Again, before reading my article, please keep in mind that I am not a native English speaker and now that I am occupied with too many languages, my English is getting rather worse than better day by day.
When you see yourself from a point of view of others, you start to question things that never have caught your attention or that you have always taken granted for. Thanks to my German boyfriend, I am blessed with so many chances to observe my culture from non Korean point of view, which is a big amusement and a great source of inspiration for me.
My boyfriend is now learning Korean and once he said:
“우리 집에 가는 길 안 알아요” :I do not know how to get to home( literally translated).
I said: this is grammatically correct, but sounds awkward, you should rather say 몰라요, (molayo-a korean work for not knowing, but not negative but affirmative.)
At the moment, something super interesting occurred to me. Korea is the only language (at least among 10 languages as far as I know) that has a distinct affirmative word to refer to the action or status of not knowing. 알다”Knowing” is a very unique word even in Korean in a way that it has its own affirmative word to negate it. Usually, to negate in Korean, you just add –지 않아요 or –지 못해요.
“not knowing” as a negative word, carries somewhat negative feelings and implies that the action of not knowing is rather passive that you are missing something that you should be aware of. In other words, if you do not know something, you have to admit that you are to blame yourself for not knowing and accordingly, you have to assume responsibilities to learn something new.
However, when you say “molayo” as an affirmative word, it does not leave any negative feelings and implies that the action is rather active and a result of willingness not to know. Even though you do not know something, you cannot be blamed for this but even point finger to others as they have not let you know.
A song of Korean madonna Umjungwha <Mola, don't know>. Very typical example of Korean people passing a buck to others. In this song, she cannot understand why she cannot love him anymore even though he is such a nice guy. She doesn't want to feel guilty of the broken relationship
Then why is it so hard for us, Koreans, not to know something?
I guess this has much to do with our culture where we hate losing our face. This is why it is so important in Korea to carry your name cards or anything to prove yourself! In Korea, heavily influenced by Confucianism culture, we are treated differently according to our positions or jobs, as people are so obsessed with putting themselves and others in vertical hierarchy and behaving within the boundary.