[KS] Romanization revisited

Afostercarter at aol.com Afostercarter at aol.com
Sun Nov 5 05:15:04 EST 2006

Dear all,

For those who need a regular fix of romanization wars, this is fun.
And the table is useful.

Can't say I much care for Prof Kim's system.
As we says in Yorkshire: Yee Baegahm!

best wishes

Honorary Senior Research Fellow in Sociology & Modern Korea, Leeds University 

Home address: 17 Birklands Road, Shipley, West Yorkshire, BD18 3BY, UK 
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Email: afostercarter at aol.com     (alt) afostercarter at yahoo.com      website: 
[Please use @aol; but if any problems, please try @yahoo too - and let me 
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'Money Leaks Out Between Cheju and Jeju'

By Ryu Jin
Staff Reporter 

Cheju and Jeju _ are these two the same place? 

On what is officially called Jeju Island, travelers can find ``Cheju'' 
written on many signboards such as that of Cheju National University. And there is 
an elderly economic scholar, who has staged an uphill battle to end the 
confusion between the two. 

Kim Bok-moon, 75, an honorary professor of Chungbuk National University and 
chairman of the Research Institute for Korean Romanization (KOROMA), devoted 
most of his adult life to devising a ``rational'' romanization system. 

``An astronomical amount of money is leaking out even at this moment due to 
the confusion caused by the wrong Romanization system,'' Kim said in an 
interview with The Korea Times. ``We should end this confusion as soon as possible.'' 

Total Confusion 
Romanization is a method to represent the words of a language that has a 
different writing system using the Roman alphabet, also known as the Latin 
alphabet. China, Japan and South Korea have different romanization systems because 
their languages have different pronunciation structures. 

Hangul, the Korean alphabet, was first romanized using the McCune-Reischauer 
(M-R) system in the early 20th century, when a number of foreign missionaries 
came to Choson. But the country's romanization policies fluctuated in the 
following decades. 

``Confusions we experience today have been caused largely by the arbitrary 
attitudes of some armchair linguists and misguided government officials,'' Kim 
said, explaining how the latest system was enacted in July 2000. 

Scrapping the M-R system, the government, then led by Kim Dae-jung, adopted a 
new system, shifting ``Pusan,'' ``kobukson,'' or turtle ship, and ``Koryo'' 
into ``Busan,'' ``geobukseon'' and ``Goryeo.'' 

Kim considered the new formula a total failure because it seemed like a 
return to the old Ministry of Education system, which was discarded in 1984. 
Under the new guidelines, writers are to transcribe four consonants (?, ?, ?, 
?) into g, d, b and j instead of k, t, p and ch, respectively, regardless of 
whether they are used as voiceless or voiced sounds. 

In the M-R system, the Korean g (?) is transcribed as k when it begins a word 
or when it ends a syllable, as can be seen in Kimpo and Koryo. But under the 
revised system, they are written out as Gimpo and Goryeo. Likewise, with Pusan 
and Cheju, which were changed to be Busan and Jeju. 

``As for the vowels, the new format employed eo for ?, and eu for ?, under 
which Kobukson and Choson are changed into geobukseon (?????) and Joseon 
(???),'' Kim said, illustrating some of the cases that he saw as creating funny 

To block the new method, he even tried legal action against some linguists at 
the National Academy of Korean Language (NAKL) and officials at the Ministry 
of Culture and Tourism. He submitted a petition to then-President Kim 

``I told the linguists who led the change that the romanization system should 
be basically for foreign people rather than the locals,'' Kim told The Korea 
Times. ``What I heard from them was `When you're in Rome, do as the Romans 

He conducted an experiment along with KBS TV at the Kimpo International 
Airport, where foreigners used to arrive, and in Itaewon in downtown Seoul to prove 
the ``absurdity'' of the new system. 

He asked a number of English speakers who had little knowledge of Korean or 
its romanization system to pronounce several written words, including ``abeoji 
(father)'' and ``Bucheon.'' Most of them read them as ???? (a-be-o-ji) and ??? 
(bu-che-on),'' far distant from the original sounds of ??? and ??. 

According to Kim, 16 out of the newly romanized 21 vowels were out of sync 
with the actual sounds when they are read by foreigners who don't know that eo 
should be pronounced as ?. 

