[KS] romanization absolutism

Stefan Ewing sa_ewing at hotmail.com
Fri Jun 3 13:26:42 EDT 2005

Dear list members:

(I am going to attempt to use McCune-Reischauer breves in this post.  Please 
let me know off-list if they do not appear properly in your email program.  
I have already experimented with Korean script, with disastrous results!)

First off, I must agree with Robert Ramsey.  If one wishes to transliterate 
Korean--that is, represent Han'gŭl/Hangeul orthography in the Roman 
alphabet--Yale has no rival.  Indeed, one if its greatest strengths is the 
intensive /q/.

I will slightly contradict what I wrote yesterday and point out that, for 
the most part, the relationship between spelling and punctuation in 
Han'gŭl is of course highly regular and quite well defined.  Sound 
changes in consonants abound, but they are for the most part well documented 
and highly predictable.  Thus, if one is familiar with sound change rules 
and with the Yale system, one can read a Yale transliteration aloud and 
achieve the same pronunciation (or mispronunciation, depending on the 
speaker!) as if the word were written in Han'gŭl.

Where the Han'gŭl system breaks down ever so slightly is--as I 
mentioned yesterday and as intimated in Professor Ramsey's comments--in the 
intensification that occurs but is not shown in certain final-initial pairs 
of mid-word consonants.  (This is, of course, not a weakness of Han'gŭl 
itself at all, but rather of modern Han'gŭl orthographic conventions.  
And if the apostrophe were still used in the North--which Professor Ramsey 
seems to suggest is not the case--then this would in particular be a 
weakness unique to Southern orthography.)

The Korean _P'yojun Parŭmpŏp_ (_Standard Pronunciation Rules_) 
devotes six long, detailed rules in a separate section to intenstification 
in words that lack the telltale South Korean saissiot (interstitial /s/)).  
Some cases, however, are not covered.  As in my example yesterday, what are 
we to make of the treatment of the sequence niŭn-chiŭt (Yale 
/-n.c-/) in Sino-Korean words?  Consider /chŏnja/ ("transliteration") 
and /hancha/, both of which have a long vowel in the first syllable and the 
same character /kŭlcha cha/ in the second syallable.  Yet the /c/ is 
intensified in the second case but not in the first.  (By the way, if anyone 
in this esteemed audience can provide a rule of thumb for cases such as 
this, I would be eternally grateful to know what it is!)

Thus, someone reading both of these words in Han'gŭl and unfamiliar 
with their correct pronunciation would presumably do the sensible thing and 
pronounce them both in the same way (either /-nj-/ or /-n(t)ch-/).  The 
logic of the Yale system, however, requires that intensification be 
explicitly shown--resulting in /cen.ca/ and /hanqca/ respectively--giving 
the reader one more clue than in the original Han'gŭl to each word's 
correct pronunciation.

Now, one brief, hopefully uncontentious note on the matter of 
McCune-Reischauer versus the Revised Romanization.  (I leave out but 
acknowledge that there are other romanization systems as well, including the 
official Northern system.)  Both the 1980 _Report on the Workshop Conference 
on Romanization_ and Peter Schroepfer's 2001 article _The Practical Politics 
of Romanization_ mention that to many first-language Korean speakers, the 
current (2000 Revised) system seems eminently more logical to write, and 
more accurately reflects how most native speakers' conceptions of how their 
language is pronounced.  The disconnect occurs because for second-language 
Korean speakers, the McCune-Reischauer system more accurately reflects 
_their_ conception of how the language is pronounced.  One is more logical 
to _write_ for many first-language speakers, while the other is more logical 
to _read_ for many second-language speakers (at least those whose first 
language is English).  Can we reconcile this?  If so (and I hope we can), 
how do we reconcile this?

