Accent, intonation vs. Saturi (Dialect)

One of the most difficult things to learn to do when you learn a foreign language is to speak with an accent that doesn’t sound foreign. Usually when you speak a foreign language and your accent is lacking, it will shine through because the new language has a few sounds or different vowels that aren’t present or are used differently in your native language.

Some examples that I can recall include the following:

Spanish speakers sometimes have difficulty with words beginning with sp, because in Spanish, e always preceeds sp, therefore, spoon becomes espoon. Speed becomes espeed, etc. This is something minor that can be easily corrected with lots of practice.

Japanese and Korean speakers sometimes have difficulty with L and R sounds, because in both languages there is neither L and R, but a sound that is in between. Through training, L and R can be learned, however, words with both L and R in them can be difficult, especially when they are next to each other. Rally, Larry, really, Laurie, rarely, and words like that can really throw people off.

But this is all very different from saturi.

Some problems that I as an English speaker learning foreign languages include the following:

Soy sauce anyone?

The “rr” sound in Spanish is a kind of rolled r. I can definitely hear the sound, but I can’t for the life of me pronounce it. “Perro” (dog) and “pero” (but) coming out of my mouth would sound the same.

Any “ry” sound in Korean or Japanese can be pronounced with much effort, but in conversation, I drop the r, because I guess I have not trained my tongue to say this flawlessly. If anyone remembers Street Fighter, one of the special moves, the Dragon Punch is accompanied by the character shouting “Sho Ryu Ken!” (Rising Dragon Punch). Coming out of my mouth it becomes “Sho Yu Ken!” (Soy Sauce Punch).

In Korean also, I still have a lot of trouble with the following consonants “ㅃㅉㄸㄲㅆ” and distinguishing the difference between ㅐandㅔ.

By and large, I would have to rate my own accent as pretty good.  I know I am probably not the best judge for myself, but I can hear a bad accent in Korean, and I sound nothing like that.

But this is all very very different from saturi.

What’s saturi?
Saturi is the Korean word for regional dialect.  Not everyone speaks Korean the same way.  That is, depending on which region of Korea you live in, you will speak very differently from someone who lives in a different region.  Seoul people speak one way, Busan people another.  Gwangju and Jeju also have their saturi, as well as other regions, but these have to be the four most well known (excluding saturi from northern regions, ahem).

But Korea is so tiny.  How can dialect be that different over such a small space?  In the U.S., a much larger country, we don’t speak with dialects!

Well, I would disagree with you there.  There are several U.S. regional dialects, usually tied around major cities, such as the Noo Yawk dialect, Bahston dialect, Chi-caga dialect, Bawlmer dialect, etc..

Those aren’t dialects, they are accents!

Well, maybe you are right there, dialects sometimes evolve to the point that they are not mutually intelligible.  But, I think we could say that these are dialects because certain words in one area would mean something entirely different in another area.

Back to the original point though, the reason why Korea, a tiny country, can evolve dialects over short distances whereas the U.S. has dialects that cover much larger areas, and the differences between these dialects aren’t so drastic is simple.

The U.S. is a young Nation.  English speakers have only been living there for 500 years at most, and not in large numbers until the 1700’s.  While dialectal differences did evolve, these have slowly been fading away as communication and movement of people have become so common.  In the 1900’s especially, the railroad, airplanes, cars,  and the like have more or less made it easy for people growing up in one region to move to other regions.

In addition, radio, the telephone, the movies and television have had the effect making it possible for people from some regions to verbally communicate with people over greater distances.  The result is that the smaller regional dialects are dying, and a standard language is gaining in prominence.  Want to know what standard English is?  Watch the news.  Newscasters are actually taught to speak in a certain way so that they all sound like each other.  Because of this, you can actually find that many Americans even say things differently than their own parents who grew up in the same area.

Korea on the other hand has been speaking Korean as long as Koreans have been there, and surprise surprise, that’s a lot longer than English speakers have been in North America.  As the radio, TV, movies, railroad, etc didn’t show up in Korea until the 1900’s Koreans have been living in isolation from each other for a very very long time.  Going to Busan now takes 3 hours on the KTX.  Going back then (on foot) might have taken months!  As there is less movement of people and less verbal communication between regions the languages of the people living there start to diverge.  Korean language in Korea has been diverging for a lot longer than English language in the U.S. has.  This is why you’ll find dialects in small countries.  The same could be said about many small European countries.

With Korea’s modern society, communication, and infrastructure, I suspect that Korean dialects will die out over time.

To Koreans, the saturi doesn’t really hinder communication.  But for someone who learns a language in a standard dialect, it might be difficult to understand someone who speaks the dialect of another region.  I have had this problem.

Foreign language learners usually learn the “standard dialect” when they learn a foreign language.  In Korean, this is the Seoul dialect, in Japanese, this is the Tokyo dialect.

Not to toot my own horn, but I’m fairly good at emulating whoever I am learning from.  I can tell you about my experience in Japan.

I spoke super standard Japanese when I first arrived, as that is what I was taught.  After a few months, I started to talk like a high school girl, because that’s who I was talking with all the time.  Then I started hanging out with some guys and I ended up talking like them, to the point that someone who hadn’t seen me in years told me I sounded like a gangster.  After moving to Korea, I encountered a Japanese person from Osaka who told me that my Japanese was “hyojungo kusai” (Stinks of standard language.)  I spent all three years in the Tokyo area, talking to people from the Tokyo area, so this reaction is understandable.

