[KS] Re: Romanization
Bryan R Ross
bross at hawaii.edu
Wed Dec 1 11:52:18 EST 1999
[News in Review] Pitiful Scholastic Bigotry of NAKL
By Han Dong-soo
The most irritating feature of bureaucracy is public servants'
foot-dragging in areas affecting people's everyday lives, citing
a lack of funds, insufficient preparations or an administrative backlog
in the upper echelon of the government hierarchy _ later found
out to be simple pretexts aimed at furthering their vested interests or
In a clear departure from their typical conduct,
the Korean bureaucracy has recently showed an unprecedented
agility in pushing for a change in the current
system for the Romanization of Korean.
Spearheading the drive is the National Academy of
the Korean Language (NAKL) under the patronage of the
Culture-Tourism Ministry, which is entrusted with
the charting of the nation's language policy.
The NAKL, which had kept a low profile following
its failure to introduce a similar system two years ago in the
face of strong opposition from the academic circle and foreign community,
abruptly called a press conference on Nov. 17 to announce a new
Romanization plan much different from the popular McCune-Reishauer system.
The NAKL held a public hearing on the new system just two days later
without ample notice and without inviting any foreign or overseas scholars
to participate in it. As a national institution, the NAKL has a
responsibility to give everyone interested in the
issue sufficient advance notice.
Indeed, in the course of mapping out the new proposal, the NAKL has shown
no sincere effort to reflect the opinions of Korean studies scholars
overseas, much less foreign residents and particularly the USFK, the main
At least, the NAKL, in this age of the Internet,
could have started an open forum mailing list or an interactive
Web site in which interested parties could participate _ a process
required to anticipate pitfalls that might otherwise go unforeseen,
foreign scholars complain. Also problematic is the NAKL survey on public
opinion toward the new Romanization proposal which was conducted
in half-hearted manner.
Many foreign residents complain that the NAKL ignored their opinions as
the NAKL-developed questionnaire was written only in Korean and it was, of
course, not widely distributed among foreign residents and tourists.
It was also revealed that the questionnaire was
poor in content and failed to meet even the most basic standards required
for normal survey research.
For example, the questionnaire presented a series
of metalinguistic questions on discrete points of Romanization detached
from their systematic context. It also contained many wordy explanations
apparently intended to extract the answers desired by the
NAKL, according to foreign scholars.
When taking into account a series of the NAKL's
recent activities, one naturally reaches this conclusion _ the
state-sponsored body is trying to make its new
plan as a fait accompli by forwarding the formula in a blitz,
thus catching possible opponents totally off guard
and depriving them of time to counteract.
These facts naturally lead many linguistic and
Korean studies scholars here and overseas to believe that the
recent developments are part of a ``conspiracy''
by the national institution which is eager to enforce the new
Romanization plan and bypass any resistance
expected in the process.
The complete disregard of users in the course of
the drafting of the new policy is sure to bring about
unexpected and undesirable results.
Not a single prestigious foreign newspaper, nor
U.S. foreign policymaker, would rename Pyongyang,
Kyongju and Mt. Kumgang as Pyeongyang, Gyeongju
and Geumgang as proposed by the NAKL. It is also a
certainty that North Korea will never write its
capital as Pyeongyang. Likewise, no Korean studies scholars overseas
would accept the Koguryo, Koryo and Choson dynasties to
be spelled out as Goguryeo, Goryeo and Joseon.
What's the use of a new system if the main users
are not willing to use it?
Besides the expected confusion in diplomatic and
academic circles, the new Romanization plan is certain to
cause disarray in the traditionally close ROK-U.S.
The United States Forces Korea, which uses the
McCune-Reischauer Romanization system, will have to
make a decision on whether to follow the new
linguistic guidelines. However, it is a near certainty that the
USFK will not accept it. Will they be willing to change such names as
Tongduchon, Uijongbu and Yonchon on signboards and documents into
Dongducheon, Uijeongbu and Yeoncheon? Will the Pentagon order the wholesale revision of
military maps and the names of its military targets in North Korea _
Yongbyon into Yeongbyeon, Kaechon into Gaecheon and Pyongyang into
Pyeongyang, for instance?
What will happen to the coordination of ROK-U.S.
combined forces when they use different maps and
pronounce their target locations differently?
Can these hypotheses be dismissed as groundless fears?
This is not an isolated problem anticipated as a
result of the Romanization system change. There will
assuredly be great confusion in academic and
commercial affairs once the NAKL rule is officially adopted.
Korean studies scholars here and overseas will
have difficulty in their academic exchanges with the wholesale
changes in the names of dynasties, locations and
historical figures. In the international trade circle, there will also
be numerous problems caused by the change in the rule of transcribing
Korean words into the Roman alphabet.
Many scholars in Korea and abroad, as well as a
number of Korean and foreign columnists, agreed with the
NAKL's plan to do away with the diacritical marks
used in the Romanized Korean words which are
hindrances to computerization.
But they firmly oppose the other parts of the
NAKL's proposal which they view as entirely unrealistic.
Why has the NAKL decided to change the current
Romanization system which has been in use for the last 15
years and has taken firm root in the foreign
community in Korea?
Many view the plan as a product of misconceived
scholastic bigotry on the part of the professors and linguists
at the NAKL.
hds at koreatimes.co.kr
(C) COPYRIGHT 1999 THE HANKOOKILBO
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