The "Money Punishment Possibility" Revisited
Last week, the Korea Times published an article that I had spun off from a blog entry of several weeks ago. For some reason, the newspaper neglected to inform me, and I only found out yesterday when one of my Ewha colleagues greeted me with the words, "I liked your article." I had no idea what he was referring to until he mentioned the title, "Money Punishment Possibility," so here it is, for your reading pleasure:
A few readers commented, one of them -- identified as "sierra48" -- kindly pointing out how "naive" I was to think that the student actually wrote that paragraph:Among other subjects, I teach writing, and my students at times leave me baffled by the labyrinthine turns of their errant literary wanderings. I am occasionally not simply baffled but even impressed. Recently, a student turned in an essay with this astonishing if not entirely grammatical passage in stream-of-consciousness literary style:'Money Punishment Possibility'
October 24, 2008
By Horace Jeffery HodgesBy the way, recently from the worldwide various nations numerous people is pushed into Korea and entirely the multiracial culture that is unfamiliar is formed. It accomplishes a rapid development and to Korea which is a country which now lives in opulence comes the money punishment possibility it is quickly and a dream to hold until the industrial trainee who comes in and the illegal employment sleeping field continuously it is coming in flocks. Yes from the day when it meets the foreigner from the road was already generalized.I think that this student is telling us that Korea has become rich and is now paying the price for its great wealth. To Korea "comes the money punishment possibility!" This is such a weirdly appealing turn of a phrase that it nearly transcends its obscurity in a no less obscure passage. I also love "continuously it is coming in flocks" and "when it meets the foreigner from the road." Whatever is being expressed in these three clauses is being said with style!
Was the student perhaps ungrammatically channeling James Joyce, possibly Finnegan's Wake? As did Joyce, then again makes my student a useless odyssey? Oh, through the "sleeping field continuously it is coming in flocks!" Joycean though the student's writing may sound, it is linguistically very Korean, and a labor of reconstruction looms before me if I am to dam this stream of Eastern consciousness up into pools of limpid English to clarify an obscure object of desire. Something of the original charm, however, will be lost, for the student's consciousness shall no longer stream. Yet, my duty calls. I now therefore make these thoughts grammatically and "punctuationally" my own, expressing them in a more anglicized, far more Western manner:Numerous people from various nations around the world have recently pushed their way into Korea, and an entirely unfamiliar multiethnic culture is being formed. This is accomplishing rapid development, but Korea's wealth is quickly bringing with it the possibility of new problems. Industrial trainees arrive bearing their dreams but may find themselves illegally employed and continuously sleeping in fields. Such problems will soon be innumerable. In fact, the day that one meets foreigners on the road is already here.Whether or not the student meant precisely this, the reconstructed passage is definitely far more clear, perhaps lamentably so, for all of the weird, quirky charm has been lost in my functional prose.
Perhaps this also is happening to Korea through the very infusion of foreigners that the student describes. Koreans are changing, and so is the way that many of them think. Over 10 years ago, during my first stay on the peninsula, I encountered countless Koreans who were astonished to meet a foreigner.
In turn, I learned from them many astonishing things. Our minds are located in our chests, primarily in the vicinity of the heart, and that is where we do our thinking. At death, the king of hell judges whether we go above or below, and this apparent "devil" is a qualified, fair-minded judge. Charged with a sufficient quantity of a certain metaphysical energy called "ki," a person can float cross-legged in the air. Over 4,000 years ago, the first Korean appeared as the offspring of a bear-woman and a god-man.
Most astounding of all, I learned that students should not even come close to stepping on my shadow, for I was "The Teacher." Despite my great amazement at finding not merely my person but even my umbral qualities so highly regarded, Koreans appeared to accept that high-stepping belief as implicitly as they accepted those other great if astonishing truths.
Lesser truths also puzzled me. Some of my female students would express a wish to be called "Pumpkin" rather than by their Korean names. A student with pronunciation problems insisted that he had a "short tongue" even though it looked long enough to my eyes. People warned me against writing my signature in red but had no qualms about stamping their names in red ink. Electric fans blowing all night in a closed room would kill a person. Cats were evil. Dogs were food. I had a lot to learn.
But I now have a lot to forget, as many younger Koreans come to question these folkways and folk beliefs and as years of instruction in private academies by native speakers of English are gradually transforming younger Koreans into partially-Westernized citizens of the world.
Probably, this has been largely inevitable, and perhaps for the better, but the quirky charm of my first Korean students is mostly gone, their thinking increasingly rendered ever more functional . . . except for those times that I receive the occasional student essay offering a passage like the eccentrically impressive one above, whereupon I again turn to reflect upon the money punishment possibility continuously coming in flocks when it meets the foreigner from the road.
The writer is currently employed full-time at Ewha Womans University, teaching courses on essay composition, research papers, and cultural issues. He can be contacted through his blog, Gypsy Scholar.
Mr. Hogdes, how long have you been in Korea? Don't you know that your student's writing was NOT stream-of-consciousness English, it was Korean fed into a computer translation program, possibly babelfish.yahoo.com. It's astonishing that anyone who is paid to teach writing at a prestigious university is so naive, or so lazy, as to let his students fob him off with this dishonest garbage.I think that "sierra48" meant to call me "Mr. Hodges," but I'm not certain. At any rate, the commenter left a second comment:
On re-reading, it looks like an article fished out of a newspaper, and not even the original Korean text was the student's own creation. Unfortunately, this kind of thing would be perfectly acceptable to her Korean professors, most of whom wouldn't even bother reading anything their students submit.Actually, I agree with "sierra48." This was also my first thought, for the paragraph was different in style from the other paragraphs, which is always a sign of plagiarism, and I strongly suspected that the student had borrowed the passage from a Korean article about the emerging multiethnic Korea and had simply put it through Google Translate, but Babelfish is certainly a possibility -- as my friend Charles La Shure also suggested when I first blogged on this passage. Unfortunately, I had no proof, so I made no accusation in this case, but I did tell the student that the paragraph was incoherent, and the grade given was quite low. The student thus has a lot of rewriting to do to bring her grade up to a respectable one.
Therefore, "sierra48," generous with helpful advice, need not be too alarmed that I'm letting my students fob me off with dishonest 'work'. I've been in Korea too long to be fooled by the pervasive plagiarism . . . as readers of this blog will readily recall.
But whether Babelfish, Google Translate, or some other translation program, the passage had a certain charm, at least for me, and did remind me of quirky writing that I received from my Korean students during my initial stay in Korea, back in 1995, and that memory led to my nostalgic reflections.