[KS] A new proposal on the Romanization of Korean Surnames

Mark Russell mrussell at pobox.com
Thu Jul 4 10:40:43 EDT 2013

A few years ago, the Busan government suggested/ordered that the nice people at the Pusan International Film Festival update their name to reflect the official spelling. So today we have the BIFF.

However PiFan, the fantasy film festival in Bucheon, remains unchanged.

I do believe "Pusan Perimeter" was judged by the Korean government to be "too famous" so that it is unchanged, too.

I don't see what is the problem with "eo", "eu" and the like, as all languages have their spelling vagaries that have to be learned. There's no way I ever would have known by sight that "oiseau" (bird) in French should be pronounced "wazo". (Although, personally, I really dislike "oe" for 외, and wish something like "way" had been chosen.) As a native speaker of the language with by far the worst spelling regime in the world (English), I don't much like throwing stones in my glass house.

The nice thing about the current RR system is that it works well with the Internet. Which is probably more important than speaking these days. 

- Mark
> I was indeed involved in an attempt made some years back to review the romanization issue, with as a hidden agenda the reinstatement of MR as the official system. It was obvious from the start that the idea was doomed simply because the Internet was already flooded with tens of millions of RR romanizations. It would be a brave but foolish person who would suddenly try to persuade the world's airlines and travel companies that Incheon no longer exists, an ever braver but even more foolish one who might then try to make them put breves over the "o" of Inch'on. There was a move to propose a small revision of RR to change the very problematic forms "eo" and "eu" which are positively misleading for people who do not know Korean. That came to nothing essentially because nobody has as yet put forward any convincing alternative. The best idea, I think, would be to ignore the differences and use "o" and "u" for both "eo" and "o" "eu" and "u" sounds but no Korean would accept that.
> The main reason why there could in fact be no return to MR in my opinion is that there is no way of convincing a Korean (or most non-Koreans) that Cheju is "right" and "Jeju" is wrong, when the Hangeul spelling uses the same consonant twice. Koreans are the people performing the majority of romanizations and MR does not correspond to the way they feel their language (unless they are academic linguists, I suppose). The MR rules governing the changes between d/t, p/b, j/ch, k/g in MR make no sense to them (or me).
> When RR was promulgated, it was less than fully developed, there being a rush to impose it on the world. The most troubling feature was the failure of its inventors to consider the need for limited word lengths and clear indications of syllable breaks. The dogma of "no diacritics" was extended to include "no hyphens or apostrophes" and the result is the hideous set of unpronounceable names containing endless strings of consonants: Cheongyeollu, Hyeopgyeongdang, Geoncheonggung are halls in Gyeongbokgung; even worse are the dreadful new street names: Bukbuganseondoro, Gangbyeonbukno in Seoul, Gyeonhwonwanggungro, Jeonjujeonseoro, Seongjeongjungangro in Jeonju. I believe there has been no attempt by the Korean authorities to develop the necessary adaptations of RR corresponding to the Library of Congress guide to the subtle detailed applications of MR. That is one of the great problems, since there is nowhere in Korea any coherent political will that might operate profound change. Indeed that is good, since there are a number of people here ready with alternative romanization systems beside which RR is perfectly wonderful.
> Another issue neglected in 2000 was that of exceptions. Originally it was (I believe) decreed that universally accepted roman-alphabet spellings of (say) Pusan or Inchon (as in "Inchon Landing" should not be changed. Bureaucratic enthusiasm took no account of that, although I think we still have the Pusan International Film Festival held regularly in Busan (the registered name could not be changed). As for family names, I believe that common sense was the deciding factor. No Korean, even under the strongest dictator, has ever been willing to be told how to write their name in roman letters. In passports, each person has always been free to use the spelling of their choice. We were shown examples of the huge variety of spellings that have resulted, 12-15 or more for a single name. I note from today's posting that the stubborn urge to standardize the spelling of family names is still not dead. One valid reason is the probable inclusion of romanized names in future citizen ID cards. Obviously there has to be a fixed system; at the same time, as we know, most Kims will never agree to be written Gim, most Pa(r)ks will revolt against being written Bak. In any case, today's Koreans would never allow the Government to tell them how to write their names on their business cards. With the diversity of spellings found in passports, grave problems have arisen in foreign countries when Mr. Chough has tried to obtain visas for Miss Joh and Mr Chou, claiming that they were his children.
> The romanization ball lies with Koreans, today, and since each of them plays the game following his/her own very different rules (the game is not taught in schools), there is very little likelihood that much consensus will occur in the foreseeable future.
> Brother Anthony
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