an effort to look ‘cool’ and thus attract more customers by using English words?

There are now several countries with more than one official language — India and Singapore, for instance — which makes using the mother tongue for the sake of respecting the mother tongue ambiguous. But there is no doubt that language is a key constituent in a nation’s identity.

Our native language has had to endure several historical hardships. Yet, every time, Korean has survived, thanks to our own endeavor as well as our survival. I’m certainly not against learning new languages or neglecting the importance of English. My point is that Korean is a beautiful language and deserves more credit than we give it at this moment. Being proud is not enough. We need to start caring whole-heartedly.

Park Seo-hyeon, Sciences-po Paris



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