Open Linguistics 2018; 4: 184–198
Mixed Feelings: Attitudes towards English
loanwords and their use in South Korea
Received October 20, 2017; accepted March 2, 2018
Abstract: This questionnaire study investigates South Korean students’ attitudes towards English loanwords
and their use. Even though English enjoys high prestige in Korean society and is considered a requirement
for personal and professional advancement, usage of English loanwords is evaluated predominantly
negatively or with mixed feelings. For loanwords that semantically deviate from standard English meanings
and thus demonstrate Korean identity (i.e., Konglish loanwords), the evaluations turn even more to the
negative. Nevertheless, participants also posit positive aspects of general English and Konglish loanword
use and, additionally, put forward a variety of perceived reasons for using English words. This study shows
that general positive attitudes related to a language can be reversed or at least modified when it comes to
the combination of the prestigious language with the native language.
Keywords: loanwords; language attitudes; English in Korea; Konglish; lexical borrowing
Loanwords from English are a common phenomenon in most of the world’s languages. Besides cataloguing
and analyzing their functions, types, and integration processes, it is also indispensable to investigate how
loanwords are perceived by speakers and which attitudes are linked with them and their use. The study at
hand provides insights into the perceptions and attitudes towards English loanwords in the South Korean
(henceforth Korean) context. English loanwords are extremely pervasive in the Korean language (Lee 1996,
Lawrence 2010) and thus part of every Korean’s linguistic repertoire. Their abundance, however, does
not automatically entail a positive attitude. As one can see in this paper, various competing notions are
connected to English in Korea in general and this study of university students’ attitudes towards English
loanwords provides valuable observations on the sociolinguistic negotiations involved when it comes to
As most other countries in the world, Korea has been and remains in substantial contact with Anglophone
culture and language. Even though it is not an official language, the presence of English is very visible in
Korea. Certain fields, such as advertising, product design, and pop culture provide particularly nourishing
soil for the English language (Lee 2004, Lee 2006, Lawrence 2010, Lee 2011a, Lee 2016). Additionally, English
functions as a prestige and status marker in Korean society (Shim & Baik 2004: 182). This contrasts with
the still highly monolingual and monocultural character of Korean society (Park 2013: 287) and induces the
question of the status and perception of English loanwords by members of the Korean speech community.
Korea, therefore, presents a fascinating case in point when it comes to loanword research, as the notion of
English as a highly valuable commodity and even status symbol clashes with the monolingualism and the
strong association of Korean identity with the Korean language (Coulmas 1999, Park 2010: 63). Despite the
compelling research background, the Korean context has been largely neglected by research on English
*Corresponding author: Sofia Rüdiger, University of Bayreuth, Bayreuth, Germany, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Open Access. © 2018 Sofia Rüdiger, published by De Gruyter. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-
NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 License.
Mixed Feelings: Attitudes towards English loanwords and their use in South Korea 185
loanwords, especially when it comes to attitudes and usage by the general population.
The first section of this paper presents a short theoretical overview of English loanwords in the world’s
languages, which is subsequently narrowed down to a focus on Asia. Despite the geographical proximity
and some similarities in the sociolinguistic situation in Korea and Japan, it is surprising that the latter has
attracted a far bigger share of attention in loanword research. The theoretical section will thus zoom in
on English loanword research in Japan as it provides a compelling point of reference before coming to the
specific setting of English in the Korean context. The next section introduces previous research on English
loanwords in Korea and is followed by the methodology. The aim of this study is to describe the perception
of profuse English loanword users by their fellow Koreans, the perceived reasons for using English
loanwords in the first place, and the attitudes towards English loanwords that have undergone semantic
shift. The results demonstrate mixed feelings towards English loanwords as expressed by the participants.
Furthermore, a number of perceived reasons for loanword use within the Korean context, ranging from
practical to historical, are uncovered in the analysis which allows to shed light on the so-far underexposed
life of English loanwords in South Korea.
2 English loanwords around the world
English-based loanwords (also called Anglicisms) concern lexical material, stemming originally from English,
that is incorporated into a different language. As Poplack and Sankoff (1984) argue, it can be problematic to
distinguish between the use of loanwords, code-switching, and interference. They consequently offer four
characteristics for the successful identification of loanwords: frequency of use, native-language synonym
replacement, morphophonemic/syntactic integration, and acceptability (Poplack and Sankoff 1984, 103-
104), the latter being of key interest also in the study of language attitudes.
English, as one of the main lingua francas and the global language of the present time, has been the
source for extensive borrowing for many languages. Central reasons for English becoming the major player
at the forefront of global languages are mainly of historical, economic, and political nature, such as the
Industrial Revolution in 19th century Britain and North American as well as British colonialism (Görlach
2003, 6-7). An additional force is the rise of a global network, which has created an increasing necessity
for international communication. One of the results of the aforementioned processes is the widespread use
of English around the world. Furthermore, English has become a source of loanwords for other languages
instead of a recipient (Görlach 2003: 7). This is not to say that English does not or has not extensively
borrowed from other languages as well, as words like kindergarten (from German) or sushi (from Japanese)
demonstrate. Nowadays, however, English itself is an influential resource for the acquisition of new or
additional words for other languages, thereby “reflecting the importance and status it holds as a leading
language” (Kowner & Rosenhouse 2008: 4).
