Saturday, August 25, 2012

KOREAN LANGUAGE: What is Oppan (Oppa) in Gangnam Style?

PSY: "Oppan Gangnam Style"

"Oppan Gangnam style," the hook of the song "Gangnam Style," can literally translate to "I'm Gangnam style," in which "oppa" is a Korean referring expression used by females to call older males such as older male friends or older brothers. However, the narrator in the song refers to himself in the third person.  It's annoying and creepy most of the time, right?  But in this song, it was intentionally used to make him look ridiculous.

"Oppan" is not a single word but a noun phrase, a shortened form of "oppa + neun." Unlike English which has a relatively fixed SVO (subject-verb-object) word order, Korean has a relatively free SOV word order in which the subject and the object can also be freely omitted.  So, "loosely" speaking for the sake of quick and easy explanation, Koreans use case markers (or particles) to tell which noun is a subject and which noun is an object.  The subject marker "-"(-i) is used after a noun that ends with a consonant (e.g., hyung-i) and "-" (-ka) is used after a noun that ends with a vowel (e.g., oppa-ka); the object marker "-"(-eul) is used after a noun that ends with a consonant (e.g., hyung-eul) and "-" (-reul) is used after a noun that ends with a vowel (e.g., oppa-reul).
(i) Hyung-i wayo. "(My) older brother is coming." (used by men)
(ii) Oppa-ka wayo. "(My) older brother is coming." (used by women )
(iii) Hyung-eul ddaragayo.
 "(I'm) following (my) older brother." (used by men)
(iv) Oppa-reul ddaragayo.
 "(I'm) following (my) older brother." (used by women )
Korean also has two types of topic markers: "-"(-eun) comes after a noun that ends with a consonant (e.g., hyung-eun) and "-"(-neun) comes after a noun that ends with a vowel (e.g., oppa-neun).  Korean topic markers are basically used (i) to specify the topic of a sentence or (ii) to deliver a contrastive meaning.
(i) Oppa-neun Gangnam style(-iya).
 "Speaking of oppa (=me), I am Gangnam style."
(ii) Oppa-ka sagwa-neun meogeo.
"I don't eat other fruit, but I eat apples."
Thus, in this song, "oppan" (오빤) is a shortened form of the noun phrase "oppa-neun" (오빠는) and the hook "Oppan Gangnam style" translates to "Speaking of oppa (=me), I like Gangnam style life."  And the hook in Hyun-a's version of the song, "Oppan ddak nae style," translates to "Speaking of oppa (=you), you're exactly my type (of guy)"; and the rest of the lyrics is pretty much the same as in PSY's original version.

Related Posts:  Psy Craze and My Blog
                          PSY’s “Gangnam Style” and "Gangnam Oppa" in “Architecture 101” (1)
                          PSY Sings Gangnam Style Live



  2. Cyn Sheng, thanks for sharing the link. :)

  3. Very useful, thanks so much :)

  4. Thanks for that excellent explanation!

  5. Thanks for the great explanation with plenty of detail. It's great to find someone who knows what they're talking about! :)

  6. Many thanks for the explanation. Cheers.

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