Thursday, May 13th, 2010

“Ubiquitous”, a Hidden Language Trap in Korean and Japanese IT

The word ubiquitous is a key to understanding Korean and Japanese information technology (IT). An example: U-city (U as in ubiquitous) is a concept heavily promoted in Korea. All the major Korean cities strive to earn the U-city label. Ubiquitous, according to an English dictionary, means found or seeming to be found everywhere. How can a city be found everywhere? The very ambition to be found everywhere may seem mysterious, or even suspect to a Westerner.

However, to Koreans and the Japanese ubiquitous has a different meaning. The double semantics of this word is little known. Since I couldn’t find any previous work on this subject I recently wrote an article about it, now published in the proceedings of the ICISA 2010 conference.

ICISA 2010 (The International Conference on Information Science and Applications) was held in April 2010 in Seoul, Korea. The Icelandic ash cloud did its best to shut out all European delegates. I may have been then only one slipping through.

The title of my contribution is: Linguistic Aspects of Ubiquitous Computing: On “ubiquitous” in Japanese and Korean Information Technology. So what is a linguistic paper doing in a conference on information science? It may seem like a long shot. In my opinion, if you are Korean or Japanese, the paper contains things you need to know to successfully promote IT concepts and products abroad. If you are not Korean or Japanese the paper contains a background you need to understand Korean and Japanese IT.

The key to resolving the language issue is to realize that ubiquitous has become a loanword in the Korean and Japanese languages. Loanwords are written in Korean and Japanese scripts (Hangul and Katakana, respectively). In this form their existence is somewhat decoupled from their English origin. The original phrase ubiquitous computing has been subject to lexical truncation and semantic shift. See the paper for details.

A draft version of the paper is available in the download area. The copyright of the conference proceedings is held by IEEE. The published article is available from IEEE Xplore for a fee (USD 30).

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