[KS] Romanization systems

jrpking jrpking at interchange.ubc.ca
Wed Jun 1 17:52:00 EDT 2005

[hit DELETE if the technicalities or romanization bore you!]

> 2.  Samuel E. Martin's _Reference Grammar of Korean_ states that "wu" should 
> be written as "u" after "m," "p," "pp," or "ph."  I can see the rule in 
> front of me in the book with my own eyes, but can anyone confirm that this 
> practice is adhered to?  

Technically speaking, this 'abbreviation' of "wu" to just "u" after labials is optional, at least for anything written post-1933 (when the Unified Hankul Orthography was promulgated). 

In practice, most linguists nowadays who start an article claiming they are adhering to Yale system have romanization errors on every line. 

Personally, I prefer to always write out "wu" after labials for a variety of reasons (but mostly having to do with Korean language history). The motivation for allowing this abbreviation is the fact that, in modern spoken Korean, there is no distinction between, say, "mu" and "mwu." But there are still cases when written Korean writes "u" after labials, as in the case of 'happy': "kipputa." An unsuspecting sort might process this incorrectly as being abbreviated from "kippwuta" (which is the way it is pronounced at normal speed). 

> Also, the same book states quite clearly what "wi" and "yu" should be 
> written as such.  In a recent paper by the UNGEGN Working Group on 
> Romanization Systems (a UN committee), however, these are written as "wuy" 
> and "ywu" respectively.  Has the Yale system in fact changed, or would this 
> have been a case of someone's not reading the rules very carefully, 

Here again, "wi" and "yu" are really just convenenient abbreviations for what would be "wuy" and "ywu" if one was following the Yale system ruthlessly consistently. I think the people you were reading actually read the rules super-carefully.

These abbreviations cause no harm or confusion, because, for example, "u" and "wu" do not contrast after "y." 

But for anything written in hankul before 1933, one needs to follow Yale ruthlessly, in which case it is quite handy at capturing certain features of hankul structure and Korean phonology (which cannot be said of either McCune-Reischauer or the ROK government system, both of which are pretty lousy when it comes to transcribing anything pre-modern), and, _pace_ some of the voices on this list recently, you can't just tell everybody in the world to learn hankul before they read our books and articles. 

Finally, somebody suggested using IPA instead of the various systems we have. This is a non-starter, but didn't stop, say, Professor Hyun-bok Lee from using IPA _phonetic_ symbols to transliterate _(morpho-)phonemic_ hankul graphemes in all the examples in his English-language Korean grammar, which makes for quite an abomination, and is just as misleading when it comes to actual pronunciation of Korean as any other system. IPA is for close, phonetic transcription of spoken data -- not for transliteration of written texts or romanization. 

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

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