[KS] romanization absolutism

Stefan Ewing sa_ewing at hotmail.com
Fri Jun 3 21:36:46 EDT 2005

Dear fellow list members:

I must admit to not fully appreciating the strength and versatility of the 
Yale system until precisely the moment of discovering that anything I write 
in Han'gu^l/Hangeul or Hancha/Hanja shows up here on the KS list as 
indecipherable gobbledygook!

(That goes for the McC.-R. diacritics too, evidently, as we have now all 
discovered.  A key to my last post: ŏ denotes o^, while ŭ denotes 

I am afraid to say that the esteemed Dr. Ledyard's opinion is probably a 
minority one, but one that merits consideration.  It would certainly work 
for those of us familiar with the sound change rules, which includes even 
very beginning students of Korean.  But still, newspaper readers and 
tourists would be at a disadvantage, and while print media are not made for 
such an audience exclusively, their needs for an easily understood 
Romanization system (at least in the case of tourists) are perhaps the most 

Perhaps a phoneticized Yale system that accounted for sound changes?  But 
then this would negate one of the highly practical and notable points in its 
favour that Dr. Ledyard mentioned: the ability to conduct unambiguous 
catalogue or Web searches.

Ah, the elusive dream!  Whoever can summon the sweet manna from heaven--a 
pronunciation-based system that meets with widespread approval and adoption 
by both first- and second-lanuage speakers, both within Korea (ideally in 
both the South and the North) and outside it, _and_ that is accessible even 
to people who have no knowledge of the language at all--will surely deserve 
a Nobel Prize.

Stefan Ewing

>From: gkl1 at columbia.edu
>Reply-To: Korean Studies Discussion List <Koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws>
>To: Korean Studies Discussion List <Koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws>
>Subject: Re: [KS] romanization absolutism
>Date: Fri, 03 Jun 2005 16:33:54 -0400
>    Bob Ramsey's wonderful piece on Sam Martin and the invention of
>the Yale system was a revelation. I had never heard that story,
>even though I was in Seoul in 1954 when it was published in the
>Cosen ilpo and The Korea Times, with both of which I had something
>of an association.
>    If the early version of his Yale system was published in Korea as
>one of the results of his invitation by Syngman Rhee to render
>advice on Korean orthography, then the government of Korea once had
>a role quite different from more recent governments' tendency to
>exclude foreigners from the deliberative processes. This stimulates
>the following:
>    One of the obstacles that Yale presents to Everyman is that it
>rules out the possibility of accomodating Korean consonantal sandhi
>in romanization, which means that we get Laklang and Sinla instead
>of Nangnang and Silla (I still like Syilla). This affects a large
>number of compound words and would be a problem. Another was the
>/wu/ we've been talking about, which gives renderings like
>Cwungkwuk for "China".
>    I have long held the view that these problems pretty much ruled
>Yale out as a practical system for the general public or even for a
>lot of scholarly writers who are relatively unable to deal with
>linguistics neatness when it upsets their common sense conventions.
>  But in the last couple of decades, I've been impressed by how
>easily the Pinyin system for Chinese has gained broad acceptance,
>in spite of its array of (for English speakers) unusual values for
>common letters, c (=aspirated ts), z (=dz), q (=ch, before
>palatalized vowels), x (=sh, before the same), etc. Moreover, the
>vowels i and u have quite different pronunciations depending on the
>preceeding consonant. But professionals and a large part of the
>general public have gotten used to these strange spellings, and one
>now sees the old Wade-Giles system only rarely or in old books. But
>Chinese government support, if not actual insistence, plus the fact
>that the system is taught in Chinese schools and every Chinese has
>a general understanding of it (in all aspects except word division)
>--all this has created a strong supportive environment for making
>the rest of the world accept Peking's spelling preferences.
>    If the Korean government would accept Yale, and be as publicly
>involved, supportive, consistent, and as enlightened as the Chinese
>government has been in making it a core part of its education and
>information policies nationwide and worldwide, it seems to me that
>Yale's much less bizarre equivalences might just as easily come to
>be accepted by both professionals and the general public. If such
>conditions came about, scholars in general, journalists, and people
>like me who cannot accept the defects of "New 2000," would have no
>alternative but to abandon McCune-Reischauer and jump on the band
>wagon. Koreans themselves would, from school days on, get used to
>making the same instinctive consonantal sandhi changes that they do
>with Hankul, and maybe they might get away from the universal chaos
>of the "maumtaylo" system and develop habits of a more uniform
>spelling for their personal names, perhaps approaching the general
>situation in China and Japan.
>    Yale has many advantages that satisfy the original goals that the
>romanization committees were asked to deal with in 1998 and 1999.
>1) Its letter-for-letter (in some instances also unambiguous
>digraphs) system makes things much easier for Koreans and the rest
>of us too;
>2) there are no diacritics, only ordinary roman letters are used;
>3) unambiguous search capability and other computer applications are
>made possible;
>4) easy transliteration both from Hankul to Yale and Yale to Hankul.
>5) it is a Korea-specific system with no catering to conventional
>Western phonetic prejudices.
>Just a thought...
>Finally, a note on Syngman Rhee (Li Sungman) and Hankul orthography.
>One wonders about Rhee's motivation in calling in a foreign scholar
>for advice on this question. Rhee never accepted the 1933
>thong.il.an on Hankul orthography. It was developed while he was in
>exile and the Japanese were in charge (though it was completely a
>Korean project from beginning to end), and he would have none of
>it. He also seems to have had an emotional attachment to the
>orthography of the late 19th century, which in his personal
>writings he used to the end of his life. His wrangling with his own
>Ministry of Education on this issue was legendary. The academic
>establishment was solidly behind the 1933 reforms, not merely
>because of their modernity and good sense but especially because
>the Japanese had had nothing to do with them, and they never gave
>in to him. Do you suppose he called in an international scholar to
>get some leverage against these people and their "new" spelling? It
>would be interesting to know if Sam Martin could tell us anything
>about that.
>Gari Ledyard
>Quoting Robert Ramsey <ramsey at umd.edu>:
> > 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 proceedings.
> >
> >     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
> >

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