8.29.2011

The 니가 situation.

So, there are a lot of different entries popping up all over about this situation, but I'm just going to link to Rob, because he's linked to a lot of the other posts. I'm also going to link to The Metropolitician, because a. what he has to say is much closer to my view on this than has been the general hubbub around and also because b. what I want to say is closely related.

And that is, I don't buy this 니가 story really. And I'm frustrated at the moment at my inability to check out the Korean media for myself to follow up on it, although I have a feeling that wouldn't really help. What I do buy is a story I saw posted up on one of the video links early on which sounded almost like someone who was linked directly to the situation, who said that the foreigner had been on the phone, talking supposedly loudly, and the Korean man had either told him to "be quiet" or to "shut up please". That, to me, sounds like a much more likely story, and here's why:

I don't believe that a Korean man who was polite enough to offer a seat to a foreigner would use the word 니가 to refer to that foreigner. To put that word in context, nobody from my closest older friends on to my boyfriend to people out in public speaking to me in 반말 for whatever reason, has ever referred to me as 니가. Ever. It just isn't natural for a Korean to look at a grown man -- any grown man -- who they don't know and come out with that word. Especially not someone who is trying to do something as kind as offer a seat. It would have been way more likely that the man, even if he was speaking in low form, to just say, "여기 앉아." There would be no need to even bring a subject into it, and, from what I know at least, very unnatural to, as well.

What I have heard time and again, and even seen for myself in the case of two women speaking Chinese on a bus, are accounts of Koreans telling people speaking in a foreign language to be quiet. I don't find that story hard to buy at all.

The other thing is that, if you watch the video, it's clear that this man is not fresh off the boat. He speaks several phrases in Korean to the man which make it extremely clear that he is not completely ignorant of the language. And, especially if he is a teacher around the students on a daily basis, he would be used to hearing the word 니가 all the time. Once you are in tune enough with the sound of Korean to be speaking some of it correctly in context, you are in tune enough to notice the sound of such a common recurring word as that. There's no way he hasn't already noticed it.

I believe the Korean media is trying to fall back on the idea that this kind man was just trying to offer a seat to a foreigner, and he misunderstood, took it completely out of context and flipped his shit. I'm much more inclined to believe the phone story. And I'm also not so quick to condemn the man's reaction, for reasons that The Metropolitician has already outlined much better than I am able to. Is it acceptable behavior? Fuck no. Not b a long shot. But it's easy for white foreigners to tsk tsk about it without taking into consideration just how often this man may have been told to shut up on public transport before. Or any other number of forms of harassment, offensive statements, staring the likes of which even we can't imagine and ignorant questions he has already faced just in this one example day alone.

That's it, really. I don't buy the 니가 thing. And I don't think any critically thinking Koreans would, either. Because it doesn't make sense to me, and it shouldn't make sense to them, if they didn't really want it to.

16 comments:

Special K said...

Yes. Thank you. Finally.

The Sanity Inspector said...

48 hour rule.

asadalthought said...

I've read a couple of reports in Korean, and none in english apart from one of the blog posts mentioned. What I've read seems to imply that both happened. That the old man said "shut up", the guy got angry, and to try and calm him down but in a fairly aggravated way the old man said "니가 여기 앉아." And perhaps we shouldn't discount the possibility that he was getting pissed off by someone speaking 반말 to him ;)

I'm no Picasso said...

Well that's what I was thinking was that 니가 would not have come up right away. Either way, I think the foreigners talking about how the man bothered to learn a swear word in Korean but not the word for "you" and how that's amazing should maybe look at the situation again for a minute and realize that that is pretty amazing.... so amazing that it doesn't really make sense.

And that's the other thing I was going to say is, if this is being reported this way in the Korean media, then why aren't they addressing the 반말 issue? Once the situation got escalated, it would be more expected that the Korean man would be speaking to him that way, because he is older and agitated. But if he really was just sitting there before any interaction occured and just came out with 니가 to someone who isn't even a student, that would be questionable to begin with.

audience said...

I sincerely hope that was a case of misunderstanding. I just hope that he did not understand what 니가 means.

동수 said...

Agreed.The man(definitely not an FOB) just happens to be the scapegoat for the media. The Korean media is known to burst extreme case-biased, provacative reports in order to make sales -_-; And it's also known to instanly cool off just like a sauce pan which surely lacks the responsibility to report the aftermath or further investigate. People are aware of this, and really don't care much to change it either. This is why the Japanese(Far Right) often make a ridicule of Koreans as 냄비근성 which partially is quite true foremostly encouraged by the media.
And yes, if the old man was a war veteran, he would know the meaning and that the Korean word for 니가 can relate to 1.discrimination, 2. 반말 which in my case will make sure he pays intellectually. My advice to any foreigners in Korea is to think on your own whether it be right or wrong instead of beleiving the media. Some media are far left or right. Sometimes, they just decide to prance on a sigle meal in accordance as if they have agreed upon. 댓글 도배해서 ㅈㅅ 함다~ ^-^/

matt said...

