[KS] Revised Romanization of Korean (Reply to Rupert)

Stefan Ewing sa_ewing at hotmail.com
Fri Jun 10 17:25:40 EDT 2005

Dear KS list members:

In reply to Rupert Atkinson, yes, one of the rationales given for switching 
to the current system was its perceived simplicity in computing through its 
non-use of diacritics (the breves and apostrophes that were used in the 
1984, McCune-Reischauer-based system).

This issue has been analyzed to death on this list before (in 1999-2000; 
just search for "romanization" at http://www.koreaweb.ws/ks/), so I will 
forego examining both the technical arguments against and the 
counter-arguments for using diacritics.

While I prefer to use McCune-Reischauer romanization myself and there are 
those who would say that we shouldn't indulge human weakness, I will note, 
however, that a system that does not use diacritics reduces the risk of 
ambiguous misspellings.  Someone may find it lazily convient to write 
"Chongju" instead of the 1984-style "Ch'o^ngju," resulting in a mangled word 
that could conceivably represent one of four different possible Hangul 
spellings.  He or she is less likely to mess with the name, however, if 
writing the 2000-style "Cheongju" as "Chongju" involves dropping an actual 
letter, rather than merely omitting an apostrophe and a breve (the 
apostrophe issue in this example is sidestepped by having /ch/ represent the 
aspirated form of the unaspirated /j/).

(On a sidenote, the very last rule in the 1984 system did in fact allow for 
the omission of diacritics in situations where their inclusion was not 
technically feasible, such as on most typewriters.)

As for the topic of transliteration versus transcription, I believe one of 
the mandates of the people who designed the current system (see Professor 
Sangoak Lee's posts on this list in 1999-2000) was to simultaneously devise 
systems for both transliteration and transcription.  The result was a 
pronunciation-based system (for transcription), with a provision for 
transliteration under special circumstances, that reads as follows (rule 

"When it is necessary to convert Romanized Korean back to Hangeul in special 
cases such as in academic articles, Romanization is done according to 
Hangeul spelling and not pronunciation. Each Hangeul letter is Romanized as 
explained in section 2 except that ¤¡, ¤¤, ¤§, ¤© [giyeok, digeut, bieup, 
rieul] are always written as g, d, b, l. When ¤· [ieung] has no sound value, 
it is replaced by a hyphen[, which] may also be used when it is necessary to 
distinguish between syllables."

Thus, the native Korean word for "price" is normally written in the 2000 
system according to its pronunciation, as /gap/, but in transliteration is 
written according to its spelling, as /gabs/.  The situations in which 
transliteration is to be used instead of transcription are presumably those 
in which readers would understand that the way the word is spelled is *not* 
the way that it is to be pronounced, so that the sort of howlers (which I 
have no desire to resurrect here) used to criticize the very old, 1959 
transliteration-based system would not cause unnecessary misunderstandings.

Stefan Ewing

>From: "rupert" <rupert at aks.ac.kr>
>Reply-To: Korean Studies Discussion List <Koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws>
>To: <Koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws>
>Subject: [KS] Re: KOR 2000
>Date: Thu, 9 Jun 2005 14:42:27 +0900
>I just checked out the Ministry of Culture's site and Boudewijn Walraven  
>is right. However, methinks something is amiss since some of the early talk 
>about the change concerned the attempt to produce a system of 
>transliteration following the success of Pinyin. The proof of the pudding 
>is that it is impossible to make a perfect system, and since there are so 
>many - exceptions - that they have had no choice but to follow - sound - - 
>to admit it - to keep the system sensible. On their site they say, 
>strangely under the heading of "Changes" that : "Principles of 
>transcriptions are the same as in the old system, in that words are 
>Romanized according to sound, as opposed to a transliteration system..."  
>Then they give examples of those words that were origianlly (as I remember) 
>labelled as exceptions such as - ??[??] Halla; ???[???] Sinmunno; ??[??] 
>Jongno; ???[???] Dongnimmun etc. And then, further down, it says: "the old 
>system did not reflect the phonetic characteristics of the Korean 
>language..." which, seems to suggest the old system did not reflect sound. 
>If they wanted transliteration they should have gone with examples like 
>'Sinla'. So I guess, it is a compromise.
>I think the primary reason for making the new system was for computing, a 
>secondary reason might have been 'nationalistic culture', another reason 
>was the success of Pinyin, and the result was a compromise met between 
>transliteration and sound due to the imposibility of the task to create a 
>perfect system to match the Roman alphabet with Korean letters.
> > KOR 2000 -different from the old Ministry of Education system- is not a
> > system based on transliteration. I quote from the brochure explaining
> > the new system (p. 8): "The basic principles of transcriptions are the
> > same as in the old [McR] system, in that words are Romanized according
> > to sound, as opposed to a transliteration system, in which Romanization
> > would be done according to Korean spelling without regard to
> > pronunciation." Hence "Silla" and not "Shinla" (p. 7). That makes it a
> > lot less simple. To Koreans it seems more simple because it has adopted
> > some features they became familiar with through the system that preceded
> > McCune-Reischauer.
> > Cheers,
> > Boudewijn Walraven
> >

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