[KS] In praise of Dr. Samuel E. Martin

Stefan Ewing sa_ewing at hotmail.com
Mon Jun 6 14:14:44 EDT 2005

Dear fellow list members:

The recent discussion regarding romanization and Hankul orthography has 
reminded me of the many ways in which Dr. Samuel E. Martin has influenced 
the western study of Korean linguistics over the years.

First of all, he has left a permanent mark on the western study of Korean 
through the evidently unassailable position held therein by the Yale 
Romanization of Korean.  For reasons Robert Ramsey, this humble writer, and 
others have outlined, the system is in many ways unsurpassed, despite its 
purposefully not being pronunciation-based at all.

His _Reference Grammar of Korean_ is surely the singlemost thorough and 
exhaustive treatment of Korean grammar in English.  I would dare say that it 
must even compete with some of the more comprehensive grammar texts in 
Korean.  And then there is the _Korean-English Dictionary_ he wrote with 
Yang Ha Lee and Sung-Un Chang, surely a marvel for English-speaking scholars 
of Korean.

I will use an anecdote to describe my own experience with the RGK.  The 
primary goal of my study of Korean has been to obtain conversational 
fluency.  Despite the best advice of those close to me (!), I have found 
that the key strategy in attaining my goal has been to study Korean grammar 
extensively.  Of all the complexities of Korean for a native Indo-European 
speaker, I have struggled with but largely surmounted the difficulties of 
politeness/formality levels (/malche/), pronunciation,  the tricky /(n)un/ 
topic particle, and the like.  One stumbling block that has always been an 
obstacle for me, however, has been the highly complex system of counting 
nouns (/tanwi myengsa/).  Which counter goes with which noun?  What is the 
counter for x?  Should I use native Korean or Sino-Korean numbers?  Where 
does the particle go--after the noun or after the counter?  (The answer to 
the last question came from the NAKL, by the way: it depends on which part 
of the noun phrase you want to emphasize.)

I finally turned to the RGK--looking up something else entirely 
unrelated--and discovered his section on counting nouns.  It was a godsend!  
There they were: counters familiar and obscure, current and traditional, 
more in number than I could possibly imagine, analyzed into lists according 
to the items they count and the numbers they go with, and augmented 
throughout with useful examples.

One of Dr. Martin's greatest strengths is his ability to write equally 
adeptly for both academic and lay audiences.  My first encounter with his 
work was the 1954 pocketbook _Korean in a Hurry_, a delightful work I 
discovered quite by accident, in a second-hand bookshop over 40 years after 
it was first published.  Part phrase book, part miniature textbook, the work 
is organized not in the contemporary fashion by theme (greetings, shopping, 
eating out, etc.) but by part of speech and grammatical construction.  There 
is one chapter for the determinative modifiers /nun, (u)n, (u)l/, another 
for the dependent nouns /ttaymun/ and /kkatalk/, and so on, each dry topic 
being lavishly accompanied by simple, practical, and highly applicable 
examples.  (On a side note, the book uses McCune-Reischauer romanization 
throughout, with a note on Hankul and Yale Romanization at the end.)  I have 
come a long way since that book (though not long enough, alas!), but the 
lessons learned therein still lie at the foundation of my knowledge of 

In addition to Korean linguistics, Dr. Martin has of course contributed to 
the western study of Japanese as well.  I am much less familiar with his 
work on Japanese linguistics, but I will note that here, too, he wrote for 
both scholars and laypeople.  He wrote both the _Reference Grammar of 
Japanese_ and _Martin's Concise Japanese-English Dictionary_, the one book 
aimed at those with a thorough knowledge of Japanese, and the other at those 
with little or no knowledge of the language at all.

I don't wish to embarrass anyone with this gushing praise, so I will stop 
right now.  And this is in no way to slight the excellent work done by so 
many others, both Korean and non-Korean, many of whom are participants in 
this very discussion list.  My only point is that Dr. Martin has more than 
earned his position of honour in the western study of both Korean and 
Japanese, a position recognized among other places in last year's Special 
Issue of the journal _Japanese Language and Literature_.  The highly 
entertaining anecdote regarding his being summoned by Syngman Rhee to reform 
Hankul orthography (thank you, Professors Ramsey and King) only reinforces 
the impression that he is truly a first among equals.

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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