[KS] Korea Herald weighs in again on "nationalistic scholars"

Kaliher, Kenneth L. KaliherK at usfk.korea.army.mil
Wed Dec 8 20:11:33 EST 1999

>From the top of the front page of Thursday's (Dec. 9) Korea Herald:
Time to take Romanization plan from hands of nationalistic scholars 
[On the Herald's website, the headline reads "Time to reign in nationalistic
scholars controlling new Romanization system drafting."  Other bracketed
terms below were printed in han'gul in the Herald.]
By ChoeYong-shik, Staff Reporter

   The latest attacks by foreigners and Koreans on the new Romanization plan
reflect more than just a dissatisfaction with its impracticalities; it also
shows a growing dissatisfaction with scholars who seem more interested in
nationalism and defending their academic positions than serving the public
   It has long been the tradition to depend on scholars for insight and
direction in developing national policies. But when scholars become caught
up in nationalism and their own hubris they become victim to the follies of
bigotry and exclusion. 
   Shim Jae-kee, director of the National Academy of the Korean Language,
the main architect of the linguistic policy, contended recently that it is
the time for Koreans to develop a new Romanization scheme suited for the
convenient usage of native Korean speakers. Such myopic mentality was
sharply criticized in articles (many of them printed in this paper) by
Korean and foreign experts. 
   During a public hearing on Nov. 19, Prof. Chung Kuk, a member of the
six-person committee responsible for drafting the new plan, concluded that
the Romanized Korean language written as phonetic symbols or following an
English style disqualifies as a true Korean language. 
   Arguing that such a pseudo -Korean language will hardly be welcomed even
among foreigners. the linguist said that, if the language was converted
according to the rules of other languages, it would lose its Korean
  It is no wonder then that the transliteral format which these scholars
adopted for the new Romanization, is both impractical and a source of
confusion for foreigners, whose opinions were left out of the formulation
   In their crusade to rid the two diacritical marks (' and [micron]) in the
current phonetic system, they have proposed Gimpo, Joseon and T'aebaek
instead of Kimpo, Chosn and Taebaek. 
   Though their direct contribution in creating the new system could have
added immense value, foreigner input was limited to filling out a short
questionnaire (written in Korean). 
   Leading the pack of foreigners who take issues with the attitude of
related officials and the procedure in which the proposal was made is noted
translator and linguist Father Anthony, professor of English at Sogang
University in Seoul. 
   In a recent article printed in The Korea Times, he claimed that the
NAKL's hostility towards the McCune-Reischauer system lie in the fact that
it was a "non-Korean" system that was "set up by non Koreans and advocated
by non Koreans." 
   Demanding that the Korean Romanization system represent Korean words
spelled according to their likeness to the Korean alphabet Hangul, instead
of by they way the sound, the institute sought to re-nationalize it, the
senior professor explained. 
   However, the naturalized American-Korean scholar emphasized the
importance of maintaining a more phonetic system. He pointed out that some
English words are unable to be distinguished from one another when
transliterated with the new system. For example, words like 'ripe' and
'life' and 'carnival' and 'cannibal' appear exactly the same. 
  In his article (Romanization: Exchanging one problem for another) dated
Dec. 4 on The Korea Herald, Sean Witty, adjunct professor of English at
Kwangwoon University proposed replacing notations for Korean voiceless
sounds such as p'/t'/k'/ch' with ph/th/kh/ch. 
   In addition, he also disputes the consistent application of 'eo' and 'eu'
vowel sets which are intended to represent '[ô]' and '[û].' For example, the
Korean word '[sông]' can be spelled as 'seong' which can also be read as
'[se-ong],' he argues. 
   John H.T. Harvey, a resident of Seoul, said in his article submitted to
The Korea Herald that the current system should better be maintained in
light of its overriding merits as a system that can enable a more faithful
Romanization process more than any other conceivable alternative. 
   Some technical hindrances involving the diacritical notations in the
current system can be bypassed with the advancement of computer technology,
he notes. Moreover, there is no point in excessively indulging in charting
out a new transcription format when the use of special marks is commonplace
in most languages in Latin alphabets such as Italian, Spanish, French,
German and many other Scandinavian languages. 
   Harvey charges that the current rules for converting changing sound
values of Korean consonants and various vowels into Latin alphabets are
"fairly simple and can be learned in school, at home or on the job" by
native Korean speakers. 
   Meanwhile, the aftermath of the new system is forecast to be
farther-reaching than a simple change in the transcribing rule. If the new
rule is to be adopted, it could translate into serious confusion both
non-native speakers and Koreans, and negative consequences that will hurt
Korea's competitiveness, said industry watchers. 
   At the vanguard of a civic campaign to scrap the proposed plan are
cyberspace activists at www.kimchi.net, who have been working on commercial
projects through the international promotion of kimchi, the mainstay side
dish of Korea. 
   Opposing the mandatory prescription of changing "kimchi" into "gimchi,"
they note: "The wholesale change in Korean proper names in the Internet will
be no better than information blackout, while dealing a serious blow to the
authenticity of unique Korean things such as kimchi and legitimacy regarding
their international usage." Under the new system, all domain names
registered in various search engines such as Yahoo and Lycos under Korean
subjects have to be renamed, and efforts that have been made to promote
Korea's trade and investment could be reduced to a nil, they said. 
   The Internet entrepreneurs are now bent on collecting signatures to form
public consensus to kill the proposal, while running an on-the-spot survey
in the website. According to the survey, more than 70 percent of visitors
object to the proposed Romanization plan. 

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - -
Address:  PSC 303, Box 40 (OSA), APO AP 96204-0040
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - -
Phone:  82-2-793-2612  (Seoul, Korea; within USFK:  723-3631/3192)
FAX:     82-2-7913-7813 (Yes, EIGHT digits; within USFK:  723-7813)
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - -
Let us not be too particular: It is better to have old secondhand >
diamonds than none at all.
  -- Mark Twain


More information about the Koreanstudies mailing list