Grammar and Usage of “뭐라카노”

I wrote this piece of writing and posted on my personal Facebook page for my friend, who is an advaced Korean language learner (i.e., able to converse and debate in Korean comfortably with minor mistakes). My family (including my extended family) and I are from Daegu-Gyeongbuk area, so I speak in the Gyeongbuk dialect. There are minor differences within Gyeongbuk, but people consider them the same dialect. In fact, outsiders won’t be able to tell differences between Gyeongbuk (Daegu) and Gyeongnam (Busan), although accents of the two dialects sound very different to the native Gyeongsang people.

Anyways, “뭐라카노” (mworakano) is one of the most frequently used phrases in Daegu and Gyeongbuk area. Just like “뭐라고”(mworago) in the standard Korean, it literally means “What did you say?” But the usage and the connotation of the phrase is slightly different in both expressions. Here, I tried to explain the grammar and usage of “뭐라카노” with my preexisting knowledge and observation. As I wrote this for my friend, formatting is not perfect. If inconsistent use of quotation marks and other formatting issue undermine your reading experience, please feel free to leave me a comment.



Grammar and Usage of “뭐라카노”

*This is purely from information and observation I know and made. I’ve never formally studied Korean language in a post-secondary academic setting, so please be advised.
I was trying to explain the usage of famous Daegu dialect phrase, “뭐라카노,” to my buddy Spencer in a simple way, then I thought it would be good to expound the phrase and make an individual post. If you’d like to know more about a less discussed part of Korean language, behold!

To say it from the conclusion, “뭐라카노?” is equivalent to “뭐라고?” in the standard Korean, which means, “What did you say?” But the usage of “뭐라카노?” is more restrictive than “뭐라고?”, and there is no equivalent phrase in the standard Korean. When someone says “뭐라고?”, he or she may mean two different things in reality, just as in “What did you say?” The first usage is to ask a question: You really didn’t hear what the person said, so you ask him or her again. The second usage is expressing frustration. What’s really running through your mind is “What the f*ck,” but you don’t want to be super rude. So hold your tongue, and ask the person to repeat it. Although you may be in disbelief, you really heard what you heard and clearly too. It’s only the second case when you can use “뭐라카노?” If you use the phrase for the first case, the person you were talking to will think you are a nasty, grumpy person. If you want to ask a person to reiterate, you’d just say “뭐라고?” (intonation would be still different, though.)

If you’re still down for more details, here’s the explanation:
Korean dialects have many peculiarity in spite of the small size of the country, and Gyeongsang dialect still boasts different pronunciation, intonation, grammar, and vocabularies in spoken language. One of the biggest difference in spoken grammar is in 어미 (語尾; literally “the tail of language”). The unique meaning of “뭐라카노” this difference in 어미. In standard Korean, there are many ways to end a question. For example, you can say, 했냐? 했니? 했어? 했지? (haet-nya; haet-ni; haesseo; hae-ji) and so on to say “Did you do it?” The last is closer to “You did it, right?” In the first case, people may feel it’s less polite, but there is no significant distinction between the first three. In Gyeongsang dialect, these would be 했나? and 했제? (haet-na; haet-je), the former encompassing the first three and the latter being equivalent to the last. But then, you can end a question in -노 (-no) in Gyeongsang dialect. And the standard Korean does not have this any more. So here’s the specific rules of using -노, which Gyeongsang people know by instinct and non-Gyeongsang people always fail to nail down:

a. Fundamentally, you end a question with -노 when there’s 5W1H in the sentence. If it’s not, you end a question with -나. But this has some exceptions.
e.g.) 어디 가노? 왜 밥 먹었노? (-no): Where are you going; Why did you eat
어디 가나? and 왜 밥 먹었나? (-na) sounds so awkward–but Seoul people and other outsiders always make this mistakes when they’re trying to imitate the dialect.
You can say 가나? or 먹었나? (-na, Are you going; Did you eat), and this sounds perfectly fine. But obviously the meaning changed from “Where are you going?” and “Why did you eat?” to “Are you going?” “Did you eat?”
Exception would be 어디 가나? as in “Are you going somewhere,” a simple verification whether someone is leaving the premise or not. There may be more exceptions, as a dialect in Korea is a speaking habit, not a written rule.