One time in Okinawa I got into a cab and asked the driver to take me to my hotel.  He said something to me in the Okinawan dialect, which some say sounds very close to Chinese.  Anyway this was the first time that I had ever heard the dialect, so I foolishly replied, “Can you say that in Japanese?”  Boy, he was angry.  He switched into a very exaggerated Tokyo dialect went into a fit about “all you uppity people from Tokyo demanding that everyone else in Japan change our lifestyle to accommodate you.”   Having not turned around to see that I was visibly not Japanese, he just assumed I was from Tokyo, I guess.  This made me feel good because it means my Tokyo accent was probably spot-on!  Anyway, to this day, I can’t understand Japanese from any dialect other than Tokyo.

In Korea, on the other hand, I’ve been exposed to more dialects.  While learning Korean and living in Seoul has basically made me speak and understand the Seoul dialect most, I’ve still had a lot of exposure to other dialects, especially the Cholla regional dialect that my wife speaks sometimes.

So often I’ll be saying something like “겁나 맛있땅께” (Geomna mashidanke, It’s scary delicious![in Cholla dialect]) instead of “너무맛있어” (Neomu Mashisseo, It’s very delicious,[in Seoul dialect]).  This never ceases to surprise and amuse people for some reason, as instead of “Wow, your Korean is SOO GOOD…” (which really means that it isn’t) I get “Holy crap, are you from Cholla?”

The problem occurs when I am talking to someone who speaks Busanese.  I’ve literally been in a situation where I needed a Korean person who spoke Seoul dialect to tell me what someone else in Busan dialect was saying.  Then when I replied in Seoul dialect, the Korean person would have to translate that into Busan dialect for the other person, who I guess didn’t have much exposure to the standard Seoul language because she was really old or something.

Anyway you might not agree with my assesment of different accents in English actually being proto dialects, but there is no doubt that the dialects in Korea are quite alive and well, causing nothing but grief for people who are learning Korean as a foreign language.

13 Responses to “Accent, intonation vs. Saturi (Dialect)”

  1. In America, some of the dialects have different vocabulary such as pop vs. soda; sub vs. hero vs. hoagie vs. po-boy.

    You would also have trouble understanding references to traffic in various cities because of the slang for them.
    “the can” short for slang “the can of worms” area of a highway in Rochester, NY; an area around the Washington, DC beltway sometimes referred to as “approaching the Surrender Dorothy Bridge”; The Schuylkil Expressway In Philadelpha (pronounced “skoo-kil”) referred to as “the sure kill”
    Also I found that that the words I had trouble teaching to Korean speakers were “girl” and “girls”.

  2. Now that I’ve had to intensify my Korean classes (learning on my own…) I’ve found phrases that mean the same but in Korean are different and I thought that I was wrong, but now I understand why is that.
    I guess the same happens with Spanish, while there are lots of countries where Spanish is the 1st language you will find it’s very different to speak “Mexican” than “Chilean”, some people say Mexicans speak as if we were “singing” and I have to admit it’s kinda true, and being from Mexico City makes me speak a “different” Spanish that some people call CHILANGO since Mexico is also referred as CHILANGOLANDIA O_o I know it sound weird…maybe Wiki can explain it better than me… lol
    PS. I know that when I be in Korea I will have the worst accent ever :S so I’m sure I will hear lots of “Wow, your Korean is SOO GOOD…” lol

  3. 검나 맛있단계 -> 겁나 맛있당께

    Accent, intonation, dialect… That’s a big problem to me here in Cork in Ireland where I am now. People from Cork have very strong accent, intonation, and dialectal words! That’s why non-English speakers like me cannot understand their natural speaking. I’m too used to listening to American and Canadian English.

    When I use the words like a cell phone, washroom or restroom, subway, and trash and so on, Irish say they don’t use those words here.

    Ah 😦 Learning a language is not easy…………

    • The Seoul Searcher Says:

      Washroom? Ha, you’re Canadian! It’s the bathroom! 🙂

      Thanks for correcting my spelling error, though technically it’s not an actual word, so it doesn’t really have official spelling right? 🙂

      • That’s the official spelling! I saw ‘당께’ a lot in novels +_+ Also, I’ve just checked it in a Korean dictionary just in case and that’s the correct way to write the sound you heard 🙂

        By the way, I didn’t know that only Canadians use ‘washroom’! It’s already become my habit to say ‘bathroom’….. Now, I understand why many Irish asked me how long I’ve been in Canada for….!

        • The Seoul Searcher Says:

          Well then, who am I to argue with Koreans checking the dictionary? Haha. Then again, I never claimed to be good at Korean spelling, in fact, I am horrible.

          Yeah, Canadians definitely use washroom. Brits use “the loo”.

      • Oh, ‘겁나’ is normally used instead of ‘검나’! I’ve checked it in a dictionary as well 🙂

        • The Seoul Searcher Says:

          Yes, I also figured out that it means scary.

          So 겁나맛있땅께 = It’s scary tasty!

          Haha, so funny.

  4. saturi is quite cool 😛 its so 구수해 ~_~

  5. korean cars…

    […]Accent, intonation vs. Saturi (Dialect) « Eugene is huge![…]…

  6. […] sisters and brothers in the KCF, so we can understand each other. However, I used the Korean word “saturi” which means, “dialect,” to say, “I hope to learn North Korean saturi from you.” I found out […]

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