CUTTING OFF YOUR TONGUE

Reuters/MSNBC have a strange one:

Chop a centimeter or so off your tongue and become a fluent English speaker. That is the hope that recently drove one mother to take her six-year-old son for surgery aimed at ridding him of his Korean accent when speaking the language of choice in global business.

DRIVEN BY A desire to give their kids an edge in an increasingly competitive society, a surprising number of South Koreans have turned to the knife in a seemingly drastic bid to help their offspring perfect their English.

“Those who have a short frenulum (a strap of tissue linking the tongue to the floor of the mouth) can face problems pronouncing some characters due to a disturbance in lateral movements of the tongue,” said Bae Jung-ho, an oral surgeon at Seoul’s Yonsei Severance Hospital, who operated on the six-year-old last month.

Bae said it takes about five minutes to complete the operation, called a frenotomy, which slices 1 to 1.5 cm (about half an inch) off the frenulum to make the tongue more flexible.

Hmm.

FILED UNDER: Popular Culture
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. When I was in SK just a couple of months ago there were several articles in the Seoul papers condemning this practice and I was pretty surprised when I read about it. However, despite the “surprising numbers” mentioned in the article, it seems that this is outside the mainstream and probably about as prevalent as the crazy things American parents do with their kids (like the statistics on the number of minors with “enhancement surgery” in the U.S.)

  2. Blogeline says:

    The doctors of my stepson thought about this procedure for while for him. He has several disabilities and was on a growth hormone for most of his life, which caused his tounge to be unusually big.
    I understand such surgeries in cases where it is medically necessary, but to do it for the enhancement of one’s speech it is pretty stupid.
    By the way, I like my accent, and wouldn’t change a thing about it.

  3. cj says:

    “Cutting off your tongue” is a bit misleading, as I read the quoted text.

    If my understanding is correct, a “short frenulum” is also known as “being tongue-tied” in the US (thus leading to its current connotation of having difficulty talking). I believe it was fairly common at one time to have a short frenulum “snipped” at birth, to prevent speech impediments. A short frenulum can also contribute to difficulties with breastfeeding.

    Nowadays (decades), it is no longer common practice — pediatricians will wait to see if a true speech impediment develops. I’ve also heard that, in times past, midwives used to maintain at least one long fingernail (pinky?) with which to slice the frenulum. Don’t know if this is an old wives tale or not.

    I know this, because two of my children were born “tongue tied.” The only apparent impact is that they can’t roll (curl) their tongue — or stick it out very far at their siblings.

    In my opinion, this is not some “horrid procedure” — even if done for questionable reasons. Certainly doesn’t approach the grotesquery of those individuals who actually have their *tongue* surgically “cleaved” as some sort of fashion or rebellious statement.

  4. a korean girl says:

    I am a Korean and I don’t have any problems speaking English without having any surgery on my tongue.

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