Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Korean RPN

As I have been studying Korean the past few weeks, there was something nagging in the back of my head that I couldn't put my finger on. Finally it hit me the other night as I was going to sleep. One of the things foreigners will often complain about with Korean is the grammar. English sentences are constructed SUBJECT - VERB - OBJECT, while Korean sentences are SUBJECT - OBJECT - VERB. English is my first language, so of coure this structure is awkward to me. But I find it logically appealing, for reasons that have escaped me. Until now.

When I was in High School, Mama Stumbler got me my first electronic calculator, a Hewlett Packard HP-25C:

Mama Stumbler being a Mathematician by education and profession, insisted that I learn and use the Reverse Polish Notation method that was used in the HP family of calculators. It's a little harder to learn than normal, algebraic (also called INFIX) calculators, but in the long run it makes performing calculations quicker and simpler. Since that time back in 1977 I have only used RPN calculators. To this day, if you give me an algebraic calculator, it is a real struggle to use. To those not familiar with RPN, compare these two ways of adding 2 and 6:

[2] [+] [6] [=]

RPN Method:
[2] [ENTER] [6] [+]

If you're REALLY curious about this, here a nice link to RPN from Wikipedia.

What does this have to do with the Korean language? Well, what my mind was trying to tell me was that Korean grammar is exactly RPN! Consider this simple sentence

George ate breakfast.

George breakfast ate.

That's Korean RPN.


Mama Stumbler said...

KOOL! That makes a lot of sense. I'll have to see if it applies to German.

Anonymous said...

I remember that calculator of yours! I never could make it work for me, being forever logically stuck in the other method (INFIX?) That's a HP archive photo, isn't it? Do you still have that dinosaur?


PS I'll reply to your email soon, my friend. Have been swallowed up with work around here!

Chris said...

Yes, that photo is from on interesting web site called the Museum of HP Calculators. No, I no longer have that one or my other one from college, although I held on to them until a couple of years ago when I did a massive office cleanup.

James said...

Haha, i've never heard anybody compare the Japanese and Korean order to RPN. Kind of funny/interesting.