Branches of Linguistics of My Interest

In preparation for writing the personal statment for my PhD program application, I wanted to go through the terms that describe different branches of linguistics that I’m interested.


  • The effect of society on language
  • Includes norms, expectations, context, usage
  • overlaps with pragmatics
  • connected with linguistic anthropology

Linguistic Anthropology

  • the interdisciplinary study of how language influences social life.
  • language as a cultural resource and speaking as a cultural practice
  • Started with endangered languages and extended to most aspects of language structure and use
  • how language shapes communication, forms social identity and group membership, organizes large-scale cultural beliefs and ideologies, and develops a common cultural representation of the world

John H McWhorter

My inspiration for becoming a popular linguist came from listening to the Lexicon Valley, hosted by John H McWhorter. He has also written a long list of articles that tab on the current events to provoke critical debates on social and political issues on various channels including The Atlantic. He is “an associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University. He earned his B.A. from Rutgers, his M.A. from New York University, and his Ph.D. in linguistics from Stanford” according to his bio.


It seems that I can pursue a PhD program in either field, sociolinguistics or linguistic anthropology. That matters more for my dissertation would be the professors I work with and the culture and strength of the program. What will nurture my research in the direction I want, social activism through linguistics, would be continuous reading and learning of the society and language on my own.


[Investigation of Ingenious Anglo-Korean Idioms 2] 머쓱타드 & 코쓱모스 messukthatu & khossukmosu*

*Yale Romanization of Korean is used for this article.

Morphology of 머쓱타드

Blending of two words took place taking advantage of the similar sound of the first two syllables of word 1, 머쓱 messukand the first two syllables of word 2, 머스 mesu.

word 1: 머쓱하다 messukhata

  • meaning: feel embarrassed or awkward

word 2: 머스타드 mesuthatu

  • Anglo-Korean word from “mustard”
  • Deletion of post-vowel r
  • Two vowel epentheses to resolve the consonant sounds that do not occur in the syllable-final position in Korean: mus and tard.

Morphology of 코쓱모스

Blending of two words took place taking advantage of the similar sound of word 1, 코쓱 khossukand the first two syllables of word 2, 코스 khosu.

word 1: 코쓱 khossuk

  • Internet slang
  • Abbreviation of  닦다 kholul ssuk takkta “to wipe under your nose with your hand or index finger” (when feeling embarrased or awkward)

word 2: 코스모스 khosumosu

  • Anglo-Korean word from “cosmos”
  • Two vowel epentheses to resolve the consonant sounds that do not occur in the syllable-final position in Korean: cos and mos.


Both expressions are used online in postings or comments to describe a situation where one would feel embarrased or awkward.

Unique Highlights

Used with illustration

Often users post the illustrations along with the expression. On the left, it is a bottle of mustard, and on the right, it is a cosmos flower wiping its nose. Both are sweating to indicate their feeling of embarrassment and awkwardness.

Myriad of similar puns

As I explained in the morphology section, both expressions use pun in blending. The pun in 머쓱타드 led to a series of similar puns for the same meaning, expressing embarrassment and awkwardness with Anglo-Korean words that have syllables like 마스 masu, 머스 mesu. For example,

  • 머쓱카라 messukkhala: 머쓱 + 마스카라 masukhala “mascara”
  • 리트머쓱 시험지 lithumessuk: 머쓱 + 리트머스 시험지 lithumesu “litmus paper”

This webpage has a longer list of similar puns along with their illustrations.

ConLang, Pidgin, and Creole. How about Korean English?


The Language & The Expanse (feat. Nick Farmer, Linguist) : Episode 46 of Decipher SciFi started with a term that I wasn’t familiar: ConLanger. The Language Creation Society (LCS) defines the related terms:

Conlanging is the creation of constructed languages or conlangs, such as Esperanto, Dothraki, Lojban, or Klingon. A conlanger is someone who creates or constructs languages or conlangs.

Nick Farmer worked on Belter Creole for The Expanse TV show, and Belter is the language used by Belters who live in astroides far from Earth and Mars. I’ve learned about pidgin and creole languages before but this would be a good time to clarify their relationships.

