[KS] Korean language transliteration system

jrpking jrpking at interchange.ubc.ca
Wed Dec 1 14:53:17 EST 2004

> I would like to find out what is the dominant transliteration system in the U.S. Is the Korean government transliteration system in wide use in the U.S., or is it not used at all? What is the transliteration system as far as cataloguing is concerned? What is the transliteration system as far as teaching Korean in Korean language classes are concerned? Does anyone know which Korean transliteration system the Library of Congress uses, and which Korean transliteration system Harvard Yenching library uses? 

I'm not sure that any one system is "dominant," but it seems safe to say that most Koreanists writing in English use the McCune-Reischauer system, albeit with occasional modifications (shi for si, omission of the breves over o^ and u^, omission of the apostrophe for aspiration, inclusion or not of the hyphen in personal names, etc.

For linguistic work, most everybody writing in English uses the Yale romanization, and for anything in pre-1933 orthography (anything that uses the "arae a") Yale is preferable, and for Middle Korean, it is (imho) the only acceptable transliteration. 

Most libraries use modified McCune-Reischauer. "Modified," because they ignore the breves and the apostrophes. 

I'm not aware that any significant Korean language programs use anything other than hangeul to teach Korean, even in the very elementary stages, and the arguments for using transliteration or romanization to teach Korean are quite weak. 

The new Korean government system is controversial, and aesthetically unpleasing for English speakers. As expected, Korean government organizations involved in Korean studies funding are starting to insist that projects they fund use the new government system. This seems to be the policy that the Literature Translation Institute is now enforcing with its "100 Korean books in 6 months" for the Frankfurt Book Fair project, for example (though I'm arguing strenuously for an exception for Yale in the case of the book on hangeul that I'm translating...)

Basically, even those authors who claim to be using one system or another screw up badly on almost every line, and the overall situation is a mess. 


Ross King
Associate Professor of Korean, University of British Columbia
Dean, Korean Language Village, Concordia Language Villages

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