2.1 Anglicisms in Asian languages: Focus on Japan
English loanwords have been investigated in a range of Asian languages besides Korean (see, e.g., Raksaphet
1991, Suthiwan & Tadmor 2009 for Thai; Alves 2009 for Vietnamese; Lai 2008, Wiebusch & Tadmor 2009
for Chinese). Anglicisms in Japanese, for example, have been reported as extremely pervasive and have
thus attracted a particular wealth of academic attention (Quackenbush 1974, Loveday 1996, Daulton 2004,
Stanlaw 2005, Honna 2008, Kowner & Daliot-Bul 2008, Schmidt 2009, Irwin 2011, Yano 2011, Moody &
Matsumoto 2012, Scherling 2012). As the Korean and Japanese sociolinguistic context share a number of
similarities (e.g., no Anglophone colonial background, the national language perceived as strong identity
marker, a certain historical isolation based on (pen)insular geography), the insights gained from loanword
research in the Japanese context are of inherent interest to this study as well. Even though originating from
English, many of the English loanwords in Japanese have changed their meaning more or less dramatically,
making them, at times, hard or even impossible to understand for people not familiar with Japanese language
186 S. Rüdiger
and culture. These loanwords “are terms made in Japan for Japanese consumption” (Stanlaw 2005: 20), as
exemplified by ‘virgin road’ (baajin roodo; the “church aisle a bride walks down” (Stanlaw 2005: 41)) or
‘paper driver’ (peepaadoraiba; “a person who has their licence, but rarely actually drives” (Stanlaw 2005:
42)). Stanlaw refers to this phenomenon as “Japanese English” and argues that due to the “home-grown”
(2005: 20) status of these words they should be rather seen as “English-inspired vocabulary items” (2005:
20) than as words simply borrowed from English. A similar phenomenon of ‘home-grown’ English-based
lexical items exists in Korea, where English loanwords which underwent considerable semantic shift are
often referred to as Konglish. The term ‘Konglish’ itself is associated with a range of meanings and is, for
example, also used to refer to the respective Koreanized English variety, mistakes made by Koreans when
using English, or the Korean learners’ variety of English. Acknowledging that “[t]here is no generally agreed
definition of Konglish” (Hadikin 2014: 9), the use of the term ‘Konglish’ in this paper refers to the “specific
[English-based] set of lexical items generally considered unique to Korea” (Hadikin 2014: 9).
Regarding comprehension of English loanwords and attitudes towards them in the Japanese context,
Irwin (2011, 199-200) was able to identify two trends: older people have more problems understanding
loanwords than younger people (a finding which Irwin himself does refer to as unsurprising) and a “love-
hate relationship” with loanwords. This ‘love-hate relationship’ manifests as follows:
Although some [Japanese] view loanwords in a linguistically imperialistic or colonialist light as a threat to Japanese
culture and tradition, many others view them as indispensible [sic] for creating a more advanced, democratic society.
Some view the ever-increasing proportion of loanwords found in daily newspapers and school textbooks as a hindrance
to comprehension and learning. Others are acutely aware that the large-scale absorption of Western ideas, technology and
loanwords which came with the late 19th century opening up of Japan played a major role in saving the country from the
colonial fate of most other Asian nations. (Irwin 2011: 200)
Stanlaw’s argument, mentioned in the previous paragraph, that English loanwords in Japan mainly consist
of lexical items “created within Japan and within the Japanese cultural and linguistic matrix” (2005: 37),
can be seen as in line with the positive attitudes connected to English loanwords found by Irwin (2011), that
is, the ‘love’ in the ‘love-hate relationship’. If the English loanwords are seen as being created within the
Japanese framework, they are not an intruder of a foreign language but a creative representation of Japanese
society, culture, and language, which is reflected in their assimilation to Japanese linguistic structures (see,
e.g., Loveday 1996, Stanlaw 2005, Scherling 2013).
It remains to be seen whether attitudes towards English loanwords in Korea are indeed similar to the
views reported in Irwin (2011). The following section presents an overview of the contact situation in Korea,
followed by a summary of previous research on Anglicisms in Korea.
2.2 Setting the scene: English in Korea
The status of English in Korea is so exceptional that it has been designated the “language of ultimate
importance” (Park 2009: 1). Indeed, English is seen by Koreans as indispensable for leading a successful
life: English competence enables one to succeed not only career-wise but also in private life. English
functions as a social indicator and is the “key to upward social mobility” (Park 2009: 37). Even though
Korea has traditionally been described as a highly monolingual and monocultural country (Park 2013: 287),
English has become so pervasive within the society that ignorance of English is perceived as burdensome in
everyday life (Lee 2016). Korean identity is strongly connected to speaking Korean and English is not only
perceived but also actively positioned as the “language of an Other” (Park 2009: 26). Contact possibilities,
however, are manifold. English is, for example, very visible in Korean pop culture (see, e.g., Lee 2004, Lee
2007), advertising (see Lee 2006), product design, and the linguistic landscape in general (see Lawrence
2012, Tan & Tan 2015). Besides, several English-medium newspapers are produced and circulated in Korea
(e.g., The Korea Herald, The Korea Times, and Joongang Daily). Korean children officially start learning
English in the third grade of elementary school but in reality English-medium kindergartens are a popular
choice for Korean parents. Regular kindergartens usually offer at least some English classes, often with the
Mixed Feelings: Attitudes towards English loanwords and their use in South Korea 187
aid of English native speakers. A plethora of additional possibilities for English education exist: private
educational academies (so-called Hagwon), English villages (model villages simulating life in a Western,
English-speaking country staffed with native speakers of English; see Lee 2011b), and short-term as well
as long-term study abroad. Nowadays, the desire for English language instruction in Korea is so high that
experts even refer to an ‘English Fever’ (see, e.g., Shim & Park 2008).
