[KS] Translation query

T.N. Park tnpark at mac.com
Thu Feb 28 20:18:19 EST 2002

Andrew Killick wrote:
> In reply to Brother Anthony's question, my experience with academic
> publishing outside Korea has been that no one is even considering adopting
> the new romanization system. I have several times submitted items that
> either used the new system or were accompanied by an inquiry as to which
> system would be used, and in all cases I have been left in no doubt that my
> work would not be considered for publication unless I stuck to McC-R. It
> looks very much as if there will be one system used in Korea and another in
> the rest of the world. I'd be interested to hear if others have had
> different experiences.

A small company run by my cousins, for which I prepare educational
materials, took on the contract for the third edition of Lonely Planet's
Korean phrasebook. Since the goal of the Romanisation system in that
publication is to give the readers as clear pronunciation as possible, we
struggled with how best to represent it. Although we have concerns that
certain aspects of M-R (as we call it in shorthand) can lead to confusion
about actual pronunciation (most notably writing 시 as 'si' instead of as
'shi'; and the double consonants ㄲ, ㄸ, ㅃ, and ㅉ at the beginning of a
word as kk, tt, pp, and jj, respectively, which even the 'initiated' would
find misleading).

Our book, of course, had a chance to 'initiate' the uninitiated on the use
of the breve diacrtical marks for ô and û. They were far superior to the
digraphs 'eo' and 'eu'. My own experience has been that the new spelling has
led those who are aware of the change to mistakenly believe that the *actual
pronunciation* of Inchon, for example, has been changed to the
three-syllable creation suggested by Incheon (thus, in-chay-ahn). Thus, the
'new' system (which we refer to as the "World Cup System" because of the
purpose of its timing) was simply a nonstarter, as far as we were concerned.

After a lot of experimentation with visitors to Korea and those unfamiliar
with the Korean language or the Romanisation systems, we ended up with our
own M-R based system. We differed in the use of the double consonants
mentioned, when they appear at the beginning of a word, and we also added an
accute accent to the e in oe (외) because of 'newbie' tendencies to
pronounce it as a long 'o'. Nevertheless, the phrasebook is essentially an
M-R document, because of the superiority of the M-R system, and the failures
of the World Cup system to yield not only correct pronunciation, but even
pronunciation that the Korean public could recognize as being a given place
or name.

Essentially we found that those briefed briefly on the use of the breve in ô
and û (I realize they are upside down here, but blame Microsoft), they had
little problem understanding how to pronounce them correctly. Even the
uninitiated came very close, far closer than those who encountered the 'eo'
and 'eu'. 

Even if you're not interested in our adventures in Romanisation in Korea, at
the very least you may be interested in our publisher's reaction. Lonely
Planet, tries hard to consider the sensitivities of the 'host country' (to
their credit, they were one of the first major publishers to go with the
'East Sea' notation for 'Sea of Japan'). Their major concern was that by NOT
using the World Cup system we would offend the Korean government, which
might go so far as to bar the book from being sold in South Korea. We
assured them it would not, though there have been cases of different
companies we know, some large and some not, being threatened with losing any
government contracts for their video, audio, or literary productions if they
continued to use M-R in *other* productions not related to the government
contract. In the end, they saw from their new country guide for Korea that
the World Cup system was inefficacious for introducing the Korean language.
Still, we included a chart on interpreting both major Romanisation systems
for ease of travel of the user. [The book was produced by two authors and
four 'assistants' and came to what would have been 500 small pages; the
publishers pared it down to 256, so we're hoping the chart didn't get

Finally, there is a growing consensus that the World Cup system may end up
being tossed, in favor of the 'Olympic system' of the 1980s, promulgated
very thoroughly in Korean road signs until recently (the Olympic system was
M-R-based, except that it employed 'shi' instead of 'si' for 시). Complaints
have been rising, the failures are being heard, resistance abroad is being
seen as insurmountable, etc. A new government, if not from the current
ruling party, may not like having had Pusan, Taegu, and Kyongju/Kyôngju
changed to Busan, Daegu, and Gyeongju. Already there has been talk from
those camps of the World Cup system being an expensive boondoggle. Next year
it may be seen as a good idea to reverse course instead of completing the

So unless 'someone' is pronounced 소머네 where you're from, it's best to
stick with M-R.


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