Pidgin and Creole

Pidgin is a language created by speakers of different languages coming into contact. It is created to allow the speakers to communicate with each other.

When a pidgin language developes higher complexity and cultivateds native speakers over a long time, it becomes a creole. “Creoles always develop out of a pidgin” according to English Language and Linguistics Online.

In The Expanse, speakers of various Earth languages come into contact in the space when they move to outer planetary area. They develope Belter pidgin, and it become Belter Creole over generations.

Korean English

I’ve just thought of Korean English, one of the language varieties spoken in South Korea. It is mostly English vocabulary and expression that has undergone changes to look and sound like Korean. Is it a pidgin or creole?

It is not a pidgin because it is not created for communication purpose. Only Korean speakers can understand Korean English, not the English speakers. It is rather elements of one language, English, that have entered another language, Korean, and adjusted themselves to settle in the new language environment. (Then is Korean English still an accurate name? Should it be just called Korean?)

It is not a creole because it did not develope from a pidgin.

[Call it like it is] Juice? Soda? Energy drink? SUGAR WATER!


Let’s start with juice!

Have you met a person who claims that the juice they are drinking counts as fruit? Some juice is from real fruit, but it is not the real fruit. It is JUICE, and here I proclaim it’s actually flavored sugar water. Here’s why, according to Zach Newman, ACE Certified Personal Trainer.

essential_everyday_apple_juice_64_ozIn this article, he specifically discusses Essential Everyday 100% Apple Juice. Two top ingredients are water and apple juice concentrate. Juice concentrate is the base for the product’s self-claim for “from real fruit,” which is true, but you need to understand the true identity of juice concentrate.

The concentrate is far from the original apple it comes from. The industrial processing removes “nearly all its fiber, flavors, aromas, and vitamins” and turns it into what’s known as in the food industry as “stripped juice.” One of the vital ingredients missing in the concentrate is fiber, which “acts as a counterbalance to the sugar we’re ingesting.” The problem in consuming sugar without fiber is further explained in the article. While the ideal rate of sugar to fiber is 1:1, the average in the United States is 12:1.

Moving onto soda!


Here is a picture of sugar cubes stacked up in the equivalent amount to the sugar content in each coke container. Would you ever eat that many sugar cubes? Then why would you drink it? Besides, soda is not even from real fruit. These are the top three ingredients of Coca Cola.

  • Carbonated water
  • Sugar (sucrose or high-fructose corn syrup)
  • Caffeine

Therefore, I would call soda carbonated sugar water. Some soda like coke is caffeinated while some like Sprite is not. So let’s save the “caffeinated” label for the next group for its simplicity. (Bonus, a comprehensive chart of nutritional content of regular soda by

Last up: energy drink!

redbullHere is a picture of sugar cubes stacked up in the equivalent amount to the sugar content in a Red Bull can. You get the idea. Shall we call this caffeinated and carbonated sugar water? Quite a lengthy name but definitely more accurate than energy drink, right? Think about it. It’s all marketing. People associate energy with health, so the company calls it by what consumers like not by what the product actually is.

Shilo Urban breaks down the ingredients of Red Bull throughly. “Red Bull is a mix of sugar, synthetic caffeine, taurine and several B vitamins, all of which are well-known for their energy-promoting qualities.” As for caffeine content, “Red Bull contains 80mg of caffeine, about half of other soft drinks and about the same as a cup of coffee.” (Another bonus, a comprehensive chart of nutritional content of energy drinks by

In short, they are all sugar water.

  • Juice: flavored sugar water
  • Soda: carbonated sugar water (with or without caffeine)
  • Energy drink: carbonated sugar water with caffeine


I’m not a health expert, and I’m not writing this post to advise people on what to drink. The purpose of “Call it like it is” is to give more accurate names to things, places, people, and ideas so that we as the language users become more aware of the truth behind these names and decrease our dissociation that are often created by profit/power-seeking agenda of profit/power-seeking entities. You don’t have to agree with the “truthful” names that I propose; in fact, feel free to propose other ideas of your own. I hope to provide space where thought-provoking conversations help us grow together.

