[KS] Exporting Hangeul Writing System

gkl1 at columbia.edu gkl1 at columbia.edu
Sun Aug 9 21:21:37 EDT 2009

Sorry, Mr. Yoo, I'm afraid I have to be counted among the cynics. I
still hope that some on this list who may have links with or
colleagues in Indonesian Studies might try to find some
independent Indonesian news source that would give us an Indonesian
perspective on this business. There is another unknown in that the
Jia-Jia minority seems to be Islamic-- a situation in which we often  
see cultural difficulties in writing systems alien to Arabic.

Given Frank Hoffman's contribution a few days ago noting that a good
amount of Korean toxic waste is exported for processing to the area
where the hangul-using Cia-Cia (romanized as Jjia-Jjia on some Korean
sites) minority lives, we
might speculate on Cia-Cia workers laboring in the processing sites
coming upon labels in Hangul, somehow figuring out the phonetics and
devising a Hangul application for their language. Now THAT would be a
tremendous story well
worth praise and admiration--somewhat like the famous application and
imitation of roman letters by Chief Sequoiah in developing a writing
system for Cherokee. And if that is what happened and if the
adaptation actually worked well, I would be among the first to offer
praise, suggest that some graduate student might find in it a great
thesis topic, and join Yoo Kwang On in his enthusiasm. But until I
hear the story from an independent Jia-Jia or Indonesian source, I
will hold my breath.

      But Mr. Yoo (his message copied below) is not wrong about one
thing. There was indeed some interest in Hangul in China in Hulbert's
day, but it was not in a way that recognized or even understood the
structure and application of Hangul. In the same year that Hulbert
published <The Passing of Korea> and the remarks Mr. Yoo
quotes--1906--a Chinese scholar named Shen Shaohe, a native of Jiaxing
in Zhejiang, published in Shanghai a booklet on language reform which
unmistakably demonstrates a link with Hangul, though there is not a
word in it that suggests any Korean provenance or even an awareness
that it was a Korean script..

      What Shen did was identify six basic consonantal categories that
come from a somewhat unorthodox conception of traditional Chinese theory.
For these categories he used six basic forms, five of which are
clearly Korean, and four of those are applied to the corresponding
consonantal categories in Korean. The five letters are a perfect
squarish kiyOk or ka (ga), applied to the velar initials as in Korean;
niUn or na, applied to the dental initials in Korean; a bent or
cursive form of kiyOk (ka or ga), applied perversely to labial stops;
a circle and partly applied to the laryngals (h and others) as in
Korean; and a dead ringer for piUp or pa (ba), which is used for
Chinese dentilabials f and v, and for l- (go figure).

      These five Korean letters are used for the voiceless unaspirated
consonant in each group. To write the remaining consonants in each
group, Shen adds strokes to each base form for as many letters as he
needs for each category.

      But that's the end of any system. The remaining parts of the  
syllable after the initial consonant--the vowel, the final consonant  
if any, and the tone, are engraphed all together as a single graphic  
unit. This is very much the traditional Chinese syllabic analysis. For  
these units, Shen devised combinations of vertical, horizontal, and  
diagonal lines, in no particular order or system. A few of the  
combinations look like other Korean vowel letters, but that's just  
accidental, with no corresponding phonetic link. And some of Shen's  
prescriptions appear to derive from the rather different dialects of  
the lower Yangtze region.

      In Chinese phonological terms all of the above indications
present a somewhat chaotic array, even if some degree of systematic
application is apparent. But there are five unmistakable Korean
letters there, and except for the bent kiyok, they apply in whole or
in part to the same phonetic categories as directed by King Sejong
himself. Most interesting is that we see the principle of adding
strokes to represent differences within the same same consonantal
category, often and justly trumpeted as one of King Sejong's great

      It's obvious that Mr. Shen had seen or learned something about
Hangul, whether he understood it or not. Could Mr. Shen be the guy
Hulbert was talking about?? Shanghai was packed with Western
missionaries, and Hulbert was well known among them.

      Interestingly enough, Shen's 10 double-page (20 pages western
style) pamphlet was reprinted in Peking in 1957 as reference material
for people involved in the project to simplify Chinese characters and
look at romanization, cyrillic, and other options for an aphabetic
script. That's when I picked up a copy of Shen's booklet in New York.
For a Korea scholar who got his degrees in Chinese, it was truly a
great souvenir item!

      Of course Jeremy Kritt (copied below) is completely right that Hangul
is quite ill-equipped to deal with Chinese phonology. The Koreans did
a lot of linguistic research on Chinese in the 15th and 16th century,
but you have to know Chinese and understand the theoretical structure
in traditional Chinese terms to pronounce the Hangul equivalents
correctly. Hangul itself is not at all "objective" in this sense.

      It is difficult and awkward to write other languages in Hangul,
as Dr. Kontsievich has noted. The biggest limitation Hangul presents
is the necessity to write in syllabic units. There was once a movement
to write the Korean letters side by side as with most alphabets in the
world. But this movement was dictated by the perceived impossibility
of writing syllabic units with a Western-style typewriter. Well,
people came along and engineered a typewriter that could write Hangul
syllables, which took some wind out of that movement. But since the
computer, we haven't seen hide nor hair of it.

      If the Jia-Jia language fits Hangul, fine. I just would need to  
know more about the language and the circumstances in which it was  
adopted by the Jia-Jia.

Quoting Kwang On Yoo <lovehankook at gmail.com>:

> To All,
> The Indonesian story has excited many scholars but there were some cynicism
> too.
>  But the idea of exporting Korean writing system is not new at all.
> Well over 100 years ago, even before the word Hangul was coined, non other
> than
> Homer B. Hulburt* wrote:
> p34 "There are a great many foreigners in China who are trying to evolve a
> phonetic system
> of writing for that country."
> p35  " - - - the present writer has urged that the Chinese people be invited
> to adopt
> the Korean alphabet, which is as simple in structure as any, and capable of
> the widest phonetic adaptation."
> "- - - and the only work to be done in introducing it is to overcome the
> sentimental prejudice
> of the Chinese in favour of the ideograph."
> *The Passing of Korea, 1906
> Kwang-On Yoo

Quoting "Jeremy M. Kritt" <jmkritt at gmail.com>:

> Hello everyone!
> 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.
> 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.
> 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.
> 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.
> One observation from the Hulburt quotes in the previous post that I find
> interesting is the following. While the adoption of Hangul was
> representative of a linguistic shift initiated by a language policy
> formulated by some Koreans (pushed from within), the attempt to change
> written Chinese to Hangul in China was from foreigners (pulled from the
> outside). That seems like a big difference to me.
> Sincerely,
> Jeremy M. Kritt

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