It is not surprising then that strong attitudes towards English exist in Korean society. In a study of
media representations and uses of cross-cultural humor, Park (2009) identified three prevailing attitudes
when it comes to English: necessitation, externalization, and self-deprecation. These three ideologies
complement but also contrast with each other and are highly visible in Korean society. English is more
than just highly valued in Korea: it is regarded as a necessary factor for Korea’s endurance in the globalized
world (Park 2009: 26). English competence is valued as an essential resource not only in the economical
field, but also in culture and politics (Park 2009: 26). Nevertheless, English clearly is a language of the
other, which does not belong to Korea. The Korean language is strongly associated with Korean identity
(and vice versa), which, in the end, presents English as an intruder into the linguistic landscape of Korea.
Open endorsement of English could then be interpreted as “a betrayal of one’s identity and a disruption of
the social order upon which that identity is based” (Park 2009: 26). The third ideology, self-deprecation,
refers to Koreans perceived lack of English competence. Many Koreans themselves believe that they are
intrinsically unable to acquire English to a sufficient degree. As Park (2009) has shown, this view is also
disseminated in newspapers and TV shows, even though it blatantly disregards linguistic realities, where a
spectrum of English proficiencies is reached by Korean learners of English.
Other research on language attitudes in Korea is scarce, apart from two comprehensive studies on
professional groups with a special linguistic investment: Korean teachers of English (Ahn 2014, Ahn 2017)
and Korean-English translators and interpreters (Cho 2017). Cho demonstrates the cultural, economic,
political, social, and symbolic capital represented by English for Korean translators and interpreters (2017:
170) and argues that this specific demographic group is driven by the goal to become ‘the perfect English
speaker’ (as propagated in the media). From Ahn’s research on Korean teachers of English (2014, 2017), we
know that educators experience an internal conflict when it comes to teaching English. According to Ahn
(2014, 215-216), high school teachers prefer American English as target variety due to their obligation to
prepare students for proficiency tests, while at the same time valuing a localized Korean English variety for
cultural and linguistic needs. This localized, that is nativized, Korean English variety has until the recent
past been rather elusive (despite some initial evidence presented by Jung & Min 1999, Shim 1999). Only
recently has this variety been described more extensively and with sound corpus-based methods (Hadikin
2014, Rüdiger 2016, Rüdiger 2017a, Rüdiger 2017b).
2.3 English loanwords in Korean
Modern Korean vocabulary consists of three strata: native Korean words, Sino-Korean words, and
loanwords from other languages. Words from Chinese make up the largest proportion of the vocabulary,
as Sohn (2006: 44) estimates that Sino-Korean items account for 65%, native Korean words for 30%, and
loanwords from other languages for 5% of present-day Korean vocabulary. Sino-Korean words, mainly the
result of historical borrowing processes (Sohn 2006: 44), are integrated into Korean so well and have been
introduced into the language such a long time ago that, although they originally stem from Chinese, they
are usually not regarded as loanwords per se (McTague 1990: 13). Modern borrowing patterns have mainly
resulted in loanwords from Japanese and European languages. According to Sohn (1999: 118) “the total
number of current loan words [in Korean] is estimated at over 20,000, of which English occupies over 90%”.
It is very likely, however, that the number of English loanwords has considerably risen since Sohn’s 1999
estimate due to increased globalization and further technological advances (an informal survey by the
author of a Korean-English dictionary listing basic vocabulary items, the Oxford Picture Dictionary English
/ Korean (Adelson-Goldstein & Shapiro 2009), for example, reveals that more than 28% of the total of 4414
items listed in the dictionary were of English origin).
188 S. Rüdiger
When English loanwords are borrowed into Korean, they are adapted to reflect Korean syllable
structure rules and pronunciation (as well as being transformed into Hangeul, the Korean alphabet). Thus,
an epenthetic vowel is added to the original lexical item ‘bus’ to form the Korean English loanword ‘beo-
seu’ (버스) or the voiced labiodental fricative /v/ which does not form part of the Korean phoneme inventory
is replaced by a stop, resulting in ‘ba-i-ol-lin’ (바이올린; from English ‘violin’). ‘Ba-i-ol-lin’ and ‘beo-seu’
are two examples for a rather straightforward loanword transfer from English to Korean, showing only
phonological and orthographic adaptation. Other loanwords, however, show further adaptations, which
Kim (2012: 15) subsumes under the four processes of semantic shift, creative compounding, mixed-code
combination, and clipping. Loanwords that have undergone semantic shift are often designated ‘Konglish’
(i.e., a mixture of English and Korean as reflected in the blend ‘Konglish’ itself ). In order to differentiate this
lexical aspect of Konglish from other potential uses of the term Konglish (which is at times also used to refer
to, e.g., Koreanized pronunciation of English in general), loanwords which have undergone considerable
processes of semantic shift and/or lexical creativity (cf. Stanlaw’s (2005) ‘English-inspired vocabulary
items’ in Japan) will be referred to as ‘Konglish loanwords’ in this paper. Well-known examples for Konglish
loanwords are ‘keon-ning’ (컨닝; from English ‘cunning’ = ‘cheating’) and ‘haen-deu-pon’ (핸드폰; from
English ‘hand phone’ = ‘mobile phone/cellphone’). More examples of Korean English loanwords can be
found in Table 1 (category 2-5 examples from Kim 2012) and in Kim (2016).
