"Native Speaker," Vocabulary from pages 203-276

Chang Rae Lee's "Native Speaker" provides a Korean- American perspective on issues of assimilation to the American way of life and longing to hold on to your own culture.

Learn this word list that focuses on construction, deconstruction, and destruction. Here are links to our lists for the novel: pages 1-59, pages 60-130, pages 131-202, pages 203-276, pages 277-349

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. sentient
    consciously perceiving
    I am to be a clean writer, of the most reasonable eye, and present the subject in question like some sentient machine of transcription.
    "Sentient" also means "endowed with feeling and unstructured consciousness"--while this description could fit Henry when he's out in the field trying to connect to his subjects, when he writes his reports, he is not using or expressing any feelings of his own, because he has to focus simply on putting down the details of what he'd perceived.
  2. aversion
    a feeling of intense dislike
    I will uncover and invoke inclinations and aversions.
    "Inclination" is an antonym of "aversion"--Henry can uncover these feelings from observations of physical postures ("aversion" also means "the act of turning yourself or your gaze away" and "inclination" also means "bending forward"), but he would need to confirm their existence by intentionally invoking his subject's speech or action.
  3. inalienable
    incapable of being repudiated or transferred to another
    And I will build all these up into the daily log of his life, into a secret book of personality that I care nothing for except that I necessarily remember everything in it, every voice and detail, and then remember again all of the books before, of Luzan and the others, those inalienable texts the blocks of a cruel palace of memory in which I now live.
  4. prolific
    bearing in abundance especially offspring
    I was prolific, however, I wrote other pieces, entire tracts on him, tones and notes of him, but nothing I could use.
    "Prolific" also means "intellectually productive"--while this adjective often applies to a writer of many works, it does not apply to the writing that Henry did about Kwang, which he describes as "vague and aimless reporting." The prolific nature of his writing was simply a poor attempt (it didn't fool his boss) to conceal the fact that he was having trouble profiling Kwang.
  5. resplendence
    brilliant radiant beauty
    And soon I’d find myself knotted into a hard coil in the bed, the points of my knees jabbing back the stabs of worry in my stomach and chest, and I wondered if in the morning after I left the house for the long walk to school he would be there for me, at my flank again, that comely wall of him, talking his trash and his resplendence, talking me up, too, talking my story.
  6. associative
    resulting from bringing ideas together in the imagination
    His method with me was in fact anti- associative, and he asked me to look at my life not just from a singular mode but through the crucible of a larger narrative.
  7. evasive
    deliberately vague or ambiguous
    I didn’t know anything at the time; Dennis had been as cryptic and evasive as ever, Jack professing nothing.
    "Evasive" also means "avoiding or escaping from difficulty or danger"--this would not apply to a boss who never goes out into the field himself. Dennis Hoagland evades Henry's questions by being cryptic ("of an obscure nature" and "having a puzzling terseness"--these definitions, when applied to Hoagland's speech, are synonymous with "deliberately vague or ambiguous").
  8. myriad
    a large indefinite number
    There are scores and scores of his versions scattered about the room, myriad trunks of him, thistling branches, specied and catalogued, a thousand stills of him from every possible angle.
  9. obliterate
    reduced to nothingness
    I want to tell them that what they have here is a man named John Kwang, born in Seoul before the last world war, a boy during the Korean one, his family not mercifully sundered or refugeed but obliterated, the coordinates of his home village twice removed from the maps.
    "Sunder" ("break apart or in two, using violence") does not sound like a merciful action. But here, it means that Kwang's family could've been forcefully separated from each other, which would've been merciful compared to what actually happened: their bodies were physically obliterated and their village was historically obliterated ("removed completely from recognition or memory").
  10. assail
    attack someone physically or emotionally
    They’d start hollering somewhere in the middle of the house, assail each other furiously, then retire to their corners and start drinking.
  11. generic
    applicable to an entire class or group
