[KS] Is the word "외국인" an instance of "和製漢語"?

J.Scott Burgeson jsburgeson at yahoo.com
Fri Feb 28 23:45:16 EST 2014

I have a question for the linguists on this List, specifically those who work not only with the Korean language but also Chinese and Japanese.

It is well-known that hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of Chinese-character based words in common use in Japan, China and Korea were coined by the Japanese during the Meiji period, such as "百貨店" ("백화점"), "時間" ("시간"), "国際" ("국제"), "民族" ("민족"), "市場" ("시장"), "社会" or "社會" ("사회"), "出版" ("출판") and many, many more.

My question has to do with the route of transmission of the word "外國人" or "외국인" into Korea, which one would assume is not pure or native Korean as it is based on Chinese characters.

I have consulted a dozen or more different Korean-Korean dictionaries, both contemporary and of words in use during the Choson Period, and in general etymologies are not given for this word.

According to Japanese linguists, the word "外國人" was promoted and popularized during the Meiji period in contrast to the word "内国人" (lit., "inside country person" or "내국인" in Korean), which was used to refer to people of the Japanese Empire, including those in Korea and Taiwan. Thus, those outside of the Empire were referred to as "外國人" or "외국인" in Korean. Here, for instance, is a 1931 article from the 동아일보 that uses the word in the title and text:


However, the studies I have seen do not make it clear whether or not the word "外國人" was actually created by the Japanese during the Meiji period, or merely popularized by the Meiji authorities. In other words, it is not clear whether or not it is 和製漢語. What is clear, though, is that it was at this time that the word "外國人" became the standard term for "foreigners" in the Japanese language, as prior to this there was a variety of different terms used to describe non-Japanese, such as "南蛮人," "異人," "異国人," and "異邦人." What seems to be the case is that the difference with "外國人" is that it has more of a legalistic meaning or connotation, in contrast to these other words, indicating a lack of local citizenship or nationality, and this is certainly how the term is used today, at least officially, in present-day South Korea.

In China, meanwhile, there was also a great variety of different terms for non-Han or non-Chinese people in the pre-modern period, including "洋人" and "洋鬼子," while the concept of a "foreign country" was sometimes expressed as "异国," and even "外國" can be found as early as the Han Dynasty in "Records of the Historian":


"外國人" is also the title of a story by the Early Qing writer Pu Songling that appears in "Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio," which is about shipwrecked Filipinos who float to Macau and are then sent back home by the Chinese. However, as in the case of Japan, it does not seem that the word "外國人" was in standard usage in pre-modern China, and was just one of many others. This would seem to be logical, since the modern nation-state system only comes to East Asia in the latter part of the 19th century, and "外國人" as it is used in China, Japan and Korea today has a very clear legalistic meaning referring to citizenship and nationality in the full modern sense of these terms.

So the question is how to determine if the word "외국인" came to Korea: Via China or via Japan? As I have mentioned, in dictionaries I have consulted, such as 동광출판사's massive "조선말 사전" or the 국립국어연구원's "표준국어대사전," no etymology or word origin is given, and in 한국정신문화 연구원's "17세기 국어사전," only the term "外國" is listed, not "外國人" or "외국 사람." As in China and Japan, it seems that in pre-modern Korea, there was no standard term for "foreigner" but rather a variety that did not have an legalistic connotations, such as "색목인," which dates to at least 1365, or "코쟁이," a common term for Westerners.

The reason I am interested in this question is because if it can be determined that the term "외국인" became the standard term for so-called "foreigners" in the colonial context of Japan's occupation of Korea, the word would have a rather problematic history attached to it, to say the least. And even if "외국인" is not an actual instance of "和製漢語," it would still be worth knowing how much influence Imperial Japan had in promoting and standardizing the term within Korea.

What is curious is how uninterested Korean-Korean dictionaries are in listing word etymologies in them, which is standard in almost any English-English dictionary. At a visit to Kyobo's Daegu store last night, I could not find one 국어 dictionary that gave etymologies, and the clerk had to take me to a different section on another floor to find a few books devoted solely to etymologies of Korean words; the largest, however, only contained 1,000 words, which is certainly a rather meager selection. I asked her why most 국어 or Korean dictionaries did not give etymologies and she speculated that most Koreans simply assume that the vast majority of Korean words are Chinese-based and leave it at that. My own feeling is that there may be nationalistic motivations at play here, but of course there could be many other factors.

In short, my question here is simple: Can anyone recommend the best Korean-Korean dictionary or book to trace etymologies in the Korean language? And if anyone has thoughts on the term "외국인" itself and its history in Korea, those would be much appreciated as well!

        Scott Bug 

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