자위하겄네! or How to Console Yourself in Jeolla Province

This post was born, rather oddly, out of my newfound attempts to increase my personal productivity, about which I will say much more later. I had two little tidbits, neither really meriting a full post, so I decided to artlessly slap them together using the title, this introductory paragraph and my final summation. Wish me luck.

Today is Lunar New Year, so naturally members of my wife’s family came over to eat, drink, make dumplings and have a good time. Now my wife’s family is from Jeolla Province, specifically the island of Jindo. When they get together and have a couple bottles of blackcurrant wine and a few ‘pitcher’ bottles of beer they slip back into their native accents. I have always thought it would be a good idea for me to jot down some of the features of their accent. Not having lived in Jeolla Province like Jello Mando or Brian Deutsch I would never go so far as to claim this an exhaustive list. These are simply the most superficially recognizable, most generalizable features of the regional accent. Note also that I’m not talking about dialect, a more general term that includes modes of talking and turns of phrase. I’m only talking about the sounds of the words, not the choice of words. If you speak standard Seoul Korean and you want to Jeolla up your speech, this would be a good place to start. I know for sure that after a couple of hours with my wife’s family I slip into this accent too, but I tend to do that with any regional accent I’m exposed to.

Unlike the Gyeongsang Province accent, which lies mostly in differing patterns of inflection and several changes in suffixes, the Jeolla accent applies a pair of broad sound changes that gives the accent it’s distinct sound:

  • 어 becomes 으 (e.g. 먹다-믁다, 없어-읎어, 거지-그지, 더러워-드러워)
  • 여 becomes 예 (e.g. 며느리-몌느리, 몇개-몣개)

The above can be widely generalized, depending on how strong an accent the speaker is choosing to use at any given point. In the above examples, 거지 (beggar) is derogatory, so drawing out the vowel as 그지 seems to add to the derogatory sense with which the word is uttered. The same is true of 더러워 (dirty), to the point where I think it’s fair to say the Jeolla-style pronunciation 드러워 is the excepted spoken pronunciation among most people I know even in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province.

In addition to these widely applied sound changes there are a couple more changes to the vowels of specific endings that are typical of this accent.

  • ~하는데 becomes ~하는디 (그런디, 됐는디, etc.)
  • ~하겠다 becomes ~하겄다 (좋겄어)
  • ~하면 becomes ~하믄

A pair of these endings are pronounced with a marked nasality reminiscent of Adam Sandler’s character Cajun Man.

  • ~는 becomes ~넌 (나넌, 그들언, etc.)
  • ~거든 becomes ~거던, 거덩, or even 거더 with a heavily nasalized final vowel, French-style (됐거덩!)

Finally there’s a very cute/intimate, prying/inviting upward lilt to the end of questions, suggestions, requests, in which the final vowel blends into an 이 which may or may not be heavily nasalized to 잉, e.g. 밥믁어잉? 똑같애잉? 갑시다이? This is very ingratiating and to me lends the accent a level of intimacy that standard Korean lacks. It also reminds me of Canadian English’s famous ‘eh?’ in that it serves the same purpose, of cajoling and requesting confirmation of assumptions made.

No discussion of Jeolla Province’s accent would be complete without mentioning the great suffix/form of address 임마, of 야임마 fame. To me this jocular appendix to a sentence, usually uttered by a man to a man, always reminded me of American slang’s beloved “Yo”. 임마 tends to fall at the end of the sentence and imply a very high level of familiarity, which is another reason that I think of Jeolla as the most welcoming Korean accent.

Speaking of the Korean language, I was watching Curb Your Enthusiasm, season five, episode five, and Larry David, being consoled by his wife, attempts to initiate foreplay. She is indignant, shocked that he would try to get sex out of consolation. “Sex—that’s the ultimate form of consolation!” I immediately thought of the Korean word 자위 or ‘jawi’. The Korean language (and the Japanese language, which has the same word, as presumably does Chinese) uses this word, which literally means ‘self consolation’, to mean consolation. The image of this always cracked me up, a frowny-faced man getting his jawi on and saying ‘there there big guy, you win some, you lose some, it’s not the end of the world.’

So, to bring it all home, let’s imagine Larry David were consoling himself in Jeolla province, and I walked in and caught him, and I was trying particularly hard that day to be a fake Jeolla guy, I would say to him “야임마, 여기서 자위를 하믄안됐는디. . .왜?왜긴, 드럽거덩!”

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~ by Joe on February 7, 2008.

2 Responses to “자위하겄네! or How to Console Yourself in Jeolla Province”

  1. very funny, i loved it. i’m really interested in imitating accents from other languages, and i recently decided to imitate the different accents of my own lingo! the first time i read your blog, i said something to my mother in my (very bad) jeolla accent and she was cracking up like hell. oh, and my favorite singer comes from the jeolla area, so inevitably, trying to talk in his accent comes naturally… thanks for this. 🙂

  2. Great stuff. Note too the famous, 했다니까! -> 했당께! 있다니까! -> 있댱계!, etc., often used with the -버리다 pattern so favored in Honam, e.g. 가버렸당께! And ever endearing, if a bit confusing at first hearing, is the Honam version of “so-long” 갑시다이이! (heavily nasalized of course)

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