[KS] Re: romanization absolutism

Cedar Bough Blomberg umyang at gmail.com
Thu Jun 2 16:54:48 EDT 2005

Responding to the points raised by Prof. Ross King,

RK> 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.
It's not just that Koreans Romanize their own names.  The material on
Korea-- the tourist brochures, the pamphlets, the road signs, the
business letters, the press releases sent abroad, etc.  These are all
created by Korean users of Romanization and they aren't thinking about
whether a letter is aspirated or not, they are merely trying to get
the job done in a consistent way.  Generally on a computer keyboard
that makes MR awkward.

RK> 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?

No, the Koreans neither voted on it, nor are they emotionally attached
to it (most people don't seem to have much of an opinion on it at
all).  The new school textbooks of course use the gov't Romanization
when they Romanize.  So, in that way at least, you could say that they
are learning it in school.  Koreans, in general, seem to find the new
system relatively easy to use, and at this point, a few years into the
new system, people seem to use it comfortably.  As for the DPRK's
system, I must admit I don't know.

RK> 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'?

Well, perhaps I put that badly.  Yes, academics should criticize what
needs criticizing.  And, no, nothing forces you to obey the ROK. 
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.  If one's mind is so completely made up that nothing can
convince one that there is a different way, then obviously any
potential benefits of other ways are dismissed untried.

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".   I really
appreciated his answer.  Isn't that the truth, we use what we're used
to, regardless of what may or may not work best.
> > 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.
RK> Absolutely (and send anybody who suggests otherwise to the firing
squad or the gulag!). Come on, all you Western academics, step into

Don't you think that consistency has some value?  I wasn't suggesting
sending anyone to the firing squad or the gulag, I guess I don't get
that emotional about this issue.  Don't you think the biggest problem
with Romanization of Korean has to do with the fact that you have to
guess all too often what the system the author is using, by scanning
through several Romanized words in the text and looking for signs to
tell you which system is at work?


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