Table 1. English Loanword Categories and Examples (Based on Kim 2012)
direct o-ren-ji (오렌지; from English ‘orange’ [fruit])
i-me-il (이메일; from English ‘email’)
wa-in (와인; from English ‘wine’)
semantic shift (Konglish) tael-leon-teu (탤런트; from English ‘talent’ = ‘celebrity’)
bil-la (빌라; from English ‘villa’ = ‘apartment units’)
seu-taen-deu (스탠드; from English ‘stand’ = ‘lamp’)
creative compounding a-i syo-ping (아이 쇼핑; from English ‘eye shopping’ = ‘window shopping’)
baek-mi-reo (백미러; from English ‘back mirror’ = ‘rearview mirror’)
an-jeon bel-teu (안전 벨트; Korean word for ‘safety’ + English ‘belt’ = ‘safety belt’)
gam-ja chip (감자 칩: Korean word for ‘potato’ + English ‘chip’ = ‘potato chip’)
clipping sel-ka (셀카; clipping of English ‘self-camera’ to ‘sel-ka’ = ‘selfie’)
mae-seu keom (매스 컴; clipping of English ‘mass communication’ to ‘mass com’ = ‘media’)
Tranter (1997: 147) lists several reasons for borrowing from English in Korea and Japan, but two appear to
be the main factors. First of all, “the compulsory status of English education, [sic] has resulted in Koreans
and Japanese having an extensive knowledge of English” (Tranter 1997: 147). This has allowed Koreans and
Japanese to become very familiar with the English language “even though the chances to speak in English
outside the classroom environment are small” (Tranter 1997: 147). This limited possibility to speak English
outside the classroom is mainly due to the relatively low number of foreigners residing in Korea. According
to 2015 statistics, 3.4% of the Korean population are foreign residents (Eum 2015). This, however, does not
account for short term stays (e.g., tourists) and also does not reflect the steady rise of the number of foreign
residents in Korea over the last decade (Eum 2015). A large part of the foreigners staying in Korea are,
however, from China or other Asian countries and it remains to be investigated which language(s) are used
in specific contact situations.
Another factor regarding the disposition to borrowing from English in Korea is that foreign lexical
material is often a marked choice “because the native language is the vehicle of everyday communication”
(Tranter 1997: 147). Correspondingly, borrowings, particularly from Western languages, can be “more
emotive, more cosmopolitan, and more modern in their feel” (Tranter 1997: 147). This is also the reason
why many English loanwords start their course of life in advertising, mass media, and pop culture, before
consequently making the transition to everyday language (Tranter 1997: 147).
Attitudes towards the donor language naturally affect borrowing as “language loyalty and language
Mixed Feelings: Attitudes towards English loanwords and their use in South Korea 189
ideology are important factors that can constrain borrowing. Loyalty to one language and pride in its
autonomy promotes resistance to foreign incursions” (Winford 2010: 178). Korea as such exhibits “relatively
stable monolingualism and linguistic homogeneity, strong nationalistic attitudes and a rich heritage of
national culture and identity” (Park 2009: 2). English is, therefore, at times considered an intruder or
even a danger for the Korean language and culture (cf. the ideology of English as the language of the
‘Other’ mentioned above). These sentiments are strongly connected with language purism and several
organizations try to protect the Korean language from external influences (especially English) and voice
the view that Anglicisms should be avoided and their usage restricted. Such organizations include the non-
governmental and non-academic Hangeul Munhwa Yeondae (‘Hangeul Culture League’) and Gukeo Munhwa
Undong Bonbu (‘Headquarters of the Korean Language Culture Movement’) (see Park 1989, Park 2009).
There are also factors which facilitate borrowing from English to Korean. English has the connotation
of being ‘cool’ and ‘modern’ and, therefore, is frequently used as a commercial strategy in advertisements
(see, e.g., Lee 2006). Due to economic, cultural, and political reasons, English is often seen as a necessity
by Koreans. In order to function in the global marketplace, the Korean economy is dependent on English.
Therefore, English in Korea is seen “as a valuable and indispensable language” (Park 2009: 26) and has an
elevated position in the Korean school system. The social and economic prestige awarded to English and
English proficiency (Shin 2007: 78) may well be one of the main motivations for lexical borrowing.
Research regarding the actual use of English loanwords in Korea and connected attitudes is scarce.
Tyson (1993: 30) claims that “there seems to be very little practical resistance to the use of English loanwords
among Koreans of varying age, sex, occupation, education, and social class”. It is unclear, however, in how
far this applies to the Korean context more than 20 years later and is additionally based solely on personal
experiences and casual observations.
The data for this study was collected via an online questionnaire from November 2011 to the beginning of
January 2012. All questions were formulated in English but participants were given the possibility to answer
in Korean if preferred. The questionnaire enquired into several aspects of English loanwords in Korea, but
only the three content questions regarding loanword attitudes (and of course the demographic information
provided by the participants) are considered in this paper:
1) What do you think about Korean people who use many English loanwords when speaking Korean?
2) Why do you think do many Korean people use a lot of English loanwords?
