The Phonology of “Baby Teacher”

I am a teacher and in my teaching career I have probably taught thousands of students. And of those, quite a few have called me Baby Teacher.

As you may or may not know, I teach English in Korea. Normally, Korean students called their teachers seonsaeng-nim, which, like the Japanese sensei, just means “teacher”. If they need to distinguish between teachers, they add the teacher’s last name before it, as in “Kim seongsaeng-nim.”

I have my students call me David. That is the opposite of the norm here, since Koreans usually only call friends and social inferiors by their first name. I wouldn’t do that if I was teaching in North America, but over here, foreign English teachers are outside all the rules of normal engagement, so it doesn’t really matter. However, a lot of them still stick “teacher” on the end of my name to mimic the Korean style.

So how does “baby” come into it? It has to do with Korean pronunciation rules. First of all, Korean doesn’t have a “v” sound, so my name automatically becomes “Dabid”. As well, Korean doesn’t have any syllables that end with a “d”, so my name gets stretched to three syllables, as in “day-bi-deu”. This means the second syllable is now open, which in Korean means that the “i” gets changed to an “ee” sound, and we end up with “day-bee-deu”. Take off the last syllable and it’s suspiciously close to “baby”.

Of course I correct them and they usually do it just to be brats. Still, I’ve gotten used to it. I’m sure I could be walking down the road in America and if an elementary school student yelled “Hey baby!”, I’d probably just smile and wave.

This is what came up "baby teacher" in an image search. Source.

This is what came up for “baby teacher” in an image search. Source.

About David Stewart

I am a writer of anything quirky and weird. I love most genres of fiction and in each there are stories that I would consider "my kind of story". View all posts by David Stewart

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