[KS] Exporting Han'gûl -- small correction

Robert Provine provine at umd.edu
Sun Aug 9 20:17:19 EDT 2009

---- Original message ----
>Date: Sun, 09 Aug 2009 15:47:33 -0400
>From: Robert Provine <provine at umd.edu>  
>Subject: Re: [KS] Exporting Han'gûl  
>To: Korean Studies Discussion List <koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws>
>Jeremy Kritt's observations ask for some further consideration.
>> The only problem with Hulbert's argument is that it is linguistically 
>> incorrect. Hangul falls short of being able to capture the significant 
>> tonal structure of various forms of spoken Chinese. That is probably one 
>> reason why this project failed miserably in China.
>Every writing system falls short of capturing all languages, though IPO does a pretty good 
>job overall.  IPO looks like roman letters with modifications and additions.
>> Hangul was not developed to capture all the sounds that are humanly 
>> possible. Instead, the orthography was designed to meet the needs of a 
>> very specific sociolinguistic situation for a particular spoken language.
>Again, like all other writing systems, apart from hybrid fabrications like IPO.
>> Given that language is such a core aspect of a community's identity, it 
>> is a rather strange idea to think that a country like China would even 
>> remotely consider adopting a writing system developed by a country it 
>> considers to be culturally subordinate. While it may have been attempted 
>> on a small scale, it was clearly destined to fail from the outset and 
>> the premises fueling such a movement seem to be misguided.
>Yet, to take an example, tonal Vietnamese is written with (highly) modified roman letters, 
>and it has the advantage that a lot of people around the world can make noises that bear 
>at least a passing resemblance to Vietnamese.
>My main point:  yes, Han'gûl was designed for writing Korean, but, like roman letters, it 
>can be modified to become more appropriate for denoting the sounds of non-Korean 
>languages.  Indeed, there are historical instances where this was done in Korea, the prime 
>example probably being the translator's dictionary _Han Han mun'gam_ 漢淸文鑑 of about 
>1780, in which a much-extended Han'gûl is employed to depict the (decidedly foreign) 
>sounds of Manchu and Chinese.  Those interested to look up this work should consult the 
>opening section of rubrics that explains the extended Han'gûl.  The _Han Han mun'gam_ was 
>in effect a rip-off of a five-language dictionary (Chinese, Manchu, Tibetan, Mongolian, 
>and Uighur, but not Korean), _Wuti Qing wenjian_ 五體淸文鑑, published in China in 
>something like 1770.
>In other words, the point is not whether an unmodified writing system is suitable for a 
>language different from the language for which the writing system was initially designed, 
>since it can be appropriately modified.  The main problem surely lies in the political 
>aspects that Jeremy and others have already mentioned.
>> Of course, my comments are not meant to diminish the accomplishment of 
>> Hangul. Korean people should be proud of their language; however, as was 
>> previously mentioned by a distinguished scholar, at times that pride 
>> leads to rather strange ideas.
>Let's don't confuse Han'gûl and the Korean language!
>Rob Provine

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