3) What do you think about English loanwords which are considered to be Konglish?
for example: ‘컨닝’ (cunning = ‘cheating’)
‘핸드폰’ (handphone = ‘mobile phone/cellphone’)
74 complete questionnaire sets were collected for analysis and the answers to the open-ended questions
were coded by the author of this paper according to emerging themes and attitudes represented (see results).
All 74 participants were of South Korean nationality and specified Korean as their native language.
Slightly more female (n=41) than male participants (n=33) participated in the survey. Most of the par ticipants
were university students aged between 19 and 30. Around 10% of the participants were older than 30 (mainly
graduate students or early professionals). Students also indicated their major and can be classified as
follows: humanities (n=35), economics and law (n=13), natural science (n=8), and social science and sports
(n=2) (the numbers do not correspond to the complete number of students, since two participants were
pursuing a mixed degree and thus could not be allocated to one faculty and one participant did not provide
information on the study program). Of the 35 humanities students, 25 were pursuing a degree in education
or English education. Other majors in this group included French or German language and literature.
Students and early professionals were selected as general target population for this study, due to their close
relationship to the English language and their intermediary status between younger generations and the
working population of Korea. Participants estimated their English proficiency to be at the intermediate or
190 S. Rüdiger
advanced level. Additionally, participants were asked to indicate how long they had been learning English.
Only seven participants indicated having studied English for less than 5 years. 30 participants claimed to
have studied English for 6 to 10 years, and 34 participants for even more than 10 years. The remaining three
participants had studied English for 20 years or more. More than half of the participants had spent time
abroad in an English-speaking country (e.g., studying abroad for one semester or simply travelling).
Spelling and grammar in the examples referenced in the following sections are left as they were given
by the participants. If corrections were necessary, they are given in square brackets after the problematic
passage. Participants are quoted in the following format: P45-M20. The letter-number combination before
the dash is an internal identifier (i.e., in this case participant number 45), and the part after the dash
indicates participant sex and age (M = male, F = female; i.e., in this case the participant was a 20-year-old
4.1 Attitudes towards substantial English loanword use
Opinion on profuse English loanword usage was elicited by the straightforward question: ‘What do you
think about Korean people who use many English loanwords when speaking Korean?’ The open-ended
answers by the participants were coded and categorized into six groups as summarized in Table 2:
Table 2. Attitudes towards profound English loanword use
Group Category # of responses %
don’t mind / don’t care .%
no response .%
Nearly 40% of participants expressed a mixed attitude towards people who use a high number of English
loanwords when conversing in Korean (Group 1). There are some instances where the usage of English
loanwords seems to be justified, for example, in academic contexts and when an appropriate native Korean
or Sino-Korean word to express the same concept is unavailable. Excessive as well as unjustified usage or
usage due to ‘wrong’ reasons (e.g., to look cool or to show off; as judged by the participants themselves),
however, is frowned upon by this participant group or even castigated, as in (1).
(1) I think it is okay when there is no other way to speak in Korean. However, if he/she use too much of it to show off, then it is
a problem. He/she might think he/she is smart. For me, I don’t want to hear them anymore then. (P74-F23; emphasis added)
Excessive English loanword use is seen as a reason for participant 74 to terminate the conversation or at least
to have the desire to do so. Participant 74 relates this to the feeling that the conversational partner might be
‘showing off’ and trying to appear ‘smart’ by the unwarranted use of English loanwords. According to her,
Korean words should be used preferably and lapses to English loanwords are only acceptable when there is
no adequate Korean word available.
Nearly a third of the participants showed a completely negative reaction towards heavy English
loanword use in their answers and were accordingly assigned to Group 2. These answers often expressed
overtly negative attitudes without any attempt of mitigation. Some of the participants asserted that people
using many English loanwords appear to be arrogant or show-offs (a notion which was also frequently
Mixed Feelings: Attitudes towards English loanwords and their use in South Korea 191
mentioned by those who expressed a mixed attitude; of the 49 responses categorized as either mixed or
negative, 27% perceived heavy English loanword users as show-offs), as can be exemplified by (2) and (3):
(2) I think people who use many English loanwords are somehow arrogant and want to be smart person although he/she is not.
If somebody use too much of English loanwords I feel aversion to such people. (P63-M26)
(3) […] I think ‘Why does he say like that?”. And I think he’s kind of arrogant people. (P19-F20)
In contrast to the previous group of participants, who thought that some contexts justify the use of English
loanwords, the attitudes expressed here are negative through and through. To participant 63, everybody
who uses too many English loanwords appears to be arrogant, demonstrating clearly a lack of intelligence
that they are trying to cover up by their use of English words. Another opinion was that those people, for
example, are not good Korean citizens since ‘[t]hey do not love korean’ (P10-M32).
Some participants explicitly stated that they either did not mind or did not care about heavy English
loanword usage by Korean native speakers (Group 3). Other participants expressed a neutral opinion
(Group 4). Answers were coded as neutral if they simply contained informative statements regarding
English loanword use without expressing any overt or covert judgment. Participant 27, for example, merely
referred to the fact that some people who use many English loanwords are overseas Koreans, which is
neither assessed as positive nor negative:
(4) I think people who use mant [many] English loanwords when speaking Korean are overseas Korean because overseas
Koreans are using English loanwords so much. (P27-M23)
Only three participants expressed a positive attitude towards heavy English loanword usage by native
speakers of Korean. One of them (P45-M20) tentatively asserted that those people may ‘look smart a little’.