b. So some people say it’s fake dialect if you see someone using -노 without 5W1H. But this certainly is not true, because you can omit 5W1H while using -노.
e.g.) 가노? 밥 먹었노?
Some Gyeongsang people might say this sounds awkward. But most people will say this sounds perfectly fine. Again, this is grammar in spoken language, so some people might have a different experience, although there’s a general consensus.
The only difference between omitting 5W1H and not omitting is that omitting 5W1H grants huge leniency in interpreting. By ending the sentence with -노, a trained listener knows that the person intend to ask something more than “Are you going?” or “Did you eat?” But which 5W1H the person intended to use is unclear without context. For 가노, the person could mean to say either “왜 가노?” “어디 가노?” (Omitting when, how, and who doesn’t work in this example, and when it’s okay to omit these or not doesn’t have a universal rule. You just gotta use intuition.) For 밥 먹었노, it could mean either “왜 밥먹었노” or “언제 밥 먹었노” (This time, people wouldn’t understand your intention if you omit where, how, and who.) This is why I think some people think just seeing “가노?” or “밥 먹었노?” sounds awkward. But if they’re given the context, many of them will say, “Oh yes, it sound correct even without 5W1H.” So, here it comes…

c. -노 is used when you don’t intend to ask a question in a genuine sense, but to ask for an explanation or context.
Firstly, when you ask “5W1H + action,” you don’t mean to ask the action itself. Let’s say you were asked questions like “How are you going?” “Why are you going?” “When are you going?” or “Whom are you going with?”, the person isn’t obviously asking whether you’re going or not. The person is already assuming you’re going, and he or she is demanding you for more context or explanation. So, 밥 먹었노, for example, would be use at a very specific context like this: Your friend said he’s gonna wait for you to have dinner, but when you got to his place, plates are stacked in the sink and he already finished his dinner. Then, you’d say, “밥 먹었노!” Obviously, you know he already had dinner, so you’re not asking, “Did you have dinner?” Instead, you’re demanding explanation from him. It’s pretty much like asking “WTF! Did you already have dinner?!” As you’d already noticed, you don’t have to be specific with which 5W1H you’re omitting when you’re omitting 5W1H. This makes -노 question more context-based question than true-or-false verification question. So this is also called 설명의문문 (literally “explanation question”)

d. So now, we apply our observation here to “뭐라카노”. 뭐라카노 literally means “What did you say?” but as in asking for more context, not figuring out whether you actually said something or not.

Just to clear several more things up, standard Korean also had the same 어미 in the distant past, ending in -오 and -아 (-oh; –ah). So, -노 and -나 was a dialectic variation of -오 and -아/-어, but -오 became obsolete while -노 survived.

In addition, “뭐라카노?” is distinctly North Gyeongsang dialect, not South Gyeongsang. South Gyeongsang province also uses -노 and -나, but the difference lies in “-카-“. Busan and South Gyeongsang people usually use “-그라-” in place, hence “뭐라그라노?” (mworageurano) But due to the influence of media, they may mix two of them up.

Also, a variant of 뭐라카노: 뭐라캐쌓노/캐쌌노. Technically, -쌓다 (ssatda) means “keep on doing sth.” For example, 지끼다 (jikkida) means “to babble.” 지끼쌓다 (jikki-ssatda) means “to keep on babbling.” But you can also use the word to express your feeling stronger. It’s same when you say 뭐라캐쌓노 (mworakae-ssatno) You might say that because the person keeps on saying nonsense, but you can say that when you heard something that really doesn’t make sense at all and you’re so bummed and “뭐라카노” isn’t strong enough to express that frustration.

I guess this is pretty much the end of the explanation. I hope whoever read this enjoyed it, because I enjoyed writing this.

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