Wow, it apparently took me almost two weeks of 2018 before I finally got around to updating my blog. Happy (very belated) new year. I also just realized that I can celebrate my 3-year anniversary with my blog this January. I feel like so much has happened in that time.
So, with the arrival of 2018, the PyeongChang Winter Olympics are now right around the corner and everywhere in Seoul the two cute mascots, the snow tiger and the grizzly bear, are saluting passersby. In front of City Hall, there is even a countdown clock reminding people how many days, hours, minutes, seconds are left until it begins on February 9th. I figured I would take this chance to introduce you all to the Korean national anthem, also known as 애국가 (Aegukga), meaning “patriotic song”. You’ll probably hear it a lot during the Olympics, and if you’re a Korean learner it’s pretty cool to be able to sing along. I find myself humming it all the time these days.
Here it is:
I found a version where the lyrics are shown in both Korean, romanized Korean, and in English.
So, since it’s been a long time since I ever discussed anything language-related here on this blog, let’s dig into the first verse which is always sung before sports events like football or baseball games. Like here:
동해물과 백두산이 마르고 닳도록 donghaemulgwa baekdusani mareugo daltorok
하느님이 보우하사 우리나라 만세 haneunimi bouhasa uri nara manse
무궁화 삼천리 화려 강산 mugunghwa samcheolli hwaryeo gangsan
대한 사람 대한으로 길이 보전하세 daehan saram daehaneuro kiri bojeonhase
so, translated into English it means:
Until that day when Mt. Baekdu is worn away and the East Sea’s waters run dry,
May God preserve our country, hail our long-living homeland!
The rose of Sharon (the national flower of Korea) blooms and three thousand li (old Korean measure for distance) full of splendid mountains and rivers.
Great Koreans, to the great Korean way, let’s always stay true!
I always get goosebumps when I hear it. It’s just so beautiful. Fun fact: getting goosebumps in Korean is called 소름이 끼치다.
So, for the interested Korean learners out there, the lyrics have been around since the 1890s and the song was used as a national anthem for the exile government during the Japanese rule from 1910-1945. Then, when South Korea was established as a nation in 1948, it finally became the official national anthem. Before the music was composed in the 1930s it was supposed to be sung to the tune of Auld lang syne (try it – it totally works, too).
You’ll notice that it includes words not commonly heard in modern Korean – 리 (li) for measure of distance, 만세 (manse meaning “hooray” or “hail”), and 보우하사 (bouhasa meaning “preserve” or more literally “protect and help”, grammar note: the ~sa ending is not really used and is more like adding ~th in Bible English when we say “the Lord giveth and taketh”), 무궁화 (mugunghwa is the Korean name for Rose of Sharon), 길이 (giri, meaning “forever” or “for good”).
It was actually this last one that confused me when I first paid attention to the lyrics. I first thought that it was the subject form of the word 길 meaning “way”, but since it is followed by a verb like 보전하다 it should appear in an object form in order to be grammatically correct, which would be 길을 (gireul) instead. Since I was fairly certain that they would not have been neglecting the grammar part of such an important text, I consulted my dictionary, which could help enlighten me on the matter.
A final grammatical note I wish to make is the ending ~세 (se) in 보전하세 (bojeonhase). This is an old-fashioned way of implying encouragement as in “let’s do so and so” – in this case, let’s stay true to the Korean way. In modern Korean, we usually use endings like ~자 which would then be 보전하자 (bojeonhaja) or more formally ~ ㅂ시다 which would be 보전합시다 (bojeonhabshida).
So, now Korean learners have no excuse for not singing along at the top of your lungs when the Korean national anthem will soon play on worldwide TV. And, even if you’re not a Korean learner, I romanized everything for your benefit, so feel free to have a go at it. Have fun!