- Paperback: 384 pages
- Publisher: Tuttle Publishing (July 7, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0804844313
- ISBN-13: 978-0804844314
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 16 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #313,654 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Essential Korean Grammar: Your Essential Guide to Speaking and Writing Korean Fluently! Paperback – July 7, 2015
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"…the best thing is that since it's written by a foreigner, she knows where foreigners normally make mistakes and how difficult it is to learn another completely different language with different sentence structures and expressions that are nonexistent in English." —Jamieliew.com blog
"It's written in a very approachable style — like having someone at the side talk to you and guide you along. Very structured and the book uses a lot of tables, which makes things very clear." —Hangudrama blog
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The only note I would have about the best time to use this book would be that you should have some background in Korean, such as being high-beginner up to low-advanced being the idea proficiency range to get the most out of this book.
The book has the following going for it:
(1) It collates structures according to semantics, which can make selecting a given construction for use to convey a particular meaning easier.
(2) It rates constructions according to the degree to which they resemble spoken or written language, and also as to how common they are. This is valuable information for a learner, and is often not addressed in grammars.
(3) The author does address various nuances pertinent to the constructions she delineates, such as contexts in which they cannot be used, &c.
(4) It looks nice. (Seriously, it’s well organized on the page, which is surprisingly satisfying — and I have read too many grammars that are so ugly to the eye that it is actually distracting and confusing.)
That’s not very many good points, to be sure, but they are there. Now for the negatives.
First of all, I have to get my own petty annoyances out of the way:
(1) The author’s attempts at humor – which are far too frequent – are horribly dull and corny, and though it may simply be my personal preference, I cannot but feel that a “comprehensive grammar” should present itself a bit more professionally and abstain from bad jokes every few paragraphs.
(2) If I had a dollar for every time the author uses the word “expression” – in referring to anything from inflectional or derivational morphemes to phrase-level constituents to entire constructions – I would be filthy rich. Seriously, it’s annoying, and confusingly vague.
Another issue that is not so petty, and that other reviewers have noted, is that the Romanization of the Korean Hangeul is inconsistent and contains a fair number of outright mistakes. She is also inconsistent as to whether she uses the term “descriptive verb” or “adjective” to describe a particular lexical category in Korean; I frankly don’t care which she picks, but I wish that she would stick with one.
On a more serious note, this book claims to be (and I quote from the front cover) “a complete overview of Korean grammar for learners at all levels from beginner to advanced.” Not one thing about this claim is true: This book is not comprehensive, it is not a grammar (at least not one worthy of the name), and it is not for all learners. In fact, the author herself, in the appendix for other Korean learning resources at the back of the book, recommends her own text for only intermediate-level learners, and after reading most of it, I am inclined to agree: Beginners should stay away, and advanced students would probably find it dull. (I myself am a beginner and got nothing from this book.) The book she recommends for advanced learners, Martin’s A Reference Grammar of Korean, is pricier, but is, as she acknowledges, written more for linguists and is therefore a more complete and accurate picture of Korean grammar, for those willing to work with a text of greater technicality and girth.
In fact, though it would seem that she has, the impression I get from this book, being a linguist myself, is that Ms. Kingdon has never read a linguistic text in her life: She makes numerous errors in terminology and explanation that anyone with even a basic grasp of linguistics would not make, for instance (just some of the examples that jumped out at me):
(1) Calling postpositions “ending prepositions” (an oxymoron, as is obvious to anyone with a functional knowledge of English morphology).
(2) Have I mentioned the massive overuse of the word “expression”?
(3) Claiming that “the past tense tells us that something is finished” — no, ma’am, it does not. Past tense means occurring before the time of utterance. Depicting an event as finished is aspect, not tense.
(4) Claiming that the vowel represented by 으 (in IPA, /ɯ/, Romanized variously as u or eu) elides from verb stems on affixation (though the term affix has yet to appear in any of my reading — it’s always “expression”) of the past morpheme “because it’s a weak vowel and easily pushed around by stronger vowel sounds.” No, it is not: There is nothing weak about that vowel. It is perfectly stable in, for instance, Korean’s sister, Japanese. It is simply a quirk of Korean that the vowel elides in that position.
(5) Vast overuse of the term “conjugation” that nearly but doesn’t quite rival that of “expression”: Conjugation refers to inflection of verbs. Ms. Kingdon seems to think that any grammatical construction can be crammed under this term. Pages upon pages in this book are occupied by tables entitled “How it’s conjugated” — and the majority of the time, there is no conjugation present.
There are others, believe me, but these are just ones that I can remember off the top of my head and were particularly annoying or salient.
Of course, I do not necessarily expect Ms. Kingdon to be an out and out linguist. Most language teachers are not. Linguistics can indeed become far more technical than most learners care to know, and I do not expect her to address such issues in a reference grammar. In fact, sometimes the technicality of linguistics is an impediment to learners who are not well-versed in it, and I am willing to accept some tradeoff: For instance, the use of the term “future tense” to refer to a particular morpheme in Korean, while – though I am still new to Korean linguistics in particular, so I cannot be too firm on this – I have read that it is more properly an irrealis mood marker. That said, however, I have read several reference grammars for multiple languages in my day, and I can say that the best were always at least informed by basic linguistic knowledge and structured according to the basic outline of metalinguistics (if not written by out and out linguists): phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics (and occasionally pragmatics added in).
The most damning evidence that Ms. Kingdon is rather linguistically inept is her terming this book a “comprehensive grammar,” which I have said before is completely wrong. Firstly, this book is not a grammar: Ms. Kingdon seems to think that “grammar” means listing a bunch of structures used in the language and giving tidbits of information about how to use them. That is a dictionary. Grammar refers to the rules and principles that govern the use of language by native speakers.
Secondly, this book is far from “comprehensive”: It does not address the phonetics or phonology of Korean AT ALL, both of which are integral parts of grammar. It barely touches on morphology, and while the majority of the book is basically syntax, it nevertheless ignores several important syntactic questions. For instance, not once did I ever see this book mention that the basic word order of Korean is SOV. That’s kinda important to know, especially for a beginner. Likewise, in the field of pragmatics, since the book is written to an English audience and supposedly one which includes beginners, I would think that Ms. Kingdon would explain the nature of Korean as a topic-oriented language, as opposed to a subject-oriented language like English. Also kinda important. No such explanation exists in this book as far as I know.
I could go on, but at this point you get the picture. I apologize if this has been rather desultory — I’m a bit miffed at having paid good money on this book, which to me is now mostly worthless. The bottom line is this: If you are serious about studying Korean grammar, and especially if you are a beginning or advanced learner, this book is a waste of your money. Save up and by Martin’s — I haven’t read it yet, but I’m looking forward to it. Couple that with a good dictionary and some patience and you will learn far more than this book will ever teach you.
I would have given this book two stars because it isn't all that bad as long as you don't believe it to be a "comprehensive grammar," but then Amazon showed me that one star means "I hate it," and I hate this book, so yeah.