Have you ever heard of the word “Uri(우리)”? Your dictionary will probably tell you that “Uri” is the first person plural, “we.” If you trust your dictionary here, you’ll make some mistakes. When you hear a Korean guy say “Uri wife,” please don’t be misled to think that other guys share one wife. “Uri” is in fact a unique way to refer to oneself in Korea. This is supported by the fact that “Uri” has a plural suffix, “deul 들”. Although Koreans do have a word for an individuated self, “Na 나”, they prefer to use “Uri 우리(extended self)” instead of “Na 나 isolated self)” to refer to oneself.
Uri-self and I-self If you look closely at the word “Uri,” you can see how Koreans understand themselves and their relationships with other beings. In short, “Uri” is not a 1st person plural pronoun like the word “we”, namely, a group of isolated individuals, “I” and “another I (you)”, but is the boundary of demarcating “self.” In other words, when Koreans think of themselves, they do not conceive of “I-s” as isolated individuals but of “Uri”, as an extended self. If the Western self is “I-self”, the Korean self is “Uri-self.” Because the default unit of self is “Uri”, even when describing things that are of one’s own, Korean use “uri” to refer to one’s own or to oneself instead of “I” (“my” or “myself”).
For example, Koreans say “uri” wife or “uri” husband instead of “my(내 nae)” wife or “my(내 nae)” husband. They also say “uri” school, “uri” family, and “uri” country instead of my school, my family, and my country. For a self-indicator, the “Uri-self” is the default, and the “I-self 나” is just a secondary state. The “I-self” is only used when you need to distinguish “yourself (I-self)” from others (you as I-self), that is, when you need to be separate from others (when “I” am opposed to “you”). Only when necessary, Koreans extract individuals (“I-self”) from “uri-self.” In most cases, “Uri” indicates an “Extended, embraced, integrated, connected self,” where “I” and “you (another “I” or “I-s”)”are chunked together.
Different Chunking of the World: Yi, Geu, Jeo The “Uri-self” allows us to chunk the world differently. In English, we have the directives, “this and that” to refer to things.
But in Korean we have one more “that,” which completes a set of triple directives: “yi (이, this) - geu (그, that) - jeo (저, that).”
This set is consistently applied to temporal and spatial relationships: “yi-geot/geu-geot/jeo-geot” and “yeo-gi/geo-gi/jeo-gi” are usually translated into “this/that/that” and “here/there/there” in English. Why do Koreans need this extra “that” (geu) and what is this “that” (geu) used for? The “geu” is used when we need to point out something that falls outside of the Uri-self demarcation. Let’s look at some examples. When I describe something that is close to the”Uri-Self”, I use “yi”. “Can you see this book?” When I point out an object that is far away from both me and the person I am talking to, the connected “Uri-Self”, I would use “jeo”. “Can you see that book?”
But when I point to something far from me, yet close to the listener, I separate myself from that person, and come off of the default “Uri”.
Here, we use “geu”: “Can you give me that book?” I would like to call this “that”, the “off-Uri-that”. In the first two cases, I and the listener are on “Uri” and so the object relatively near is indicated using “yi (this)” and the relatively far, “jeo (that).” Let us call these directives as “uri-this” and “uri-that.” But in the final case, I want to specify the object that is close to the listener yet far from me, so we must come off of the “Uri-self”. So, “geu,” namely, the “off-Uri-that,” is needed.
These directives (“Uri-this,” “Uri-that,” and “off-Uri-that”) produce various nuanced meanings by chunking the world differently depending on how the “Uri” relationship is applied, dynamically adjusting how you chunk yourself and others depending on the situation. Uri, as a facet of the Korean Matrix Today, even after Koreans have been baptized by Western modernity for more than 100 years, Koreans have not stopped favoring the integrated self, “Uri” over the isolated self, “I.” The expression “Uri”, however, may not be an unreasonable old habit, but an excellent way of understanding “self” that is inextricably linked with the surrounding beings.
I believe that the habit of assuming an integrated self, instead of an isolated self, and of dynamic chunking of the world accordingly are important evidences of Korean matrix. By embracing your relationship with others intrinsically through the language, and internalizing the idea of a world beyond the subject-object dichotomy, we can perceive the world as a dynamic process where “I” “you” and “the other” flexibly form “Uri” in a variety of ways that are resonant to each other.