Thursday, September 18, 2008

일반적인 수업이 아니라

Our teacher, Mr Yim, was chatting with our Australian classmate, Patrick, during break time. When he found out that Patrick used to teach at the Australian National University, he asked if he knew Anna Wierzbicka. Patrick doesn't and neither do the rest of the class. Apparently, Anna Wierzbicka is an eminent Polish linguist who is currently the Professor of Linguistics at the Australian National University.

The fact that our teacher knows about Professor Anna Wierzbicka only goes to show his deep interest in linguistics. I mean who outside the field of linguistics would be interested in who she is or what she does. To prove my point, our teacher even uses the word "linguist" in his e-mail address. It is not hard to realise that there is a difference in having a linguist as a teacher as opposed to a language teacher. What we received during our lesson was a much clearer and in-depth explanation of the Korean language.

Take the grammar "<동작동사>아/어 있다" for example. I am quite sure I was taught this grammar in Singapore before. But I cannot recall what was taught in class back then. My contact time with this grammar was probably less than 10 minutes - so brief that it didn't leave an impression on me. The grammar looks deceivingly simple and I thought I have understood it more or less. In reality, what I saw was just the tip of the iceberg. Mr Yim showed me the huge ice body beneath the water surface.

The grammar "<동작동사>아/어 있다" is used to describe the state after an action has completed. For example "문이 열려 있다" means the door is opened and is still left open. The 동작동사 is "열리다" and the state after the action "열리다" has completed is an opened door. What is not apparent here is that not all 동작동사 can be used in this grammar. Only those that meet the following two conditions are considered valid:

- It must be a 자동사.
- There must be a state after an action has completed.

Perhaps this is the first time you are hearing this. There are actually two types of 동작동사 - 자동사 and 타동사. See the chart below.

[There are two types of 동사 (verb) - 동작동사 (action verb) and 상태동사 (stative verb). 동작동사 is divided into 자동사 (intransitive verb) and 타동사(transitive verb). 타동사 can be converted into 자동사 by changing it into 피동사 (passive verb).]

자동사 (自動詞) is a "stand-alone" action verb. What this means is that it does not need an object to act on to be observable. 자동사 appears in sentence that has the structure "___이/가 자동사". Examples of 자동사 are 가다, 앉다 and 자다.

타동사 (他動詞) is an action verb that needs an object to act on. Without an appropriate object, this action verb is not meaningful. 타동사 appears in sentence that has the structure "___이/가 ___을/를 타동사". Examples of 타동사 are 보다, 열다 and 닫다.

타동사 can be converted into 자동사 by changing 타동사 to its passive form (피동사). There are 3 methods of conversion:

- 타동사 + (이, 히, 리 or 기)
- 타동사 + 아/어지다
- 타동사 + 게 되다

Compared to 자동사, the "state after an action has completed" is slightly more difficult to understand. For example, a person is performing the action of going to the library (도서관에 가다). The action "가다" is considered completed once the person reaches the library. The state after that is described as "도서관에 가 있다" which means the person who reaches the library remains at the library.

Take another example. A person is performing the act of lying down on the ground (바닥에 눕다). The action "눕다" (lying down) is completed once the person is lying flat on the ground. The state after that is described as "바닥에 누워 있다" which means the person remains lying on the ground.

It should be noted that not all 자동사 has a state after its action has completed. For example, "자다" does not have a state after the action "자다" is completed. If a person stops sleeping, he can only be awake. Similarly, "쉬다" does not have a state after the action "쉬다" has completed. A person who has stopped resting is naturally doing something else. Hence, expressions like "자 있다" and "쉬어 있다" are grammatically wrong.

It is alright if you don't quite understand what is written above. My main objective of reproducing what our teacher had taught us in class is more to illustrate the amount of linguistic knowledge that can be harboured by an innocent-looking grammar like "<동작동사>아/어 있다". I would probably not have known so much if our teacher is just another language teacher. Mr Yim only teaches foreigners like us, twice a year, during the summer and winter term-break. During normal school term, he teaches native Korean students Korean language (국어, 國語).

Before the end of his daily lesson, he always encouraged us to ask him challenging questions. He seemed to be able to answer every question thrown at him with aplomb. His Korean language lesson was always very intellectually stimulating and I counted that as a blessing.

While our teacher may look quite knowledgeable, there was something he stumbled upon. He didn't quite know how to pronounce "Wierzbicka". So he asked Patrick if he knew. Just then, our Polish classmate, also by the name of Anna, returned from her break. If there was anyone who knew how to pronounce the name correctly, it surely had to be her. She pronounced "Wierzbicka" several times but I could not pick up the pronunciation well. "Bicka" is easy but "Wierz" is kinda way out of any pronunciation which I am accustomed to.


  1. I've always wanted to know why 있다 was at the end od some verbs/situations... My korean friends have trouble explaining it.

    Now I know what's going on with all the 있다s *^^*

    고마워요 ^^

  2. 후아~~좀 헷갈려요 ㅜ.ㅜ

    혹시 난 칠문 있어요..
    - "도서관에 가 있다" it the same when we say I'm in the library(도서관에 있어요)?
    - I ever heard bout (-고 있다) when someone says
    바닥에 누워 있다 and 바닥에 눕고 있다
    뭐가 달라요?

    ㅠ.ㅠ 한국어는 왜 이렇게 어려워요 ㅠ.ㅠ
    어렵지만 재미있어요 ^ ^
    전 한국어 너무 못해사 알고 싶은 것 너무 많이 있어요...


  3. Tata,

    I am not too sure if I fully understood it but this is how I see the difference between ~아/어 있다 and ~고 있다.

    First, ~아/어 있다 describes a state where there is no action while ~고 있다 describes a state of continuing action. ~아/어 있다 can be used to describe both animate and inanimate subject while ~고 있다 can only be used to describe animate suject since inanimate subject cannot be found in a state of doing something.

    Second, when ~아/어 있다 is used to describe an animate subject, it may carry some nuances. For example, perhaps something may have happened to the subject, if not he or she would not be still staying in the library or lying on the ground. It is only natural for us to query why an animate subject is "actionless". On the other hand, ~고 있다 does not carry such nuances. What is there to query when an animate subject is in the midst of doing something?

    Please take my comment with a pinch of salt. If it makes sense use it but if it doesn't, I am happy to be corrected.

  4. thanks a lot for the explanation ^ ^ it's really helpful..especially animate and inanimate subject ^ ^

    Gotta hear a lot to get used with it :D

  5. thanks for sharing... i also never thought that 있다 was not as simple as it seems. ^^