Grammar, Korean
Comments 8

Accidental Koreanizations?

Here’s yet another thing that sets Korean apart from all the other foreign languages I’ve ever attempted.  I find myself accidentally using Korean language conventions in English and in my native language of Marathi more and more these days.  And I don’t mean things like certain words or exclamations (아이씨, 아이고, 대박! etc.) – rather, accidental Koreanizations that are inadvertently creeping into my style of speech!  These are two especially sneaky ones:

Answering negative questions.  I think I’ve confused a lot of teachers and friends by accidentally using the Korean convention of answering negative questions.  These questions perplex me and somehow I’ve always been at a loss as to how to answer them unambiguously with a simple “yes” or “no” in English.  Some types of negative questions have a certain contextual polarity associated with them that doesn’t necessarily match with what the question is actually asking, so that gets confusing too.  In English, I usually  end up having to support my yes/no answer with extra verbiage to make it less ambiguous.  My logical head prefers the succinct, unambiguous Korean mode of answering negative questions.

To illustrate how confusing it can get, take this example:

Question:  Aren’t you Korean?
English:  No.  (=No, I’m not Korean.)
Korean:  No.  (=No, you are wrong.  I am Korean.)

I’ve always found this an intriguing difference between English and Korean.  The “aren’t you…” or “isn’t that/this…” implies a relative degree of certainty in English.  A question like “Aren’t you Korean?” translates to something more like, “I’m pretty sure you’re Korean.”  So that’s why in English, the “yes” or “no” reply directly addresses the latter statement than the actual question.  But in Korean, the sentence reads more like “Are you not Korean?”  So the “yes” or “no” reply goes with the “not Korean” part of the sentence.

Something slightly more confusing is stuff like

Question:  Don’t you have something to eat?
English:  No.  (=No, I don’t have anything to eat.)
Korean:  No.  (=No, you’re wrong.  I do have something to eat.)

More and more often these days, I find myself answering questions like these Korean-style and probably confusing the heck out of people while I’m at it.  Not sure how and why I started doing this, but in order to avoid unwarranted confusion, I’ve been making more of an effort to stay away from one-word “yes”/”no” answers.

Overusing the word “little.”  ‘좀’, the contracted form of 조금, doesn’t necessarily mean “little” all the time.  In some contexts, it can be used to sound a bit more polite, as in, “이거 좀 보세요.”  In other contexts it makes you sound a bit more exasperated, as in, “제발 좀 그만해라” or a bit more desperate, like in “날 좀 살려줘.”

In any case, I’ve actually started to adopt this type of speech while speaking in my mother tongue Marathi, using the Marathi word for “little” just like I would use 좀 in Korean.  My mom actually makes fun of me for it because it doesn’t make any sense at all in my native language!  I think it was easy for me to pick up this quirk because Korean and Marathi (most Indian languages, for that matter) are so structurally similar to each other, it was literally just a matter of substituting Marathi words for Korean words in certain cases.

Honestly I’m baffled as to how and why this “accidental Koreanization” of my two first languages occurred when I have never fully immersed myself in the Korean language.

Has anyone else experienced this?  In what manner and to what extent?

This entry was posted in: Grammar, Korean


Writer by day, writer by night. Learning Korean and (some) Japanese since 2010.


  1. Sometimes I find myself saying a noun + a Russian counterpart of 하다 instead of a Russian verb ^_^ and yes, I’m completely confused about the negatives now ahaha


  2. I’m pretty sure Korean and Japanese are part of the Indian language family (not proven yet though) no tones grammatically similar, some similarities between Tamil and Korean words were found somewhere. As a fellow Marathi speaker these languages don’t seem that difficult just the fact that the material we learn is English changes the whole perspective of the learning.


    • I definitely think it’s easier learning Korean/Japanese coming from an Indian language background than from English. However, I think the similarities between Korean/Japanese and Indian languages are probably coincidental. In fact, scholars dispute the linguistic relationship between Japanese and Korean; some consider them part of the same family while others consider Korean to be a language isolate. And the languages of India themselves fall into several language families (i.e Dravidian, like Tamil or Indo-Aryan, like Hindi and Marathi, etc.) and do not include East Asian languages. Whatever connection there is between the two probably existed long before these other language families emerged.

      Oh, you speak Marathi too? Nice!


  3. I’m not looking from a scholarly perspective but from language learners perspective Japanese/Korean are so similar that its just replacing words in a sentence something like Marathi and Hindi (Marathi having 3 genders though, like German).


  4. I’ve had a lot of misunderstandings answering negative questions too… Actually, when I learned how to answer them in Japanese and later in Korean I was amused to remember that when I was little and didn’t know anything about these languages, I usually anwered my parents’ negative questions like it was Korean, (For example: “Don’t you lke this?” “No (that’s not right), I do like it”) and when they corrected them I told them my way of anwering made much more sense ㅋㅋㅋ


  5. I now tend to overuse “well” both in English and my native language. I just feel that a sentence is incomplete if without “well” on it. I now usually say I’ll eat it well, I’ll use it well or I’ve received it well.


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