Participant 20 (P20-F21) stated that she felt comfortable around people who exhibit this speech behavior.
4.2 Perceived reasons for English loanword use
The next questionnaire item inquired into perceived reasons for English loanword use. Since this was an
open-ended question, responses had to be grouped and coded according to broad categories (see Table 3
below). Many participants expressed more than one reason, which led to the overall number of reasons
recorded exceeding the number of questionnaire participants (74 online questionnaire participants provided
95 reasons). An overview of the categorization of all responses can be found in the following Table 3:
Table 3. Perceived reasons for English loanword use
Category Examples # of responses %
practical reasons convenience
simplicity of usage and/or understanding
expressive reasons display intelligence, English abilities, and/or
cultural reasons, globalization, historical reasons Westernization of Korea
necessity to express concept(s) from different
habit x .%
mass media Internet
English practice, importance of English x .%
influence of time spent abroad x .%
no response .%
192 S. Rüdiger
Practical reasons were mentioned most often. The category of ‘practical reasons’ stands for convenience
usage, the simplicity of using and/or understanding English loanwords, or the fact that some concepts are
best expressed using an English loanword. There might also be no Korean counterpart and using an English
loanword is, therefore, the only lexical option available to speakers. Two examples for responses coded as
‘practical reasons’ can be found below:
(5) sometimes it [an English loanword] can be more helpful to express one’s though [thought]. (P59-F29)
(6) It is because there are not enough Korean words to be used instead of the English loanwords. (P64-F19)
As Participant 59’s statement shows, English loanwords are sometimes perceived as being better suited to
properly expressing one’s thoughts than native Korean words. Participant 64 stresses that some Koreans
seem to be forced to use English loanwords at least occasionally, due to lexical gaps in the native/Sino-
All reasons connected to the speakers’ desire to create a certain impression of themselves were coded as
expressive. According to the respondents, English loanword users want to leave a positive impression that is
often associated with superior intelligence or education. Expressive reasons were altogether mentioned 21
times. Participant 49, for example, relates English loanword usage by Koreans to the obsession of learning
English (so-called ‘English Fever’) and Participant 63 thinks that English loanwords are used as a means to
demonstrate distinguished knowledge.
(7) korean society is so obsessed with learning englsih [English] because having a good english ability has been a key to
success during the past decades. so koreans tend to admire the person who speaks english well and it leads to awkward using
of english loanwords. (P49-F20)
(8) […] I think some people want to show there [their] level of knowledge and want to show off themselves. […] (P63-M26)
The desire to display advanced English proficiency, which goes hand in hand with superior knowledge,
is interpreted as one reason for using English loanwords in this study. According to Participant 49, people
with high English competence are in general admired by other Koreans. This is seen as responsible for
making Koreans use English loanwords, even in contexts where this might appear ‘awkward’.
Other positive impressions which English loanword users might try to convey were described by
questionnaire participants as ‘fancy’, ‘stylish’, and ‘cool’ (see (9) and (10)).
(9) […] for some people, it may seem to be nice and stylish that using a lot of English loanwords. (P17-F24)
(10) […] We tend to think that its cool to use english loanwords.. (P2-F21)
Those statements show that using English when speaking Korean may be perceived as indicative that one is
familiar with the language and evokes the association of a modern and fashionable person. A person using
English loanwords can appear as a connoisseur of the English language and may seem to share the urbane
connotations associated with it. It should be noted though that this is put into perspective by Participant
17 who states that this might be the case for ‘some people’, so there are also people who have a different
opinion. Participant 2 also writes about a tendency (‘[w]e tend to think’) rather than an absolute sentiment
expressed by Korean people.
Cultural and historical factors were also given as reasons for English loanword usage. Cultural and
historical reasons, as well as globalization and Westernization, were combined into one coding category
since it can often be difficult to distinguish between them (see, e.g., (11) below). All of the responses in this
coding category referred to the influence of Western societies (especially U.S. American) on Korean society,
culture, and language. This category is illustrated by the following example:
Mixed Feelings: Attitudes towards English loanwords and their use in South Korea 193
(11) I think it’s because we are living in ‘westernized’ modern society at this moment. Korea is industrialized and modernized
country and this concept of development is from Western. I think it’s why there are many English loanwords in Korea to
describe words or concepts in our current life style. (P48-F21)
Habitual reasons were only given a few times in the online questionnaire. Responses which gave habit or
custom as the reason for the usage of English loanwords in Korean society were coded into this category.
This type of reasoning is illustrated by the response of Participant 32:
(12) I think people get accustomed to use English loanwords, so they use them unconsciously. (P32-F21)
Surprisingly, influence by mass media was only mentioned six times as possible reason for English loanword
usage, even though mass media have been shown to “actively participate in the induction of anglicisms”
(Onysko 2007: 61) as well as multiplying the use of new words (Plümer 2000: 85). This view is only shared
by a minority of the Korean student respondents, however, who see mass media influence (i.e., TV and/
or the Internet) as the reason for many Koreans to use English loanwords. Another marginal reason for
English loanword usage in Korean was the attempt to practice English or the importance of English in
the Korean society (the first one being necessitated by the later, i.e., the importance of English in Korea
makes it necessary for Koreans to practice English). In general, this is closely connected to the category of
‘expressive reasons’ and is consequently often mentioned in combination, as in (13).