Worth keeping in mind is that the media often follows what's popular with the netizens (and those reports are then followed by politicians - had an HIV or drug test lately?).

As for language ability, I learned swearwords (often from friends or movies) long before 니가. Part of that had more to do with the book I learned from, but the point is I wouldn't be surprised to find someone who knew swearwords but not pronouns (or a larger range of pronouns).

Also, this article says he came to Korea in February.

I'm no Picasso said...

Dongsu -- Yeah, the thing is, it isn't just the Korean media that is that way, but there seems to be something particular to the viral nature of cases like this. Of course, we can't say he is a scapegoat just because he is foreign, because I've seen three or four cases of public transport bad behavior caught on video by Koreans in the last few months alone. The netizens are just as angry about those cases, and they spread just as quickly. It might be more interesting to start to question what it is about life in Korea (especially Seoul) that creates so much tension that seems to explode so often in that situation. But interesting, intelligent journalism is just difficult to find. And I certainly can't find it in Korean, given my current level.

Matt -- He didn't just use a swear word, though. He used several different phrases with pretty decent pronunciation (to my ears, anyway). He may not know what 니가 means, but he never noticed that word before? He spends five-six hours a day in a classroom with students speaking in Korean to each other since February and this was the first time he noticed the word 니가? Maybe he is really that clueless, but I find it harder to believe than the other story. Much harder. Especially given the fact that he's screaming in the man's face about "I'll shut YOU up" and not the N word.

matt said...

I wasn't commenting on whether the 니가 moment happened (as you say, it seems unlikely, and with him repeating variations on the theme of 'shut up,' it's more likely that having that said to him is what set him off), just saying that people learn differently, especially when they might not be trying very hard to. Back before I could string a sentence longer than a few words together, I would have probably had great pronunciation of swearwords just from watching gangster films (gangster comedies, to be exact, as those were the style at the time).

feld_dog said...

For what it's worth, NO beginning Korean Language books that I've seen mention "니가". "You" is either "너" or "당신". And why would he hear "니가" in a haggwon if he's teaching kids? Wouldn't kids automatically use "당신"? And as INP mentionaed, "You" is often dropped from most Korean conversations as a subject anyway. So it's a reasonable idea that he's never heard it.

I'm no Picasso said...

Feld dog -- Do children only ever speak to their teachers? I didn't realize that. Because I'm pretty sure that when I'm surrounded by my students, they are usually talking to each other?

The point is not really whether or not the average person would notice or know what the word 니가 means -- the point is, if this man were so sensitive to the sound of the word, surely he would have already had a reaction to it, considering he's been here since February. Sitting at tables in restaurants next to couples or friends having conversations, listening to other people talk on the bus or subway, in bars and coffee shops... 니가 does not often happen between strangers, but it is commonly used among equals and close friends, especially from childhood. I find it hard to believe that on this one day, seven months into his Korean experience, he suddenly heard this word for the first time and lost his shit. If people find that to be a more reasonable story than that a Korean man told a foreigner speaking in English on the phone on the bus to be quiet, then that's fine. I don't. And I'm not going to. No matter what ridiculous situationally specific argument anyone manages to come up with.

Special K said...

Well now that the "니가" myth has been put to rest, any speculation on how it got started? It does fit in nicely with a few well know narratives.

(^_^) said...

Haha I just said something very, very similar on Tumblr. While I had your blog up, even. This has been bothering me since it came out yesterday.

I'm no Picasso said...

It was, according to the man himself, "shut up": http://biz.heraldm.com/common/Detail.jsp?newsMLId=20110830000760

Although this account from someone on the bus ( http://pann.nate.com/talk/312659446 ) says (I think? anyone with better Korean than mine, feel free to correct me) that he couldn't really hear the exchange that escalated the situation, that the original problem was that the foreigner was being too loud on the phone, and the grandfather naturally would have told him to be quiet. But that part is in Korean, with no mention of "shut up" specifically.

VWGTI said...

Someone left a full translation of that site at Marmot's. Read post#217

http://www.rjkoehler.com/2011/08/30/black-guy-on-bus-explains-what-set-him-off/#comments

I'm no Picasso said...

VWGTI -- Thank you!