[KS] Re: Perfect Hangul?

didier barbas db at ccifc.com
Wed Dec 1 05:27:43 EST 1999

on 1/12/99 02:11, Ross King at jrpking at unixg.ubc.ca wrote:

>> Foreigners dealing with Koreans certainly deserve to be heard, but in
>> the end they'll fare better with a system that Koreans use properly
>> than with a more "foreigner-friendly" system that Koreans don't
>> understand and therefore don't use.
> I'm afraid this doesn't compute for me.
We foreigners are the final users. A good system -- whatever it is -- is one
that WE can use! A "Korean-friendly" system already exists. It was created
in the mid-15th Century. The name is h....l. What shall that be?

>>I have little sympathy with the way in which the new proposal has been
>>made public, the non-involvement of foreigners or Korean scholars, the
>>amateurish questionnaire, or the completely unnecessary attempt to
>>push it through on the nationalist ticket.

>These are the primary motivation for using the words "fiasco" and "farce".
How about "useless crap"?

>> The proposed system has been called foreigner-unfriendly.  The only
>> argument in favor of this claim seems to be the use of EO and EU.
> This misses the point (already made very well by John Harvey, I think,
> among others): the system under debate requires the user to know Korean --
> that's not foreigner-unfriendly?
Close enough, Ross: it's unfriendly to foreigners who don't speak Korean
(99.99%?). Jongro, as I said before, is I think a good example.

>> Just a bit of criticism on the subject.  For those who laud Hangul's
>> efficiency and perfectness, I submit that ...
> I'm sorry if my remark about Koreans having a 'perfectly good alphabet like
> hangul' was misinterpreted as meaning that I actually believe, as most
> Koreans seem to, that hangul is a perfect, 'phonetic' script, etc. But it's
> still about as close a fit as one can get with writing systems and the
> languages they represent...
han'gu^l (/han.kul/, etc...) is definitely perfect for its primary uses:
transcribing the pronounciation of /han.ca/ and writing Korean. I am not
sure Sey.cwong would be very happy about the introduction of English words,
but then, the Korean pronounciation of /han.ca/ and 'konglish' are very
alike: /han.ca.um/ sounds somehow like Chinese, but is definitely NOT
Chinese, and 'konglish' has a vague taste of English (sometimes of japlish),
but it is NOT English (Thank God!). And both can be reconstructed to their
original forms with a little mind raking (aren't we all grandsons of

> The other main argument "transliteration is mostly for foreigners" is
> as obviously false.  Contrary to what some people believe, most users
> of Korean transliteration schemes are Koreans.  There are far more
> Koreans living outside Korea than foreigners living in Korea.  Korean
> companies are everywhere on the globe.  They need to be able to do
> business and handle administrative tasks such as getting registered in
> foreign countries.  The breves and accents have been a nightmare to
> them.
Er... if I got it right, Koreans transcribe Koreans names and others for the
purpose to make it readable/understandable to... FOREIGNERS. Voilà! The
end-users are foreigners, whoever the scribe is. Workers in a Samsung
(/sam.seng/) TV set factory produce TV set by the truckload. The users are
other people. Same story...
> The breves and accents have been a nightmare to them.
Could somebody explain me why the 'McCunized' vowels (> o^ u^) are present
in /hon.kul/ (read a.ray han.kul)? The most conservative, nationalistic,
breast-beating-We-Koreans software (did I mention most popular?) does it?
Besides, Koreans have other nightmares before breves, such as foreign
languages and such...

> Or imagine you are travelling overseas, visiting a university for
> joint research as I'm doing now, or just walking into an internet cafe
> on vacation to spend 10 minutes to send an Email home.  There's no CJK
> support installed, of course.  I have seen Japanese in that situation
> write a note in Romaji, and many mainland Chinese could probably use
> Pinyin.  Koreans will give up and write in English.  Koreans are
> deprived from using their own language since there is no
> transliteration they can read and write reasonably fast. (This is, of
> course, a matter of education---but M-R has priced itself out of this
> market.) 
Try Yale. Works fine.
Another solution, used by computer freaks, especially on Unix systems: they
type what they would type back home. /hyeng.ey.key/ reads guddprp. They even
have home-made decoders on the Korean side! Human imagination has no

>If scholars can't even agree on a system among themselves, why do they expect
>Koreans to look to them for the answer?
Fortunately dentists and loggers don't agree on a single set of tools.
Linguists have needs of their own. Leave them (us) alone. Outside us freaks,
scholars do agree on M-R.

>To bring it to the point, the purpose of the current proposal is NOT
>to replace M-R by a new system.
I wonder...
>The hope is to ESTABLISH a system that will actually be used, instead of the
>current chaos.
Actually, most of the documents made for visiting foreigners (short or long
term), use M-R.

To finish, one anecdote:
My publication assistant showed me today the draft of our monthly
Newsletter, which includes the list of new Members, with address, phone and
fax numbers. Most of them were in the kangnam area. All of them suddenly
spelled Gangnam. I asked her to correct it back to M-R. She said: "But the
governement changed the system!". To her, especially reading a few newspaper
articles, most of them asserting that it was a done thing, she believes that
project she read about has now force of law. Makes you wonder!

Didier Barbas


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