(13) The reason is because Korean people want to become a good Englisher [English speaker] and think English words
including loanwords make people greater. (P62-F27)
Influence of time spent abroad was only mentioned once as reason for using English loanwords:
(14) […] many Korean people have experience in foreign countries, for studying abroad or working there, and it would be easy
for them to explain things in English sometimes. (P67-M19)
4.3 Attitudes towards Konglish loanwords
In the online questionnaire, participants were then asked ‘What do you think about English loanwords
which are considered to be Konglish?’ In order to clarify the term ‘Konglish’ to the subjects, the questionnaire
provided the following two examples which are commonly recognized as Konglish items: ‘keon-ning’ (컨닝;
from English ‘cunning’ = ‘cheating’) and ‘haen-deu-pon’ (핸드폰; from English ‘hand phone’ = ‘mobile
phone/cellphone’). An overview of the response strategies can be found in the following Table 4:
Table 4. Attitudes towards Konglish loanwords
Group Category # of responses %
no opinion .%
no response .%
Overall, opinions on this question varied widely. Nearly a third of the participants indicated a negative
view of this special kind of English loanword and many expressed a desire to change Konglish loanwords
into ‘proper’ Korean words. (15) and (16) are typical examples for responses expressing an overtly negative
attitude towards Konglish loanwords:
194 S. Rüdiger
(15) I hate Konglish. (P39-M19)
(16) it sounds awkward so it has to be replaced with proper korean words. because those loanwords are neither kroean
[Korean] nor english. (P49-F20)
Participant 39 simply voices resentment towards Konglish, whereas Participant 49 provides us with
reasons for her opinion: she dislikes Konglish loanwords because of their intermediary status. According
to her, those words belong neither to the Korean nor to the English language, which results in a certain
‘awkwardness’ when using them. The main reasons for negative opinions, as stated by the participants,
were related to problems in the acquisition of English resulting in obstacles in communicating with
foreigners, as demonstrated in (17):
(17) it would not be effective when we communicate with foreigners using that [Konglish] words. (P42-M19)
The amount of semantic/lexical creativity that Konglish loanwords include is perceived as problematic
when those words are transferred to English. If the interlocutor is unfamiliar with the usage of Konglish
loanwords, these words can then pose a threat to mutual understanding. A Korean asking for a ‘sharp’,
for example, is actually requesting a mechanical pencil. Using this Konglish loanword in an English
conversation with a non-Korean English speaker might lead to confusion as the interlocutor might be
unaware of the intended meaning of ‘sharp’.
Other participants posited a neutral statement as an answer to this questionnaire item. Those responses,
although on the topic of Konglish loanwords, did not emphasize positive or negative aspects. Participant
45 and Participant 39, for example, expressed this kind of neutral statement towards Konglish loanwords.
(18) It is just a cultural phenomenon in Korea, It’s natural. (P45-M20)
(19) They are Korean words, although they are deprived [derived] from English. (P39-M19)
In (18), Konglish loanwords are simply described as being ‘natural’ implying that there is nothing special
about them. Example (19) merely explains what Konglish loanwords are in the eye of Participant 39: namely
words stemming from English but belonging to the Korean language. Note that he does not acknowledge
the semantic change that Konglish loanwords have undergone in the borrowing process.
A part of the responses expressed a mixed attitude towards Konglish loanwords, which means that they
provided positive as well as negative views on the issue. Participants also offered different explanations
for their responses. Some participants, see (20) below as an example, expressed the opinion that Konglish
loanwords can be evaluated positively in a certain aspect, such as being useful or convenient, but should
still be reduced in the future.
(20) I think it is useful in someway. However, we really need to correct them. Soon, Korea will be more globalized and if we still
use Konglish, it is not good for image of Korea. (P74-F23)
Other participants have no problem with the usage of Konglish loanwords per se, but think that Konglish
should only be used in Korea because using it in other countries and/or with foreigners can lead to
(21) It does not matter if we use Konglish words among Korean people but with people from other contexts, there will may be
some misunderstanding because of the Konglish words. (P34-F22)
The last response pattern coded as ‘mixed’ are answers positing that the general use of Konglish loanwords
is acceptable but should be avoided if a ‘proper’ Korean word was available.
Mixed Feelings: Attitudes towards English loanwords and their use in South Korea 195
(22) If we have another word to cell [tell] it in Korean, it would be better. (P43-F20)
A minority of responses expressed a positive attitude towards Konglish loanwords. The main reasons
for a positive evaluation of Konglish loanwords were ‘cuteness’, ‘funniness’, and ‘convenience of usage’.
Participant 1 valued Konglish loanwords for lingua-cultural reasons:
(23) Good, it expresses our language history. (P1-M29)
It should be noted that all participants who viewed Konglish loanwords positively had spent time in an
English-speaking country (except two for which no response on the stay abroad question was available).
Last but not least, a few participants explicitly stated that they had no opinion on this matter and were
therefore coded as ‘no opinion’.
The prevalence of mixed attitudes towards the vigorous use of English loanwords (in general) expressed by
the Korean participants of this study points to an active engagement with the linguistic situation in Korea
and evokes a love-hate relationship to English loanwords similar to the one identified by Irwin (2011) in
Japan. Most participants were well aware that it sometimes is indispensable to use an English loanword.
