[KS] Variable Romanization of 년(年) in McCune-Reischauer

gkl1 at columbia.edu gkl1 at columbia.edu
Mon Mar 10 15:37:55 EDT 2014

    Back from a long time away from home, it's taken a while to catch
up with the interesting postings over the last weeks. I'd like to
return to the long thread started by Dennis Lee about his supposed
McCune-Reischauer issue involving the dual readings 년 and 연 for the
character 年. My take is that those readings are not a romanization
issue. They raise rather a consonantal sandhi issue, and the McC-R
romanization is the only one of the three currently available systems
for Korean that address that problem.
    As Werner Sasse noted, when the character 年 is not proceeded by
another consonant, the initial ㄴ of 년 is dropped and the reading
begins with the zero consonant ㅇ as 연. In a response to a comment from
Frank Hoffman, who was the first to respond Dennis Lee's question,
Werner wrote: "Note that this problem arises only in Sino-Korean words."
    However, in the pre-modern stages of of the Korean vernacular,
speakers in the southern half of the peninsula began to drop the
initial consonants ㄴand ㄹ when followed byㅣ(-i),ㅑ(-ya,
ㅕ(y`o),ㅛ(yo),and ㅠ(yu).
    The reading 년 for 年 reflects the Chinese reading nien, from the
earliest stages of Sino-Korean. In the desk-top hanja dictionary 漢韓大辭典
(Tong-a taesaj`on that I have used since 1964, edited by Yang Chudong,
Min T'aesik, and Yi Kawon well known scholars working in
the mid- and late 20th century,the appropriate character reading is
given using the formula "年년(연)".
    I'm pretty sure that the process of dropping ㄴ(and also ㄹ) did not
originate in Sino-Korean. Rather it must surely have started in
ordinary vernacular Korean speech. Some examples from from Middle  
Korean to modern Korean:
    니 > 이 tooth
    님 > 임금 king, Your Majesty
    냠냠 > 얌냠 goodies, yum yummy
    녀름 > 여름 summer
    녀기다 > think, consider, regard as, take for
    I couldn't think of or find any vernacular examples with -ㅛ or -ㅠ,  
but you get the idea. In any case, I don't think it's likely that the  
dropping of ㄴ- and ㄹ- initials could have originated in Sino-Korean  
itself. But once the process was active in common vernacular speech,  
sooner or later it would have impacted Sino-Korean. Looking in a hanja  
dictionary, one can find many examples besides the 年 case. Here are a  
    泥 니 mud, clay: 泥金 니금 gold dust, gold paint
    孃 냥 woman: 孃孃 (양냥) empress
    寧 녕 peace: 寧歲 (영세) a peaceful year
    尿 뇨 urine: 尿강 (요강) chamber pot
    紐 뉴 button, tie 尿帶 (유대) relationships, ties, connections
    In the character indexes of the dictionary mentioned above, there  
are thirty-nine characters with readings given as initial ㄴ(ㅇㅡ) in the  
first character of a hanja compound. The corresponding list of  
characters with initial ㄹ(ㅇㅡ) is almost five times as many, with 191  

Gari Ledyard

Quoting Dennis Lee <dennisleeucla at gmail.com>:

