[KS] KH Interview with Prof. Shim Jae-kee

John H. T. Harvey jharvey at nuri.net
Wed Dec 15 09:20:59 EST 1999

Dear List:

    The last letter I wrote to the KH on the romanization debate didn't get
printed, so after a week I sent it out to you. This one, which they may
regard as just as sassy, I'm sending out to you right away.

jharvey at nuri.net

To the Editor:
         One of the main points Prof. Shim Jae-kee makes to your Choe
Yong-shik (Dec. 14) is that the diacritical marks in the current official
romanization system must be eliminated because they are not allowed in
domain names for Internet sites (which are limited to the 26 basic letters
of the Latin alphabet, the numerals, and the hyphen) and more generally
prevent storage in the proper format.
         Wondering if the same logic had led the French to abandon their
various accent marks, I indulged in some mild research. It turns out that
they haven't. They're still using their acute, grave, and circumflex
accents, and whatever they call their umlaut, not to mention the c cedilla,
or c with a tail. As for their Internet domain names, it seems that they
just leave out the diacritics: "nescafe.com," for example (a Swiss product,
of course).
         Since Prof. Shim was apparently including the apostrophe in
"diacritical marks," I checked on what happens to them in English names.
Sure enough, "McDonald's" becomes "mcdonalds.com." Outside of domain names,
naturally, the apostrophe is no problem. After all, you can't write either
English or French without it.
         So two world languages seem to have been able to cope with the
domain name problem without changing their writing systems -- simply by
ignoring it! And surely both can be stored in proper format.
         The only thing that Prof. Shim can possibly be getting at, then, is
the particular accent mark used in the current government romanization
system, namely the "breve," or "short mark," or "half moon." This does
indeed represent a difficulty, since only fairly sophisticated
word-processors or browsers (and few newspaper typesetting systems,
apparently) can handle it.
         But the current government romanization system only needs one
accent mark. It doesn't so much matter what it is, as long as it is not
positively misleading (like the umlaut used in AFKN's "Talk Tips"). A simple
solution, then, is to replace the breve with the circumflex (turn it upside
down and straighten it out a bit, so to speak). If you look up anything in
French on the Web, you'll see circumflexes everywhere, so they can hardly be
a worry.
         As for keyboarding, the most popular word processor, MS Word, since
at least its Version 6 of many years ago, has had shortcuts for typing
vowels with all the common European accent marks. For o and u with the
breve, you just type Control (and Shift) with ^ before you type the vowel.
In emergencies, you can type ^ after the vowel, which isn't beautiful but
will carry us until all our software is updated, probably pretty early in
the next millennium (and long before all the road signs could be changed).
         So it is not at all clear to one of the foreigners "kindly advised
to adapt and learn" why "we absolutely had to develop a system for use with
the computer environment." Nor is it clear to him why the proposed new
system presents "the true linguistic integrity and identity of the Korean
language," but that is quite another matter.

John H. T. Harvey


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