Welcome to Linguistics and Korea

Ever wondered why Koreans speak "bad English"?
Why it's so hard to learn Korean?
Why it's so hard to have "normal" conversations with Koreans?
Why it's so hard to fit in with Korean culture and society?
We don't claim to have the perfect answer to these questions, just a few hints that we hope will clarify the situation.
If you have questions, comments or suggestions, we'd be happy to hear from you. Email us at raphael.hadid [at] gmail [dot] com

Interpreting the "swine flu" media sensation

A lot has been said about swine flu in the Korean media. The government also took strict safety measures regarding swine flu. Schools had to close if a certain number of people caught the flu, company and school meetings were canceled... what was the government and media's message behind swine flu?

Every disease carries a message to society. In the 1920s, tuberculosis was a serious disease, which appeared in cities and was considered a lower class disease. The media's message at the time was that "people live too close together in cities, people don't have their personal space, and lower class people live too close from upper class people and are transmitting a disease".

Then there was cancer, and the media tried to give a message: "we live disorganized lives, don't eat healthy food, don't exercise, we are a lazy society pursuing comfort and luxury at the expense of hard work and chores, therefore we are getting those kinds of diseases". Though genetic factors are critical among cancer patients, the media usually omits that factor.

With AIDS, we saw the same thing. The media was telling people "we have accepted homosexuality, we have too many drug addicts and there's too much promiscuity and AIDS is the price we're paying for all that".

What's the message behind SARS, bird flu and swine flu then? Swine flu is said to have originated in Mexico and was revealed by US press agencies. US press agencies seemed to insist on the Mexican origins of the disease so much (though today no one is sure whether it really originated in Mexico) that some countries systematically refused visas to Mexicans. In Korea, the message seemed to be: the virus originated from foreign countries, Koreans have too much contact with foreigners, travel too much, we have no personal space, we live too close together...) thus the suspicion raised by Korean authorities on people who traveled, foreigners and people who went to crowded places.

Many took crowded subways in Seoul and did not get the virus, and less people died of swine flu than of other diseases. By renaming swine flu H1N1, the media also wanted to avoid offending cultures which considered pigs improper animals. Behind every news headline, there is a subliminal message to society.