[KS] romanization absolutism

jrpking jrpking at interchange.ubc.ca
Thu Jun 2 12:55:06 EDT 2005

There are numerous problems with the points C. B. Blomberg raises, too many to unpack. But here are a few reactions: 

> 1.  The majority of people who Romanize Korean words are native
> speakers of Korean, not of English.  Therefore, a Romanization system
> which works for them would seem to be most reasonable.

Lots of different people romanize Korean for lots of different purposes. Each constituency has different needs and purposes, and in ideal circumstances, one romanization system would meet all needs (Japanese comes close to this ideal -- in other words, pretty much any way you romanize it, not much controversy). But with Korean, it is the nature of the beast that different constituencies will need different systems, and that one system will never satisfy all constituencies. 

For Korean citizens who need to romanize their names for passports and other such purposes, by all means -- it's their business. But that doesn't mean all the rest of us should just abandon other systems and flock to whatever the ROK is doing lately.

> 2.  The new system of the Korean gov't is, provided it does not change
> again, the system of the Korean people

Whoa. Did the Koreans vote on it? Does it have some set of vaunted democratic credentials that I wasn't aware of? Do the Koreans have, say, the same emotional attachments to it they do to hankul? Do they learn it and practice it in school? Do they adhere to it in practice in a wide range of contexts? And what of the DPRK system - is that just chopped liver now? 

>and isn't it reasonable for
> them to figure out how to Romanize their own language? 

Sure. But equally reasonable for the rest of us to figure out useful ways to do it, too [what -- is the ability of analyze Korean linguistically and devise transcription systems for it somehow genetic?], and use them if we see fit and in contexts that are not subject to Korean law. 

> Why do Western
> academics think they have the right to criticize the Korean
> governments language policy?

Academics in general -- whether Western or whatever -- have a right and obligation to criticize whatever they think needs criticizing (a seniment that most Korean students and academics would readily agree to, one assumes). The question for me is: just because the ROK says 'x' do I as a student of things Korean have to do 'y'?

So, if the ROK government-approved Korean language textbooks for Korean school children  use a particular grammatical term or grammatical analysis, should I be following that in my Korean language teaching? 
> 3.  The absolutely most essential thing for Korean Romanization is
> that it be set, fixed and stop changing.  The most effective way for
> this to happen is for the Western academic community and every other
> user/consumer of Romanized material to ---support--- the gov't
> efforts.  

Absolutely (and send anybody who suggests otherwise to the firing squad or the gulag!). Come on, all you Western academics, step into line! 

> 4.  Korean is hard to Romanize... there are no "everyone wins"
> solutions to how to Romanize some syllables.

All the more reason for different systems to just co-exist peacefully. Maybe someday, when, for the first time ever, there is a unified standardized set of language norms established for a unified Korea, and that new Korea devises a more or less sensible romanization system, I might follow it for certain, less technical purposes. 

But otherwise, McCune-Reischauer and Yale work for me, depending on wha I'm doing, and I resent anybody -- ROK government or romanization absolutists -- telling me otherwise. 

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

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