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Tense in this passge

Discussion in '한국어 (Korean)' started by wonlon, Aug 17, 2012.

  1. wonlon Senior Member

    Hong Kong
    Chinese - Cantonese
    한스 씨와 제니 씨는 오늘 히로미 씨 결혼식에 가려고 합니다 . 제니 씨는 결혼식이 시작하기 전에 히로미 씨를 만나고 싶습니다 . 그런데 길이 막혀서 차들이 옴직이지 않습니다 . 한스 씨는 길이 막히는 것을 보고 교통사고가 났다고 생각합니다 . 제니 씨는 길을 공사한다고 새각합니다. 두 사람은 차 안에서 히로미 씨 신랑에 대해서 얘 기합니다. 두 사람은 결손식이 시작하기 10분 전에 결혼식장에 도착합니다.

    This passge is from 서강한국어 2B Lesson 2. This is an imagined situation for teaching purpose. I wonder why the verbs are in present tense, since I presumed they should be in past tense, as it is in English when a story is told.
  2. 조금만 Senior Member

    English - England
    I'm not convinced this is a narrative. It looks to me like a synopsis introducing or summarizing a dialogue scenario in which the events thus summarized are depicted or acted out. The convention in most languages which employ tenses is to put such synopses in the present (or to be more precise, since we're talking about Korean, the non-past) tense. So the tenses are just what one would expect.

    That said, this is very artificial "text-book" Korean. Nothing "wrong" with it, of course, but it has "made up for learners by an old-school language textbook writer" stamped all over it. It is always dangerous to try to learn or deduce anything about a language from such passages other than the specific didactic point they were concocted to illustrate.
  3. Tourmaline

    Tourmaline Senior Member

    I'm a native Korean and, yes, the passage is unnatural to me, too. :)
    Like you said, past tense is more natural for here.

    And as 조금만 said,I also think this passage is strictly for foreigners learning the Korean language.
    I think you also know that when you start learning a foreign language,
    you learn a present tense verb first. Then, another tenses.

    What I really think wired here is that.. given the level of the whole passage,
    it would not be wrong that the passage is written in correct tense.
    In my opinion, the reason is that the article is to teach the present tense of honorific Korean words.:)
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2012
  4. 조금만 Senior Member

    English - England
    Well... I'd say past tense would be more natural only if we assume the passage quoted is meant to be narrative. If, as I surmise, it's not in fact intended as narrative but as a synopsis of a scenario with dialogue, then the reverse is the case, with present/non-past the norm (though not mandatory)

    This isn't really an issue about a contrast between Korean and English, it's about the logic of tense in any language that operates predominately with tense rather than aspect. In such languages, the events in a summarized sequence are not seen as existing at an anterior point on the same time continuum on which the speaker and listeners are located and hence in their shared past. They are viewed instead as located in a self-sufficient temporal container, with its own separate temporal co-ordinates co-existing alongside the "real world" (the founder of modern philosophical aesthetics, Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten, termed it a "heterocosm" or "other cosmos") and hence are not normally spoken of as in the past.

    At the top of my screen right now is the synopsis of my daily dose of soap opera which the station has just put up after the episode aired. The first sentence reads 순영에게 미소와 함께 점심을 먹자는 우진의 문자가 온다. Sunyeong gets a text message from Woojin suggesting they should have lunch with Miso." Same tense in both English and Korean, because this isn't relating the events blow by blow "as they happened", but giving an overview of the episode as a self-contained sequence in a space and time of its own.

    To switch to rather more illustrious dramatic fare: if I'm seeking a plot synopsis, I ask "what happens in the last scene of Hamlet?". The "happenings" I'm asking about are not viewed as having actually occurred in my past or anyone else's, hence the use of present/non-past to refer to them. If, by contrast, I ask "what happened in the last scene of Hamlet?", that can only be construed as a question put to someone who attended an actual performance of the play (an event in the shared past of the speaker and listener, hence on the "real-life" temporal continuum), a performance in which something "happened" (the lights went out, there was a fire alarm etc etc) which was emphatically not in the plot.

    But my main point was, and is, that solo learners especially need to be constantly on their guard about making inferences about broader linguistic or cultural issues from highly synthetic made-up passages. The only thing one can safely learn from such passages is whatever specific point(s) the lesson concerned set out to teach (which I suspect here is mainly a particular set of vocabulary: it can hardly be the case that learners who are assumed to understand the phrase 교통사고가 났다고 생각합니다 have so far met only the present tense).

    As a small boy, I had the impression that ancient Rome was thronging with mariners carrying furniture around. That was because I made a false inference on the basis of my Latin primer which had many sentences like "Nauta mensam portat". I wasn't to know at that tender age that this was because the text book authors wanted to write passages which used only first-declension nouns and first-conjugation verbs. Alas, most Latin first-declension nouns are feminine, so there was a distinct shortage of males in this lexically-restricted universe. Hence the massive over-employment of "sailors", whose occupation was the only one for which the ancient Romans used a feminine noun, irrespective of natural gender. And since their ships were regrettably not first-declension nouns, the sailors had to be expend their energies carrying tables, those being nouns of the only declension we were at that stage allowed to encounter.

    That was, of course, a somewhat fatuous cultural inference. But learners who rely on text books need to be aware that the Korean they are being exposed to is often of a highly artificial nature and cannot be relied on to teach them anything about language or usage other than the particular points listed up front in the lesson overview.

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