    She wonders, in turn, if this dead immigrant had ever reconsidered the generic still-life of apples he’d hung in the upstairs hall, had ever touched again the bouquet of wooden roses placed on the tank of his toilet, had ever comfortably worn the reams of clothes in his closet, the rack filled with the suits and shoes he would buy on his days off but never wore anywhere.
  12. persist
    continue to exist
    Is it the coldness of objects, she wonders, that persists. She considers her own apartment, the bed she shares with her husband; she tries to think of the things there that might signify him, call his real name.
  13. decrepitude
    a state of deterioration due to old age or long use
    He’s just begun to feel the sadness of growing old, if that’s what it is. Decrepitude, obsolescence.
    For a man like Stew, "decrepitude" would mean "obsolescence" ("falling into disuse or becoming out of date"), because a lot of his power, whether to intimidate other men or attract women, comes from being tall, angular, and trim.
  14. scabrous
    rough to the touch, as if covered with scales or projections
    Native speakers may not fully know this, but English is a scabrous mouthful.
  15. conflate
    mix together different elements
    But I always hear myself displacing the two languages, conflating them—maybe conflagrating them—for there’s so much rubbing and friction, a fire always threatens to blow up between the tongues.
  16. punctilious
    marked by precise accordance with details
    “Thus flies foul our fearless night owl,” she might say, the words forming so punctiliously on her lips, her head raised and neck straight and her eyes fixed on our teacher.
  17. disparate
    fundamentally different or distinct in quality or kind
    Mitt was beginning to appreciate the differences in the three of us; he could mimic the finest gradations in our English and Korean, those notes of who we were, and perhaps he could imagine, if ever briefly, that this was our truest world, rich with disparate melodies.
  18. pall
    a sudden numbing dread
    He used to tell us how the kid, named Dylan or Dean, had “the hugest muscles,” and when I see that kid now I understand the proportion Mitt’s eyes must have been measuring, I can see the creamy flesh of a nine-year-old bully, the brutish, magical pall he must have cast.
  19. bedraggle
    make wet and dirty, as from rain
    There’s too much blood on his face, he’s too pummeled and wrecked to perish, his bedragglement is the sign to us that he is safe, actually immortal.
  20. dismantle
    take apart into its constituent pieces
    Then I fling it all in the woods, dismantled piece by piece.
  21. epithet
    a defamatory or abusive word or phrase
    Her wails and epithets carry out from the broken windows, down the firestairs.
  22. detonation
    the act of setting off an explosive
    The explosion is nothing to speak of, nothing special, they believe no plastique was used, no deep electronics, just a stick or two of dynamite, a model airplane battery for detonation, a few rounds of duct tape.
  23. crude
    not carefully or expertly made
    Crude explosive,” one of them says.
  24. strife
    bitter conflict; heated often violent dissension
    The late money says it’s the Indians, who so despise Korean competition, it’s the Jews envious of new Korean money, Chinese hateful of Korean communality, blacks who want something, anything of justice, it’s the uneasy coalition of our colors, that oldest strife of city and alley and schoolyard.
  25. untenable
    incapable of being defended or justified
    There are always untenable events, freak happenings like someone recognizing you, or at worst, the trouble results from a foolish and negligent spy, like my time with Luzan.
  26. raucous
    disturbing the public peace; loud and rough
    He is so much like me when I was ten, so unlike our Mitt, whom Lelia and my father and I let raucously trample over all our custom and ceremony.
  27. diminished
    reduced in size or strength as a result of disease or injury
    But he looks much older with his hair flat and matted, his head an orb more dully drawn, as if diminished.
  28. pliancy
    the property of being flexible
    I see his posture as somehow broken, there’s not his familiar pliancy and spring at a public appearance, his steely poise among the crowds, the drive pooled up in his fists, the huge voice, the miracle forcefulness.
    "Pliancy" also means "adaptability of mind and character"--this quality could've applied to Kwang when he was a new immigrant, and it might've applied to him as a rising politician, but here, Kwang has lost his physical pliancy, and Henry later discovers that Kwang's prideful nature doesn't enjoy being as pliant as Sherrie and Jenkins want him to be.
  29. melancholy
    a feeling of thoughtful sadness
    For me, there is nothing else, our life is made only of hope and melancholy.
  30. devastate
    overwhelm or overpower
    Everyone is devastated.

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