[KS] Re: romanization absolutism

jrpking jrpking at interchange.ubc.ca
Thu Jun 2 17:40:50 EDT 2005

Thanks to Cedar Bough Blomberg for responding to my various points. 
I wanted just to comment on this: 

> However when academics dismiss the efforts of the ROK gov't so
> pervasively, I wonder how many of them have even given the new system
> a chance.  

I don't know how 'pervasive' non-Korean academic criticism of the new system is (and by the way, I am aware of a significant amount of criticism of the new system from academics and other Koreans in Korea, too), but certainly there is a widespread sense that the National Academy of the Korean Language fixed something that wasn't really broken. 

The most scathing review I have seen of the new system is by Lev Rafaelovich Kontsevich of the Russian Academy of Sciences -- as distinguished an expert on Korean language, linguistics, philology and writing as one will ever find, and moreover, a scholar steeped in the very significant Soviet experience and expertise with graphemics, writing system reform, transcription, "Latinization," you name it. What I have seen is in Russian from a conference a few years ago in Vladivostok, but is quite damning -- perhaps an English version of it exists somewhere, and if not, it richly deserves to be translated and brought to the attention of those who care more than casually about this issue. 

Kontsevich's criticisms are all on the technical, writing systems/linguistic level. But there was also a certain non-technical bloodymindedness that attended the advocacy of the new system, one that had nothing to do with the linguistic technicalities of romanization and everything to do with culture, perceptions of American influence in anything and everything Korean, politics, you name it, ane one that ignored tradition and history, purporting (so far as I can ascertain) that McCune-Reischauer was somehow 'not Korean enough'. Peter Schroepfer has pointed out in a recent article in _Korea Journal_ that McCune-Reischauer might just as well have been called the "Yonhui romanization," given the significant input of and consultations with Korean grammarians like Ch'oe Hyonbae and others at the time. 

> When asked about his Romanization, one of my very wise professors (a
> Korean, trained at Harvard, and of very advanced years) said of the
> Romanization system "I just use the one I'm used to".   

We are all nothing if not creatures of habit. One other major problem (in light of your challenge to 'give the new system a chance' first) in all of this is that it appears that the Koreans themselves never gave the old system a chance -- never taught it in schools, never practiced it, enforced it, or gave _it_ a chance to become part of their habits. 

I _hate_ using McCune-Reischauer because it is so goshdarn awful to proofread, but use it I feel I must in non-technical-linguistic papers on Korea. 


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

More information about the Koreanstudies mailing list