Stefan Ewing

>From: "Robert Ramsey" <ramsey at umd.edu>
>Reply-To: Korean Studies Discussion List <Koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws>
>To: "Korean Studies Discussion List" <Koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws>
>CC: "S. Robert Ramsey" <ramsey at umd.edu>
>Subject: Re: [KS] romanization absolutism
>Date: Thu, 2 Jun 2005 18:58:14 -0400
>Dear colleagues,
>Well, I swore I wouldn't get involved in the conversation this time, but 
>there are a few things I can't help but add to what's been said about Yale 
>Romanization.  (Sam Martin himself has not responded because he's no longer 
>a member of the discussion group.)
>    The first is a word about what Yale is supposed to be used for.  I 
>think everyone on this list knows by now that Yale was never intended to 
>replace or displace McR.  Martin created Yale Romanization as a linguistic 
>tool; it was meant to maximize the transparency of Korean phonological and 
>morphological structure, and for that it has never been equaled, much less 
>surpassed.  For example, word spacing is used liberally to show junctures; 
>and the /q/ (as in _hanqca_ 'Chinese characters' or _anq pang_ 'inner 
>room'), which some on this list seem to have found upsetting, is used to 
>show instances of a phonemic distinction ("glottalization", or 
>"reinforcement") not always indicated in South Korean Hangul orthography. 
>(But notice that the distinction Martin writes with a /q/ used to be 
>indicated in North Korean orthography with an apostrophe.)  If you're 
>writing tourist brochures or even historical treatises, fine: leave them 
>out.  But if you're a linguist, or interested in linguistic matters, you 
>have to have a representation of these distinctions.
>    Now, some confusion has been caused by the fact that there are 
>essentially two versions of Yale Romanization.  One is the narrow version 
>used to represent the contemporary Seoul standard, and the other is a 
>broader version, which, as Ross King and Gari Ledyard have pointed out, is 
>necessary to represent (among other things) orthographic distinctions used 
>before the 1933 Unification of Hangul Orthography.  Gari Ledyard prefers 
>the broader version because, as he says, Yale otherwise loses its advantage 
>in always enabling the restoration of the Hangul orthography.  Perhaps I 
>shouldn't speak for Sam Martin, but I'm pretty sure he'd agree by now.
>    The reason there are two versions of Yale is because of Martin's own 
>research history.  The narrow version of Yale was created in the early 
>1950s; Martin did not use it in his1951 _Language_ article on Korean 
>phonemics, but he did in his famous 1954 monograph on Korean 
>morphophonemics.  During this early period in Martin's career, the 
>President of South Korea, Syngman Rhee, invited Martin to Seoul for 
>consultation on orthographic reform, turning to an outsider for help with 
>complex problems in Hangul(!) orthography, because Martin was then 
>considered the West's foremost authority on Korean--even though he was 
>still only thirty years old!  Martin's findings and recommendations were 
>subsequently published, in 1954, in leading Korean dailies in both Korean 
>and English.  ("An open letter to the Minister of Education of the Republic 
>of Korea [regarding orthographic reform]".  English version: _The Korea 
>Times_ 1954:7-8, 9; Korean version: _Cosen Ilpo_ 1954:7-12.)   It's there 
>in that letter that we find the formation of this first, narrow version of 
>Yale Romanization.  This first version is also the one that appeared later 
>in most of Martin's reference works, including his famous 1968 
>Korean-English dictionary, and it is still the one most commonly used.  (An 
>outline of Martin's research history and a list of his published works can 
>be found in the _Special Issue In Honor of Samuel E. Martin, Japanese 
>Language and Literature_ 38:2 (October 2004)--for those of you who might 
>not know, by the way, Martin is as important a figure in the field of 
>Japanese linguistics as he is in Korean.)
>    The second, broader version of Yale finds expression in Martin's later 
>works centered on historical research, especially those on the texts of the 
>Middle Korean period (15th and 16th centuries).  Once Martin had expanded 
>his research significantly into the philological records, he altered his 
>Romanization system to reflect Hangul orthographic distinctions more 
>directly.  His 1992 _A Reference Grammar of Korean_ is probably the most 
>easily available reference work where you can find that system explained. 
>What's important to note here is, as Ross King has pointed out, there is as 
>yet no other Romanization system in common use for linguistic writings on 
>the history of Korean.  Yale Romanization is used, for example, in all of 
>Sohn Ho-min's books and articles, as well as in Lee and Ramsey's _The 
>Korean Language_.
>    What I find most surprising about the new, South Korean 
>government-sponsored Romanization is that it breaks the ties of 
>correspondence to Hangul orthography, ties which the broader version of 
>Yale shows most clearly.  Sure, charts have been produced showing how 
>modern Hangul consonants and vowels can be mapped into the consonants and 
>vowels of the government Romanization;  /e/ is written <eo>; /ey/ is <e>; 
>and so on. But these orthographic decisions have left no way to reflect in 
>a clear and structured way the phonological changes that the language has 
>undergone, and that are known principally through the pre-1933 orthography. 
>  How did that happen?   Why did the SK government decide to ignore 
>Sejong's writing system?  Many of the discussions leading up to the 
>construction of the system certainly included Korean linguists who had 
>spent much of their careers researching the linguistic history of the 
>language and obviously knew the difficulties the new Romanization would 
>cause.  And so, though I do not personally know much about it, I suspect 
>many dissenting and unhappy voices were heard along the way in these 
>    In any event--and in conclusion--I'd like to ask the advocates of 
>government Romanization on this discussion list to try and understand why 
>many of us not only prefer to use Yale in our work; for us, there really is 
>no choice.
>    Robert Ramsey
>    University of Maryland
>----- Original Message ----- From: "jrpking" <jrpking at interchange.ubc.ca>
>To: "Cedar Bough Blomberg" <umyang at gmail.com>; "Korean Studies Discussion 
>List" <Koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws>
>Sent: Thursday, June 02, 2005 12:55 PM
>Subject: [KS] romanization absolutism
>>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
>>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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