[Call it like it is] “houseless” not “homeless”

Tent City, Portland

I learned the term houseless when I stayed in Portland, OR this summer. First, I spotted tents here and there around the city, and later I learned that people live in them.


Images by Kevin Gooley in Smartcity Dive


A homeless camp has sprouted at West Burnside Street and Northwest Fourth Avenue. [Source: The Oregonian]

House vs Home

There are differences between these two words: house and home. Here are definitions by Merriam-Webster.

House: a building that serves as living quarters for one or a few families

Home: one’s place of residence; house; the social unit formed by a family living together

  1. A house is a building while a home doesn’t have to be a building.
  2. Some people might not have a house (houseless); but everyone has a home.

Everyone has a home not just because of the old saying, “home is where the heart is,” but because everyone lives somewhere. Wherever the person lives, that is their home even if it does not take a form of a building.

Why the distinction matters

Acknowledging this distinction between house and home not only allows us to use an accurate word to describe people who live on streets but also makes difference in how we treat them in our society.

1. Change of our perception

Don’t judge a book by its cover, and don’t judge a person by where they are in their life. One of many challenges that houseless people face is the unkind judgement on them by the members of our society. According to the interviews conducted by Daniel P. (Founder of Theory of Love, a mental health initiative service for houseless people and others in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada), many houseless people feel like “they are treated as less than human.” When we see people on street, the only piece of identity we learn from them is their “homelessness,” and we need to start acknowledging them as individual human beings who are experiencing a life without a house.

2. Planting hope of recovery

As doctors identify hope as a vital factor in a patient’s successful recovery, same goes for people who are struggling with the absence of a house (often along with many other difficulties at hand, which might have led to the houseless situation). Danial P. claims that being called ‘homeless’ can make houseless peopl feel hopeless about their lives.

We all need to feel like we belong, to have a *home base,* a sense of community and social connection in our lives — to feel loved. Being classified as ‘homeless’ truly means you do not have a home, while ‘houselessness’ is simply a state of being.

3. Policy on treating tents

Seattle council member Kirsten Harris-Talley explains that using the term houseless not only adds the context to our conversation around housing issues but also can affect Seattle’s current “sweeps policy.”

The act of forcing people to move their tents is made easier if we ignore the fact that those tents represent homes.

The tents, boxes, or any make-shift structures made by their residents look very different from houses, but they still serve with the functions of homes. Katie Wilson, General Secretary of the Transit Riders Union, agrees on the damaging effects of labeling these residents homeless.

If you say ‘homeless,’ whatever structure they’ve created to shelter themselves is devalued. It makes it seem like less a big deal to move them.

By discrediting the houseless people’s homes and removing them, the city actually makes them homeless.

[Investigation of Ingenious Anglo-Korean Idioms] 빼박캔트 ppay-pak-khayn-thu*

*Yale Romanization of Korean is used for this article.


compounding of two parts

part 1: 빼박 ppay-pak

Abbreviation of the first half of the Korean idiom

도 못하다

ppayto pakto moshata

  • Literal meaning: cannot pull out or push in
  • figurative meaning: “be in a quandary; be in an awkward position.” [Naver Dictionary]
  • This abbreviation is also used by itself for the same meaning: 빼박 ppay-pak

part 2: 캔트 khayn-thu

  1. Koreanization of English contraction “can’t” with a vowel epenthesis to resolve the consonant cluster.
  2. Translation of the second half of the Korean idiom

빼도 박도 못하다

ppayto pakto moshata


The oldest appearance I found online is from an article explaining new Korean expressions, dated on November of 2015. The expresison seems to have formed in 2015. In 2016, it became more widely used as a new section on a TV program Gag Concert named “빼박캔트” launches. The section lasted from July 10, 2016 to February 12, 2017.

Semantics – meanings

1. [Adj] 어쩔 수 없는 inevitable

  • 녀석 단발로 하고 나서 엄마랑 더 똑같… 어쩌겠어… 빼박캔트 아니겠어?ㅋ (공그리)
  • > This kid looks more like mom after cutting her hair short… what can you do… wouldn’t it be inevitable?