This is also demonstrated by the frequent nomination of the ‘practical reasons’ response when prompted for
reasons for English loanword usage. Nevertheless, using an abundance of unnecessary English loanwords
(or what are at least perceived to be unnecessary loanwords) can lead to social stigmatization: the speaker
can eventually appear as a show-off. Additionally, using many English loanwords is sometimes equated
with bragging about one’s English proficiency. English competence is a very desirable skill in Korean
society, but the linguistic situation in Korea very rarely calls for active English use. The use of English
loanwords when speaking Korean is, therefore, one of the few possibilities to let fellow Koreans know about
one’s ability to speak English (of course, using many English loanwords does not necessarily entail high
English proficiency). Interestingly, according to the results of this study, using many English loanwords
does not lead to admiration or even jealousy by the conversational partner. Instead the opposite reaction is
achieved. This ties in with the observations made by Park (2009) regarding a Korean study group of English
that “displaying one’s ability in English is constructed as an inherently problematic activity” (Park 2009:
184). Interactional situations that require a demonstration of one’s English competence are interactionally
framed as problematic. This includes the use of discoursal strategies such as sequential delay or embedding
in an explicit negative assessment (Park 2009: 207). This contrasts with contexts where ability in another
language than English is demonstrated. Park (2009, 201-211) found little to no interactional framing when
it came to the display of competence in Japanese in his data. Of course, Japanese and English have a very
different status in Korea. The business ties with Japan are not regarded as important as those with English-
speaking countries and relatively few Korean people learn Japanese, especially compared to those afflicted
by English Fever, leading to the sentiment that “Japanese is considered to be unimportant but easy, English
is considered to be important but difficult” (Park 2009: 210). This shows that the interactional framing
observed in displays of English ability seem to be not only a matter of face and politeness but depend on
the context and the existence of different language ideologies regarding English and Japanese respectively
(Park 2009: 211). As this study has shown that attitudes towards English loanwords correspond to the
behavior displayed in Park’s (2009) study regarding displays of language proficiencies in general, it will
be interesting to corroborate this further with research on the usage of and attitudes towards Japanese
loanwords in Korean.
Konglish loanwords represent a creative process of semantic change. Their conscious usage demonstrates
that (bilingual) speakers “are not just ‘copiers’ of forms, but that they also act as creative replicators of
raw material” (Matras 2011: 175). This creativity is lost after the pseudo-loanwords are integrated into the
Korean vocabulary, at least for non-bilingual speakers who use them without knowledge of their semantic
peculiarities. Even though they could be seen as a pinnacle of linguistic creativity, they are often stigmatized
196 S. Rüdiger
by the Korean speakers who regard them simply as wrong or faulty English. This leads to a desire to replace
them with ‘proper’ Korean words. Nevertheless, participants in the survey did not always regard Konglish
loanwords as problematic and there are indeed speakers who value them for their linguistic form (even
though many of them modify their positive outlook by stating a preference for native Korean terms when
All three of Park’s (2009) identified ideologies of English in Korea are reflected in the results. As much
as English in general is seen as necessary for Korean society (i.e., the ideology of necessitation), English
loanwords are, to a certain degree, also seen as necessary and essential part of the Korean lexical system.
However, they are identified as foreign matter and can produce certain ‘disturbances’ in the language
system (i.e., reflecting the ideology of externalization). Self-deprecation (i.e., the notion of Koreans as
being intrinsically unable to acquire English to a satisfying degree) is, to a certain extent, mirrored in the
testimonies of the participants who claim that Konglish loanwords can be a problem for people unaware of
the semantic shift involved in the borrowing of these English lexical items into Korean.
This study has shown that attitudes to English loanwords in Korea are neither simplistic nor homogeneous,
at least in the surveyed group of university students and early professionals. It has to be emphasized that
although negative attitudes were common, a small number of positive and many mixed reactions towards
English loanword use were observed in the study. The dichotomy depicted by the partially overlapping
and conflicting ideologies of English in Korea (Park 2009) can also be found in the attitudes identified
in the data. The active engagement of the participants with the subject matter at hand (as shown by the
differentiated attitudes towards English loanwords, see discussion) shows that this topic is highly relevant
in Korean society and, as such, is of high interest for not only researchers but also educators in this area.
The complexity of the matter calls for further active scholarly engagement with the subject of English
loanwords in Korea, not least to extend this research to other demographic groups. As this study has
focused on the attitudes towards loanwords and their use, further research regarding the actual use of
English loanwords by Korean speakers needs to be conducted in order to complete the picture of Anglicisms
in Korea (corpus-based quantitative studies are just one possibility here). As attitudes are intrinsically
hard to measure, one of the main drawbacks of this study is typical for attitudinal studies: the use of self-
reported data. The possibility that participants were not telling the truth or were simply reporting what
they thought were socially acceptable answers cannot be excluded. However, the participants were aware
that the researcher herself was not Korean and thus the social pressure might have been lower than could
theoretically be expected. Nevertheless, it would be interesting to support the self-reported answers with
other means of data collection, for example, naturally occurring conversations between peers about
language and language use. As, however, the goal of this study was to present an overview of attitudes
connected to loanword use and not survey actual usage patterns, it is sufficient to keep these limitations in
mind and consider them for future studies in the field.
Acknowledgments: The author wishes to thank James Richard Lambert and the two anonymous reviewers
of Open Linguistics for their extremely helpful comments. This publication was funded by the German
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