hapum, Korean word for yawn

Hapum 하품: Getting sleepy in Korean

Hapum 하품, pronounced more like “hah-poom,” is the Korean word for yawn.

I decided to write about it on a whim, because it’s a pretty word and there was a coffee shop by that name in the Seoul neighborhood where I used to live. Of course, there’s only so much to say about such a simple little word in itself, so I’ve decided to use it as a diving point into an (all too short) discussion of word roots in Korean and language change.

Shifting, borrowing, and fading away: A history of any language

Most words I’ve written about here were borrowed from another language at some point in history. Hapum, though, is a native Korean word – one not based on Chinese characters (hanja 한자) or borrowed from some other language. It has evolved over the years from ha-oe-yom 하외욤, with the earliest written citation in volume 1, page 79, of Gugeupbangeonhae 구급방언해, a medical text published in 1466.

The History of the English Language
From the Triangulations blog

That hapum is a native Korean word should not surprise: In a lot of languages, words very close to the personal daily experience – the body, senses, family – are the least likely to be replaced by loanwords from another language, even when substantial language contact and borrowing occurs. English, as you may know, derives about 28% of its vocabulary from French and another 28% from Latin – and only 25% from Germanic languages, the family it actually belongs to (Finkenstaedt and Wolff 1973, cited on Wikipedia). But burp, yawn, cough, stretch, sneeze? A native English speaker can probably guess by hearing these that they did not come over with the Norman invasion.

Chinese, the Asian lingua franca

To oversimplify it for the sake of time and sanity, Chinese is the French and Latin of Korean.* China has wielded a huge amount of cultural and political influence in Asia for literally thousands of years. As a result, Chinese language and writing became the lingua franca of the official class both within (through guanhua, a dialect promulgated in Ming-Qing China to ensure officials across the sprawling multiethnic empire could communicate with court) and beyond (in written form, known as hanmun 한문 漢文 to the Chosun Korean court) the borders of China. This parallels in many ways Latin’s role in Medieval Europe, enabling exchange between the educated or official whose everyday languages were mutually unintelligible.

The Qing Empire in 1820.
The Qing Empire in 1820, by wikipedia user Pryaltonian, CC BY-SA 3.0. Yep, gotta include a Qing map: more than 100 years gone, they are still a ruling force in my personal life.

From a more Bourdieusian (cyncial?) perspective, imitating Chinese forms of government, schooling, rituals, literary practices, and basically anything else Chinese gave elites in other East Asian cultures grounds to claim they were, like the Chinese, civilized peoples. (See, for example, descriptions of Chinese perceptions of Koreans and Vietnamese vs Southeast Asian hill tribes in Keith W. Taylor‘s A History of the Vietnamese, which I highly recommend – filled with deep knowledge, big-picture vision, and many well-told anecdotes starring a ridiculous cast of kings, scholars, eunuchs, and queens.)

That’s not to say Korea didn’t have a culture of its own – obviously it did, and of course certain things native to Korea drifted into cultures of other nearby places – but China was hugely influential in Korean culture, especially the culture of the nobly born and well educated. In fact, Chinese characters were the only system used, sometimes with adaptations, to write in Korean until King Sejong and his buddies invented hangul, the Korean alphabet, in the 1440s. Even then, hanja remained the socially sanctioned writing system for a long time among the “educated.” All of this naturally led to a lot of hanja-based words being borrowed, through various channels and at different times, into Korean and other East Asian languages such as Vietnamese and Japanese.

Heungmin Jeongeum handbook on display at the National Hangul Museum
국립한글박물관에 전시된 훈민정음 해례본 [Heungmin Jeongeum handbook on display at the National Hangul Museum], by Wikipedia user Jocelyndurrey. CC BY-SA 4.0. Korea used entirely hanja-based writing systems until the mid-15th century.

Chinese influence and word borrowing in Korean

So…Korean has a lot of borrowed words from Chinese! It’s nothing for the language to be ashamed about (although apparently some people in both North Korea and South Korea are), just part of its history still influencing it today – like the ex-boyfriends who contributed to my musical tastes, vinicultural education, or turns of phrase.

But burp, yawn, cough, stretch, sneeze? As in English, these are native words in Korean: teurim 트림(burp), hapum 하품 (yawn), gichim 기침 (cough), gijigae 기지개 (stretch), jaechaegi 재채기 (sneeze) (신중진; 2013).

Now, clearly, I have not explored every nuance of this complicated and, for some, emotional issue. (Freedom fries, anyone?) Look out for more on this important (to me) and exciting (also to me and I hope to you) topic in future posts, and please comment with anything you want to know more about, or anywhere you think I’ve gone wrong!

In the meantime, next week we will look at that rare hybrid, a portmanteau formed from a hanja character and an English word.

*not that we have to compare everything in Asia with everything in the West, but most minds benefit from a jumping-off point.

A note on romanization: I’ve tried to stick to Revised Romanization, as usual these days, but I am in the middle of a romanization check project that uses McCune-Reischauer, so my head is all mixed up. Please excuse any lapses!

Selected Sources

愼重珍 신중진. 안면 관련 ‘무조건반사 어휘’의 형태사에 대한 연구 [Remarks on the Etymology of the Words in Conjunction with an Unconditioned Reflex in Face.] 진단학보 제117호, 2013.4, 215-234

Tadmore, Uri. “Loanwords in the world’s languages: Findings and results. Loanwords in the World’s Languages: A Comparative Handbook. ed. Martin Haspelmath & Uri Tadmor. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2009, pp. 55-75.

Naver and Daum dictionaries.

My multilingual and most beloved household scholar.

All content copyright Sara McAdory-Kim unless otherwise noted. Featured image created using CC0-licensed image from Pixabay.

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