2. [Adv] 어쩔 수 없이 without a choice

  • 이제 진짜 빼박캔트 열심히 일해야해요 (아린마밍)
  • > Now I really need to work hard without a choice.

2. [Adj] 거부할 수 없는 Irresistable

  • 빼박캔트 꼬막비빔밥유혹 (엘리스)
  • > Irresistable lure of clam bibimbap

2. [Adv] 확실히 definitely/without a doubt

  • 2019년은 빼박캔트 걸크러쉬 전성시대! (업사이드)
  • > 2019 is definitely the golden age of girl crush!
  • 신생아 샴푸 추천 빼박캔트! (귀염둥이수수)
  • > Recommended shampoo for newborn babies, no doubt!

4. [Adj] 확실한 definite/irrefutable/absolutely true

  • 5일 간격으로 터진 트리플 열애설, 빼박캔트일까?
  • > Three love scandals break out 5 days apart from one another. Are they absolutely true? (싱글리스트)
  • 결과적으로는 빼박캔트. (이제이 라이프)
  • > In the end, it is irrefutable.
  • 빼박캔트 열애설 증거일까요? (꼬꼬여왕)
  • > Would this be the irrefutable proof for the love scandal?
  • 빼박캔트 ‘홍보’ 거르는 방법 (스크립트 김작가)
  • > The definite way to filter out ‘spam’

Common phrases

More four-syllabic words are added to intensify the definiteness of the fact or argument.

1. 빼박캔트 반박불가

Addition of 반박불가 panpakpwulka “irrefutable”

반박 panpak: refute

불가 pwulka: impossible

  • 범벅 맛이 반박불가 빼박캔트 (한글별명)
  • > The taste of stirfry is irresistable.
  • 대전 맛집 빼박캔트 반박불가 (윤바리)
  • > The irrefutable hot spot in Daejeon

2. 이거레알 빼박캔트 반박불가

Addition of 이거레알 ikeleyal “this is real”

이거 ike: this

레알 leyal: Koreanization of “real”

  • 망겜 인정? 이거레알 빼박캔트 반박불가 (bloodcape max)
  • > A total defeat, right? This is absolutely true.
  • 현재 수분 크림이 가장 중요한 부분. 이거레알 반박불가 빼박캔트 (써프라이즈)
  • > Now the most important part is moisturizing cream. This is irrefutable.

Unique Highlights

Translation of a part of an idiom

Just the last half of the idiom “빼도 박도 못하다” was translated into English, underwent Koreanization, and became 캔트 while the first half stayed in Korean and became an abbreviation 빼박.

Transformation into a 4-syllabic idiom

This transformation actually helps the new idiom to fit in a 4-syllabic format of common Korean expressions, derived from Chinese.

  • 못하다 (3 syllables)
  • can’t (1 syllable)
  • 캔트 (2 syllables) + 빼박 (2 syllables) > 빼박캔트 (4 syllables)

Syntactic change

The original idiom “빼도 박도 못하다” is a full sentence, but the new idiom 빼박캔트 is used as either adjective or an adverb.

[Call it like it is] Detention centers? Concentration camps? Death pounds.

Debate over calling them “concentration camps”

When US Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-­Cortez claimed that the United States is “running concentration camps on our southern border” during an Instagram Live stream on June 17, 2019, she got a pushback on her comparison of U.S. immigration detention centers to Nazi concentration camps. Some Republicans and Jewish organizations claimed that her comparison “demeans” the genocide of Jews in Holocaust. Some used the academic definition of concentration camp for the debates, and some used the various elements of those two sites to prove that the detention centers are not as bad as concentration camps. Do you see how futile this debate is? What do we gain from putting two sites of human suffering in a competition for which one is worse?

Call it like it is: death pounds

Here I present a simple solution: stop comparing them and call them like they are–death pounds. (I’ve considered slaughter house first but later chose death pound because of the strong association of slaughter with animals not humans.)

My proposed term, death pound, stems from death camp. Merriam-Webster defines death camp as “a concentration camp in which large numbers of prisoners are systematically killed.” Looking at the reports of the living/dying condition inside the U.S. immigration centers, they duly qualify to be called as death camps.

