[KS] [Editorial]Unified Rominization

Henny Savenije adam_eve at henny-savenije.pe.kr
Sun Sep 15 23:56:05 EDT 2002


[Editorial]Unified Rominization

North Korean delegates to the U.N. Conference on the Standardization of 
Geographical Names in Berlin recently suggested that the two Koreas discuss 
ways to unify their systems for Romanizing Korean words. The proposal is 
more than welcome. Very properly, the North Koreans pointed out that they 
faced many difficulties in Romanizing the names of South Korean people and 
places because the South has too frequently changed its system for 
transliterating Korean words into the Roman alphabet.

It is good that the concerned authorities in Seoul are positively 
responding to the proposal. Foreign Ministry officials have acknowledged 
that they informed other relevant government agencies of the North's 
proposal for joint consultation to seek a "unified standard system." All 
concerned government offices are urged to coordinate swiftly and 
efficiently to prepare for inter-Korean negotiations on this vital issue. 
The sooner the two Koreas begin to talk, the better it definitely would be.

It is a pity that the South Korean government has been wasting huge amounts 
of taxpayers' money since it adopted a new Romanization system two years 
ago. Not only many billions of won from the coffers of central and local 
governments have been squandered, but tremendous confusion has occurred as 
well. Road and traffic signs across the country were hurriedly replaced 
before the World Cup soccer finals, leading foreign residents and visitors 
to suffer unnecessary inconvenience amid the mishmash of Romanized names 
following both old and new systems.

An even greater pity is that few knowledgeable people support the new 
system based on conversion between letters but not sounds. The government 
adopted the system devised by a group of nationalistic Korean linguists, 
turning a deaf ear to strong opposition from concerned specialists and 
long-time foreign residents. It is unthinkable that this absurd system will 
acquire international endorsement in Korean studies, publication, 
cartography or private commercial transactions anytime soon.

As a daily user of Romanized Korean names and words, we earnestly 
recommended in this page that the government shelve the new system and 
speak with North Korea to establish a unified system for both sides. The 
intransigent policymakers at the Ministry of Culture and Tourism should 
take full blame for the fabulous chaos around the country brought on by 
different versions of Romanized names - such as Busan and Pusan, Daejeon 
and Taejon, Joseon and Choson, and even the North Korean mountain Geumgang 
and Kumgang.

Romanization of all languages is fundamentally an international task that 
is intended to serve foreigners who do not speak or read the local tongue. 
The two Koreas would do well to discuss necessary modifications to the 
system that the North has consistently used over the years and that the 
South Korean government has replaced with an inferior substitute. While not 
without drawbacks, McCune-Reischauer has seen the widest use among the 
international community for over a century.

By unifying their Romanization systems, the divided Koreas would be able to 
make a significant stride toward cultural unity.

(If they are going to implement McCune Reischauer again the new system 
would have been the shortest living one)

Henny (Lee Hae Kang)
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