Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Hangul Romanization Revision Proposed

Only yesterday I wrote about how the transcription of Hangul into Roman letters was changed in 2000. Today I read in the Korea Times today that they are considering a proposal to change it again due to the confusion I mentioned.
The headline story reports :

Some 75 percent of South Koreans think the government-enacted Romanization system does not reflect the original pronunciation of Hangul properly, a survey conducted by the Yoido Institute, a think tank of the opposition Grand National Party (GNP) showed yesterday.

Of the 2,150 adults polled last week, 66.1 percent wanted the current system to be revised despite the expected financial cost, according to the survey conducted on the occasion of the 560th Hangul Day which falls on Oct. 9.

Hangul was first Romanized using the McCune-Reischauer (M-R) system in the early 20th century, when a number of foreign missionaries came to the Choson Kingdom.

'Confusion we experience today has been caused largely due to the arbitrary attitudes of armchair linguists and some misguided government officials' said Kim Bok-moon, professor emeritus of Chungbuk National University.

Scraping the traditional M-R system, which had prevailed in the past decades, the government adopted a new system on July 7, 2000, shifting Pusan, Kobukson (turtle ship) and kimchi into Busan, Geobukseon and gimchi.

The English-language media, including the state-funded Yonhap News Agency, had resisted the change for a period of time. But, as time went by, all the news media gave in to the new system except The Korea Times, which has maintained the M-R system concluding that it is the most similar to actual pronunciation.

Let alone the tremendous cost of the revision, the main problem of the current system is that it does not ensure the exact pronunciation of the original sound of various Korean words.

Kim, who serves as president of the Research Institute for Korean Romanization (KOROMA), has made sole efforts to end the confusion, submitting a petition to then President Kim Dae-jung and presenting a Constitutional petition.

According to Kim, 16 out of the newly Romanized 21 vowels of Hangul are out of sync with actual sounds when they are read by English-speaking people, who have no knowledge about the premise that 'eo’ should be pronounced as ㅓ. He has devised his own system, which he claims ensures the best pronunciations.

Critics say the Romanization system should be revised in a way that best reflects the characteristics of the Korean language and the reunification of the two Koreas should also be taken into consideration.

North Korea has a system similar to the M-R system, which writes its cities and places in English as Pyongyang, Kaesong and Mt. Kumgang not Pyeongyang,Gaeseong and Mt. Gumgang.

North Korea once proposed the unification of the different Romanization systems used by South and North Korea in a meeting of linguists from the two Koreas in Berlin, Germany, in 2002.

[Text copied from KT site and edited slightly for brevity because the link will only work for 7 days, after which they'd like you to pay to access the historic articles.]

So, as if it wasn't difficult enough already, it may change again. Lets hope Mr Kim and his buddies have come up with a suitably logical and straightforward approach. I wonder how long it will take to get agreed.

I don't normally find much to comment on from the news papers but since I've started there were a few other stories I thought worth mentioning:

Han River Projects to Enliven Seoul.
They are planning to try and brighten up the area around the Han river, the main river that runs through Seoul. I've walked across a couple of the bridges into Yeoido, it really is not a very pleasant experience. It's a long way, there is a lot of traffic and there is not that much to see while walking. I can't see their idea of converting one lane in to a pedestrian zone on five of the cross river bridges is going to make it any more appealing for people to walk when crossing the river.

Buses to have seats allocated for pregnant women.
Pregnant women will get issued badges from their hospital to allow them to use seats set aside for them. This was something Annie Mole mentioned sometime back on her Going underground blog. I'm sure she'll be delighted.

Bye bye Liza The Editor of is leaving for Hong Kong. She told me in an email about a group of house husbands she know of who were trying to start a group to rival SIWA (Seoul International Women's Association). They were calling their support group 'DHIK' Dads, Husbands in Korea. Of course the group fell apart since there weren't enough DHIKS to keep the 'poker coffee mornings' alive.

CCTV to be installed on Metro carriages. A sad reflection on the increase in crime in this country.

The Oktoberfest comes to Seoul The Hilton has waitresses dressing up and Lotteworld has parades, dancing troupes, live music, games and events in a setting that replicates the city of Munich!

And finally, there was also a story, that I can't find on their site, of a rare item of news about the UK. It reported on this story from the Guardian about how the Ministry of Defence tried to prevent the public from finding out about unit DI55 that was investigating reported sightings of Unidentified Flying Objects. Quite why that was of interest rather than any news about the Blair / Brown battle (which they actually covered yesterday) I don't know.


Anonymous said...

Regarding your question on Romanization, "I wonder how long it will take to get agreed," I would suggest a mere century or two would be fast for these kinds of things.

Anonymous said...

I hope they do change the Romanization back to something more logical. It was changed to benefit transliteration for Koreans rather than pronunciation for foreigners, who would actually be using it. A 'k' or 'g' depending on position would be great, as well as an 'h' for 'shin' rather than 'sin,' etc.