1. Are they concentration camps? Yes.

Again, Merriam-Webster saves us by defining concentration camps as “a place where large numbers of people are detained or confined under armed guard”


A US Border Patrol agent watches as people who’ve been taken into custody stand in line at a facility in McAllen, Texas -AP

U.S. Border Patrol Houses Unaccompanied Minors In Detention Center

A boy from Honduras watches a movie at a detention facility run by the U.S. Border Patrol in McAllen, Tex. on Sept. 8, 2014. John Moore—Getty Images

2. Do they hold prisoners? Yes

Thank you, Merriam-Wester. MW defines a prisoner as “a person deprived of liberty and kept under involuntary restraint, confinement, or custody.”

3. Are large numbers of them being killed systematically? Yes

At least 24 immigrants have died on these border sites. The neglect and torture documented by Journalist Jonathan Katz includes “torture through sleep deprivation, freezing-cold conditions, children stuck in vans for over 37 hours, detainees confined to dog kennels, starvation, and a lack of basic medicine.” And this list only covers physical aspects of the causes of the detainees’ deaths and sufferings. (You can get more details from this New Yorker article and this report by Department of Homeland Security.)

Why death pounds, not death camps?

The term death camp might be easier for people to understand and use because it has been around for a long time, but we need to swap out the second part of this compound noun, camp, for two reasons. One, people are not merrily camping at these detention centers, and second, using the term death camp can draw the same criticism as in using the term concentration camp for the primary association of these words with holocaust.

So I brainstormed other nouns to describe these sites and looked up Google images to find what they actually look like. These images can also show us what context these words are used in.


way too high-tech, expensive, and clean

Screen Shot 2019-07-25 at 11.01.09 AM


open with a lot more green nature than detention centers

Screen Shot 2019-07-25 at 11.02.04 AM


It correctly implies confinement, but it usually refers to single units.

Screen Shot 2019-07-25 at 11.00.28 AM


In general, pounds confine companion animals in the US, but their environment seem to be similar to that of the detention centers: crammed, substandard, exteremely uncomfortable, and deprived. Here pound would mean “a place or condition of confinement” by Merriam-Webster.

Screen Shot 2019-07-25 at 11.02.26 AM

A Moment of Reservation

As you can see in the images for pound, pounds in the US usually refer to facilities for abandoned dogs. Therefore, using pound for a facility holding humans can raise a question: doesn’t it dehumanize the retainees? I would respond to this question with another one: what actually dehumanizes the people in them? the label pound or the condition and treatment of the people? Here are a few of testimonies of detained children that were collected during attorneys’ visits to Customs and Border Protection facilities in June 2019.

“We are in a metal cage with 20 other teenagers with babies and young children. We have one mat we need to share with each other. It is very cold. We each got a mylar blanket, but it is not enough to warm up. There are benches but we cannot sleep there. Sometimes it is so crowded we cannot find a place to sleep, so they allow a few of us to sleep outside the fenced area. The lights are all of the time.”

“I’m hungry here at Clint all the time. I’m so hungry that I have woken up in the
middle of the night with hunger. Sometimes I wake up from hunger at 4 a.m.,
sometimes at other hours. I’m too scared to ask the officials here for any more food, even though there is not enough food here for me.”

“At Ursula, we have not been able to shower. The toilet is out in the open in the cage, there is no door for any privacy. There is water but no soap to wash our hands. There are no paper towels to dry our hands. We have not been given a toothbrush or toothpaste to brush our teeth.”

“They told us that we could only have one layer of clothing, and they threw away the rest of our clothes in the garbage.”

These testimonies answer the question for us: the condition and treatment of detainees is inhumane. The dehumanizing nature of the term pound works because it accurately reflects the inhumane nature of the detention centers. Call it like it is.

Call them death pounds

Pound is a sad word. Death pound is even more saddening. And those are what we have on our southern border, funded by our government with our tax money.

Central Processing at McAllen Border Patrol facility

U.S. Border Patrol agents conduct intake of illegal border crossers at the Central Processing Center in McAllen, Texas, Sunday, June 17, 2018. Photo courtesy Customs and Border Patrol


Immigrants in a detention center in the United States. Source: