Which one are you talking about?

Park, Jeonghun

         There are some words that have a double meaning in Korean, because the language itself is focused on contextual meanings. For example, Noon (눈) might mean more than two ideas; the part of the body you see with or snow that fall from the sky. Foreigners or exchange students might have trouble understanding the cultural context of the speech, thereby I would explain some of the examples that Koreans use that might mean multiple concepts.

To begin with, Gangnam would be the most obvious example. Gangnam (江南[1]: South of the river) refers to numerous notions. To begin with, the word is synonymous with Gangnam Station, line number two. Some students omit the word station, because the station is called Gangnam and people do not usually say the full name of a subway station, when they are referring to a place nearby. Therefore, when I hear the word Gangnam, the Gangnam Station first comes to mind. Even though Gangnam Station’s address is mostly within the Gangnam District, the size of the station is large that some parts are in Seocho District, resulting in misunderstanding.

Secondly, Gangnam means Gangnam District. Gangnam District is one of the districts in Seoul. It has multiple amenities such as malls, hotels, and even a casino. Apgujeong, Cheongdam, and Samseong are one of the famous regions for visitors in Korea. For me, when I hear the word Gangnam, I tend to think of the district not the station. So, these days, I now ask if the speaker is referring to the station or the district.

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Finally, Gangnam refers to its literal meaning; the south of the river. Koreans associate the word with a group of districts south of the Han river. So, some might say “Is it in Gangnam?”; is it in south of the river or the north? This ambiguity might be critical for exchange students because, even though Korea is relatively small, someone might result in going to completely different location; Gangnam Station vs Gangnam District vs south or north. To avoid confusion, ask the speaker if they are referring to Gangnam station or Gangnam District or the area.

Another term is Samseong vs Samsung. The two sound the same, however the meaning is completely different. Everyone knows Samsung, the famous worldwide Korean electronics company. However, Samseong (삼성: 三成) Station is a station in line number 2. It has nothing to do with Samsung Corporation. Samseong is a name of a neighborhood in Gangnam District. When you get off at Samseong station, COEX Starfield, which is a shopping mall, would be the landmark. However, Samsung, which means “Three stars” in Korean, is a conglomerate. So, if Koreans say, “I went to Samseong”, you could ask more to narrow down the meaning of the word; does he mean Samsung Corporation or the neighborhood?

In conclusion, the broad contextual meaning of a word might result in ambiguity when asking for directions or explaining a specific location. However, narrowing down the meaning using other means, such as a map or kind explanation from the locals would be desired.

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