President Yoon Suk-yeol’s unusual tendency of mixing English words into official comments has sparked controversies in South Korea, with some accusing the country’s leader of toadyism toward the US and the West in general.
The most recent case of Yoon’s supposed preference for English expressions occurred during a meeting with leaders of the ruling People Power Party, when he suggested a name change for the recently opened Yongsan Park, formerly a site for the US Forces Korea base. He said “National Memorial Park” in English “sounds cool” but its Korean equivalent “Gukrip Chumo Gongwon” does not.
On June 8, speaking about his personnel choices biased toward former and incumbent state prosecutors, Yoon said, “In advanced countries like the US, former ‘government attorneys’ are widely positioned in politics and government.” He said “government attorneys” in English.
In a speech made on May 31 in Busan, he vowed to make Busan Port an international, massive “megaport,” with the last term spoken in English.
Expectedly, the remarks sparked controversy.
Sejong Institute of Korean Language and Culture Director Kim Seul-ong raised concern over the president’s apparent inclination to use English words when it was not deemed necessary. “The president represents the country and the public organizations, so he is obligated to use words that are easy to communicate and keep to the Framework Act on Korean Language. ... His overuse of foreign languages like English may disrupt the public’s use of language,” he was quoted as saying.
There are no rules dictating the president’s language in Korea, but the aforementioned act states that public institutions should prepare documents using words and sentences that are easy for the public to understand.
A day after the comment, Rep. Cho Eung-chun of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea appeared on an MBC radio show and suggested that Yoon appears to have “some sort of complex about English,” pointing out that the president cited Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon’s fluent English skills as one of the first reasons for picking him.
Back in April when the then-president-elect nominated the justice minister, he noted that Han has “a wide range of experience working internationally, thanks to his fluent English skills.” North Korea joined the criticism of this comment, saying it was “laughable even for political novices” that one’s English skills were considered when picking a justice minister.
Yoon’s fondness for English has drawn comparisons to the previous Lee Myung-bak administration, which from its transition committee days had vowed an education overhaul that included an ultimately failed pledge to conduct subjects like math and social sciences in English.
Some even suspect that Yoon’s English preference may be behind the government’s recent failure to pick a new name for the new presidential office in Yongsan, central Seoul. On Tuesday the presidential spokesperson announced that all five candidates for the new name, shortlisted from thousands of entries from among the public, were deemed unfit, and that the new office would be called the “Yongsan Presidential Office” for now.
Left-leaning food critic Hwang Kyo-ik sarcastically commented that this must be because “there wasn’t an English name, like Yoon preferred.” The remark was in reference to Yoon’s own suggestion for the new presidential office during an April interview, during which he offered “People’s House” in English, not Korean.
By Yoon Min-sik