[KS] Ch'oe Sejin; Days of the Week; Choso^n Dynasty Regnal Years

Robert Ramsey ramsey at umd.edu
Sat Jun 11 13:13:43 EDT 2005

If I may, I'd just like to offer a couple of short notes about the first of Stefan Ewing's questions.  The dictionary definitions he mentions are, in a way, relics of how Chinese characters used to be used to transcribe Korean.  The hun method of reading characters may have long since disappeared from modern Korean life--so much so many people associate hun readings only with Japan (where they're called kun readings--yama for 山 'mountain', for example)--but it was certainly used, apparently quite commonly, in early Korea as well.  The first king of Silla, for example, is known to us as Hyokkose (hyekkesey in Yale Romanization), because that's how the characters used to transcribe his name (赫居世) are read in Contemporary Korean pronunciation.  But the name was also written in phonograms as 弗矩內, and the only way to reconcile the two transcriptions is to assume that the most common transcription represented hun-style readings, where the characters were chosen for the meanings they represented.  Thus, the king's "name" meant something like '(Monarch of) the Shining Age'.  We see the hun style of reading characters on full display in the Hyangga poems (though many of these readings and their meanings (most?) are uninterpretable).  If we look, for example, at David McCann's 1997 translation of one of the most transparent of the poems, the "Song of Ch'oyang", we see that in these hyangch'al transcriptions hun readings were used fully as much as kun readings are in Japanese.  

    Before the invention of Hangul, that's how Chinese characters were often used to represent ordinary Korean words (in 13th-century medical treatises, for example).  And, as Stefan Ewing implies, Ch'oe Sejin certainly made of use them in the 16th century, too, most obviously perhaps in the names he gave to the Hangul letters, where, for example, the character 衣 (uy 'clothing') was used to illustrate the final -s of 시옷 sios, because it could be read as os 'clothing'.  (These matters are discussed in detail in Gari Ledyard's The Korean Language Reform of 1446.)  

    Robert Ramsey

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Stefan Ewing" <sa_ewing at hotmail.com>
To: <Koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws>
Sent: Friday, June 10, 2005 9:22 PM
Subject: [KS] Ch'oe Sejin; Days of the Week; Choso^n Dynasty Regnal Years

> Dear KS list members:
> I have three arcane questions, all on topics that have nothing to do with 
> romanization.  The first concerns the _hun_ readings (traditional 
> definitions) of hanja, the second the Korean names of the days of the week, 
> and the third the numbering of years using Korean versus Chinese reign 
> names.  The first two may perhaps be of the "Why is the sky blue?" variety, 
> but I am confident that at least some among you may be able to answer them.
> 1.  In _okp'yo^n_ (hanja dictionaries), the _hun_ readings (native Korean 
> definitions) of characters often use archaic words or _natch'ummal_ for 
> nouns, or the determinative _-(u^)l_ ending for verbs and adjectives.  
> Examples will be familiar to most readers: _me san_ for "mountain"; _o^mi 
> mo_ for "mother"; _kal wang_ for "go."
> This practice would appear to be of rather ancient origin.  The question is, 
> how ancient and to whom may we attribute these delightfully fascinating but 
> fossilized forms?  Is this due to the work of Ch'oe Sejin in his 1527 
> _Hunmong Chahoe_, his great collection of hanja with Hangul glosses?  I 
> don't suppose there could be any attestations to this practice that are much 
> older than his work, unless Koryo^-era scholars wrote definitions in Idu!
> 2.  How did the naming of days in Korea and Japan after the Sun, the Moon, 
> and the planets (or traditional five elements) come about?  The 
> correspondence between the seven days of the week in Korean and Japanese on 
> the one hand and European languages on the other is surely too similar to be 
> a coincidence.
> The English names of the days of the week denote the Sun, the Moon, Mars 
> (the Teutonic deity Tiw), Mercury (Woden), Jupiter (Thor), Venus (Frigga 
> (sp.?), and Saturn, in that order.  Similarly, the Korean and Japanese names 
> of the days of the week denote the Sun, the Moon, Mars (Hwaso^ng), Mercury 
> (Suso^ng), Jupiter (Mokso^ng), Venus (Ku^mso^ng), and Saturn (T'oso^ng) 
> respectively.
> I notice than in modern written Chinese, days of the week are numbered, 
> their names having nothing to do with any sort of cosmological system.  I 
> also see that in the Kyujanggak's online edition of the _Ilso^nggi_ (late 
> Choso^n-dynasty court diary), days are named or numbered using the _yuksip 
> kapcha_, the same system used for numbering years in vernacular documents of 
> that period.  Was there any system for naming days of the week (rather than 
> as part of a 60-day cycle) in use at that time?  How did the correspondence 
> between names of days of the week and the planets (or five elements) come 
> about?  Is this a modern contrivance from the late 19th-century drives for 
> westernization?
> 3.  Someone recently informed me that he believed that during the 
> Choso^n/Joseon Dynasty (at least prior to 1896 when the era _Ko^nyang_ 
> began), while Korean regnal years (reign years; yo^nho) were used for dating 
> the Sillok (royal chronicles), _Chinese_ regnal years were used for dating 
> official documents.  Thus, the year 1887 would have been recorded as "Kojong 
> 25 nyo^n" in the _Kojong Sillok_, but as "Kwangso^ [Guangxu] 13 nyo^n" in 
> official documents.  Could someone please tell me whether this is in fact 
> the case?
> I will be grateful for any and all answers to these vexing questions!
> Thanks,
> Stefan Ewing
> _________________________________________________________________
> Take advantage of powerful junk e-mail filters built on patented Microsoft® 
> SmartScreen Technology. 
> http://join.msn.com/?pgmarket=en-ca&page=byoa/prem&xAPID=1994&DI=1034&SU=http://hotmail.com/enca&HL=Market_MSNIS_Taglines 
>  Start enjoying all the benefits of MSN® Premium right now and get the 
> first two months FREE*.
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://koreanstudies.com/pipermail/koreanstudies_koreanstudies.com/attachments/20050611/eaab83d4/attachment.html>

More information about the Koreanstudies mailing list