But the government showed its rigidity by allowing no exception to the new 
guideline except for kimchi and taekwondo, which have already become 
internationally recognized words. 

According to Kim, the Cheju provincial government has also asked the central 
government to allow using Cheju as an exception, saying that Cheju Island is 
already a famous international tourist destination. 

However, the government rejected its demand, citing the need to keep in line 
with other cities and provinces. Accordingly, the resort island had to change 
its tourist guide and public relations materials as well as its road signs. 

``The emblem symbolizing the island with its name Cheju, which was made in 
1999 at a cost of 250 million won (about $265,000), became useless because the 
name was changed into Jeju,'' Kim said. 

Loss of National Interests 
The English-language media, including the state-sponsored Yonhap news agency 
and the Korea Herald, resisted the change for a period of time. But, as time 
went by, all the news media gave in to the new system except The Korea Times. 

What Kim called a ``loss of national interests'' got more serious when 
``Koguryo'' and ``Dokdo'' became objects of historical and even territorial rows 
with China and Japan in the past couple of years. 

At a time when all Chinese media wrote the ancient Korean kingdom as 
``Koguryo,'' South Korean papers, except The Times, spelled it ``Goguryeo.'' It was 
later unified as Koguryo since even the UNESCO's World Heritage called it 

Dokdo, a set of islets held by South Korea, had also been divided into 
``Tokto'' and ``Dokdo.'' The Korea Times, which still abides by the M-R system, 
decided last year to accept a government request to unify them into Dokdo, as 
Tokyo stepped up its efforts to lay claim on the islets known as ``Takeshima'' in 
But the foreign news media and Web sites are still left confused between the 
different words. Web users could find 208,000 results on Google 
(www.google.com) with the keyword Koguryo, but they can get 113,000 others with Goguryeo. 

Results for Dokdo tops about 548,000, but still there are 113,000 other sites 
for Tokto and 127,000 for Tokdo on Google. Takeshima? 656,000! There are 
hundreds of thousands of other examples showing such divides and confusions. On 
Yahoo (www.yahoo.com), one can find 707,000 Web pages for Jeju and 363,000 
others for Cheju, though they refer to the same place. 

`Not Too Late' 
Calls for a revision of the current romanization system have been gaining 
ground in the past several years as the confusion continues on the roads, on 
signboards and in government documents. 

Some 75 South Koreans said the current system does not reflect the original 
pronunciation of hangul properly, according to a survey last month by the Yoido 
Institute, a think tank for the opposition Grand National Party (GNP). 

Of the 2,150 adults polled, 66.1 percent wanted the current guidelines to be 
revised in spite of the expected financial cost, according to the survey 
conducted on the occasion of the 560th anniversary of the Hangul Day on Oct. 9. 

``Disasters have already started to happen. We can easily find serious 
confusion here and there,'' said Kim, who devised his own romanization method. ``We 
must correct the mistake without delay before it is too late and adopt a 
proper system.'' 

Other critics also point out that the romanization system should be revised 
in a way that best reflects the characteristics of the Korean language and say 
that the future reunification of the two Koreas should also be taken into 

North Korea has a rule similar to the M-R system, which writes its cities and 
places in English as ``Pyongyang,'' ``Kaesong'' and ``Mt. Kumgang'' _ not 
``Pyeongyang,'' ``Gaeseong'' and ``Mt. Gumgang.'' 

North Korean linguists proposed the unification of the different romanization 
systems used by South and North Korea in a meeting in Berlin in 2002 between 
linguists from the two Koreas. 

But the South Korean government even changed the name of the North's capital; 
no foreign country in the world spells Pyongyang as ``Pyeongyang.'' 

Those who want to contact professor Kim are welcome to send e-mails to him at 
bmkim2439 at hanmail.net. 
jinryu at koreatimes.co.kr 
11-02-2006 16:43     

 Government-enacted guidelines even changed the name of another country's 
capital. North Korea's capital is spelled as Pyeongyang instead of Pyongyang on a 
milepost at Torasan Station on the inter-Korean railway in the Demilitarized 
Zone that separates the two Koreas in this file photo.  /Korea Times 

Kim Bok-moon, a professor emeritus of Chungbuk National University, speaks 
during an interview with The Korea Times. Korea Times  



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