"Oppan Chomsky Style"

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Somehow, Language Log has yet to take notice of the international sensation that is "Gangnam Style," the deliciously weird Korean pop video that currently has more than 560 million views on YouTube. Here's a good opportunity to rectify that oversight: among the countless spoofs of the video is this one by enterprising MIT students, featuring a cameo by Noam Chomsky at 3:20.

As Wikipedia explains:

"Gangnam Style" is a Korean neologism that refers to a lifestyle associated with the Gangnam district of Seoul, where people are trendy, hip and exude a certain supposed "class"… The song's refrain "오빤 강남 스타일 (Oppan Gangnam style)" has been translated as "Big brother is Gangnam style", with PSY referring to himself; "Oppa", a Korean expression used by females to refer to an older male friend or older brother, is also used by K-Pop fans to address their K-Pop idols.

You can interpret "Big brother is Chomsky style" as you wish.

For another unexpected appearance of Chomsky in a pop-cultural context, see him get interviewed by Ali G.

(Hat tip, Bert Vaux.)

Update, 10/28: Via Twitter, SirMattyPants was kind enough to share an animated GIF with the Chomsky cameo:


  1. Duncan said,

    October 27, 2012 @ 4:49 pm

    So THAT's what that first word is, "Oppan", meaning "big brother".

    After reading about "Gangnam style" in the news for several days, I popped over to youtube and watched a couple hours of the various PSY videos, the original, various concerts, PSY on various talk shows, various parody versions, etc. (No TV so I hadn't caught any of that first hand.)

    But I couldn't quite catch the "Oppan" and hadn't thought to wikipedia it. (DUH!)

  2. Lazar said,

    October 27, 2012 @ 5:29 pm

    The word itself is "oppa", though; the "n" is a contracted form of the topic marker "neun". I can say with only slight exaggeration that this is the only thing I know about Korean.

  3. 1234 said,

    October 27, 2012 @ 9:34 pm

    "The word itself is "oppa", though; the "n" is a contracted form of the topic marker "neun". I can say with only slight exaggeration that this is the only thing I know about Korean."

    "oppan" that "n" is

    oppa = big brother for female
    oppan = oppa is

    "oppan gangnam style"
    oppa is gangnam style

  4. cantab said,

    October 27, 2012 @ 11:34 pm

    Though it still makes "-n" a topic marker.

  5. Paul said,

    October 28, 2012 @ 8:34 am

    OMG, I totally lost it at "oppan Chomdky style."

  6. Theodore said,

    October 28, 2012 @ 8:53 am

    There's also "I Think I'm Noam Chomsky" by rapper Sole.

  7. Victor Mair said,

    October 28, 2012 @ 10:06 am

    I've been following the gangnam phenomenon very closely for a few weeks, so I'll share some of my findings.

    From one of my Korean students:


    I joke that this song is Korea's informal, modern national anthem.

    Did you hear about the flashmob at the Penn highrise fields?



    I'm proud of our Penn students for such a large and lively performance.

    And what should appear in the New Yorker a couple of weeks ago but this:

    John Seabrook, "Factory Girls: Cultural technology and the making of K-pop", "Annals of Music" (October 8, 2012), 88-97.

    Here's one of their popular videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tXZWudcVzEg

    One of my favorite takeoffs was done by a group of Eton boys. Like PSY's original, this fantastic spoof has gone viral:


    Explanations of arcane references in the Eton video may be found here:



    Even Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, got in the act:



    Seeing PSY's hand gestures and knee postures up close, they remind me of some dance moves my brother Joe and his friends used to do back in the 50s. And then in the 60s, we had Dee Dee Sharp's "Mashed Potato Time", but more so Lee Dorsey's "Ride Your Pony", which seem to be part of the tradition leading into PSY's terpsichorean inventions. Apparently there was a very popular Korean craze about horse dancing a while back which is the source of the allusion being made when PSY sashays through the stable. Of course, PSY has a lot of Michael Jackson, rap, and various other fantastic moves, many of his own devising, all wrapped up in one of the most captivating acts of the 21st century. No wonder it has taken the world by storm. Will his YouTube video be the first to break one billion views???

    But my favorite of all gangnam style parodies is that of Ai Weiwei, the towering Chinese artist and dissident:




    Here's a list of "Gangnam Style" parodies and spoofs:


    The global attention to "Gangnam Style" has led to a bit of jealousy and jostling:

    South Korea irked by 'Gangnam Style' snub

    Incidentally, I asked the Korean students in my Chinese prose and poetry class about the meaning and function of "oppa-n" and none of them could give me a satisfying explanation for the -n at the end, so I'm grateful to Lazar, 1234, and cantab for making that clear.

  8. KWillets said,

    October 28, 2012 @ 5:50 pm

    As with English, it's common in Korean songs to contract or swallow a syllable or two to get the meter, and particles are the most common victims, as in informal speech. The full sentence would be something like "Obba-neun Gangnam Seuh-ta-il hae-yo", but the verb at the end and the topic marker are squeezed out.

    The song has some of the other attributes I've noticed about Korean songs, such as long chains of participles ending in a head noun, in this case yo-ja (woman) or sa-na-i (guy). A phrase like "the quality of woman who knows the freedom of a cup of coffee" has the word order almost completely reversed from English, something like "coffee one cup freedom knowing quality having woman".

  9. Jongseong Park said,

    October 29, 2012 @ 1:44 pm

    @KWillets: "오빠는 강남스타일해요 Oppa-neun Gangnam seutail haeyo" sounds awkward to me. The verb 하다 hada (of which haeyo is the informal, polite form) is used to make the preceding word into a verb, so this would mean that "Gangnam style" is used in a neologistic way as a verb ("Big brother does Gangnam style").

    This makes less sense in Korean than it does in English. Instead, Koreans simply understand this to mean "Big brother is Gangnam style", so the particle 이다 ida (basically the "be" verb, but traditionally considered a particle) is assumed. Moreover, since "big brother" is understood to refer to the speaker (substituting for the pronoun "I", which Korean tends to avoid), the addressee would not be someone to whom you are expected to use the polite form haeyo. So the appropriate full-sentence version would be "오빠는 강남스타일이야" Oppa-neun Gangnam seutail-iya, where 이야 iya is the neutral or non-polite form of 이다 ida.

    In speech, the topic marker can be either -n or -neun after a vowel. The full form is preferred in written Korean, but the contracted form -n is completely normal in speech. The same for -l instead of -reul for the direct object marker. On the other hand, leaving out the verbs is only usual in speech in more limited situations such as answering questions, so my impression is that it is far more common in poetry or song lyrics.

  10. Daniel Barkalow said,

    November 1, 2012 @ 1:31 pm

    [Johni wants [CP OPPAi [C' to [IP ti [I' go to the store]]]]]:

    Oppan Chomsky Style.

  11. looking closely said,

    November 1, 2012 @ 2:23 pm

    I'd like to add here that PSY himself attended both Boston University and Berklee College of Music in Boston. So he's probably spent quite a bit of time looking at the Charles River too, and he might be more than a bit tickled to see the Korean student group at MIT giving him a small homage with this video.

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