> Dear Colleagues:
> Thank you very much for the very enlightening comments.
> I always supposed that 천구백구십육년  and 1996년 would be romanized the same since
> they are pronounced the same in Korean. However, the fact that they are not
> was always bizarre to me.
> But as many of you have pointed out, there is quite a lot of variation in
> the actual implementation of these romanziation. And as the presses like to
> say, as long as you are consistent.
> Best,
> Dennis Lee
> On Sun, Feb 23, 2014 at 3:13 PM, Werner Sasse    
> <werner_sasse at hotmail.com>wrote:
>> Ooops, why did I always write McC rather than McR...?
>> ------------------------------
>> From: werner_sasse at hotmail.com
>> To: koreanstudies at koreanstudies.com
>> Subject: RE: [KS] Variable Romanization of 년(年) in McCune-Reischauer
>> Date: Sun, 23 Feb 2014 06:04:49 +0000
>> Hi,
>> trying to be pragmatic: if McR tries to write the pronunciation, there
>> should be 1) [n], 2.[zero], 3. [l]
>> 1. [n] if none of the following rules 2. and 3. is the case (육년 yungnyon,
>> 독신녀 toksinnyo)
>> 2. [zero] at the beginning of a word in S-Kor Korean, when the initial n
>> is deleted like before yota. (여자 yoja).
>> The problem with  년 is that in most usages it more resembles a
>> dependent/bound noun, cf. 삼년 samnyon, not sam yon, 육년 yungnyon, not yuk
>> yon, 2014년 ... And (because of frequency of bound 년 ?) in normal talk many
>> Koreans pronounce the n- in nyon even when initial, while only very few say
>> nyoja for 여자.
>> (NO deletion in N-Kor official speak, but to my experience still used even
>> there by many in casual conversation when a "non-political" vocabulary item
>> is used...)
>> 3. [l] after l/r (말년 mallyon)
>> Note that this problem arises only in sino-kor words.
>> Rules are one thing, applications are another. And, of course, standards
>> should be followed strictly, but adapting the romanisation systems to
>> particular needs and/or documentation media seems to be a problem among
>> researchers and librarians which - seen from the outside - resembles
>> religion wars. I mean: fighting for and about the "best" solution, while
>> there is no best solution looks like fighting for truth where the opposite
>> of truth is only another truth... Pragmatical approach seems to be asked
>> for. And, anyway, no system will be good for speakers of any language or
>> for any application.
>> And, by the way, the biggest problem I see in all of the different
>> romanisation systems is the lack of hyphenisation rules. Here no solution
>> will be found before those, who are creating official standardized
>> romanisation rules (up to now 4 different systems in my lifetime...) will
>> understand, that the system should not be made to please Korean eyes.
>> Hyphens or spacing are sine-qua-non for Western eyes, even when Koreans do
>> not seem to need them.
>> Last footnote at the side: The beauty of McC rather than the current
>> system comes from the fact that foreigners made it for foreigners.
>> (Footnote: interesting that Korean colleagues often say that McC is bad
>> because it was made by foreigners. Look at Hepburn for Japanese... ) And we
>> have to give up the ridiculous idea that a writing system needs to be
>> logical, scientific, or what not. It should simply be standardized and be
>> used by everyone, no matter how stupid it may look. (therefore it should
>> also be taught in Korean schools!)
>> And Pusan/Busan, Kwangju/Gwangju, etc. still lingering on ...,  but here
>> comes a different story)
>> Best wishes
>> peruno sase
>> Date: Sat, 22 Feb 2014 14:07:50 -0800
>> From: hoffmann at koreanstudies.com
>> To: *koreanstudies at koreanstudies.com <koreanstudies at koreanstudies.com>*
>> Subject: Re: [KS] Variable Romanization of 년(年) in McCune-Reischauer
>> Hi Dennis:
>> Good question. Never saw that before you mentioned it here ... but yes,
>> the Library of Congress version of the McC-R rules does indeed list
>> such examples as
>>   1996 년  =  1996-yon
>>   62 年 事業  =  62-yon saop
>> on age 32, just as you say.
>> Am also a little confused here. Maybe some linguist can explain that?
>> I just wanted to say ne thing though: there are lots if rules in this
>> very *detailed* ruleset by the Library of Congress. And it seems that
>> for most there are too many rules, so many that non-bibliographers are
>> unwilling to follow them, also because they make our life harder and
>> not easier. FOR EXAMPLE (from my memory, without having reconfirmed
>> with the guide), when you look up the book title "한글 타자" in the
>> online Library of Congress catalog you will find this:
>>   Han’gul t‘aja
>> Not sure if your email program shows this correctly when my message
>> arrives on your computer ... so here is an IMAGE of it:
>> Do you see the variations there in the quotes -- between curved closing
>> single quote and curved opening single quote? That is one of those LC rules
>> that hardly anyone follows, one thought to be a stop to separate syllables,
>> so Han’gul is not misread as Hang’ul, in the other case just representing
>> the tiut (ㅌ). That's very Prussian, I'd say, except that it comes from
>> Washington. Not even first rate university presses follow such rules. The
>> same page of the LG guide you referred to also has this example: 천구백구십육년 =
>> Ch’on-kubaek-kusip-yungnyon Apart from that "-yon" which same as you I do
>> not understand (yet), it does make sense to transcribe a year in e.g. a
>> book title *if* it is given there in han’gul (not numerals), just as in the
>> example above. It also makes sense to leave it in numerals *if* it is given
>> in numerals in the original (e.g. 1962 년). But I see that a number of
>> writers then also transcribe it into full words if the original is in
>> numerals. The only reason this happens is because there are just too many
>> rules in the ALA-LC guidelines for researchers to follow. You just can't
>> have a life in the real world and parallel to that follow ALA-LC rules.
>> Enough is enough. Best, Frank On Sun, 23 Feb 2014 04:56:16 +0900, Dennis
>> Lee wrote: > Dear List Members: > > I apologize in advance if this has
>> already been answered on the list. > However, my search came up nothing
>> about this. > > This is something about the McR romanization for 년(年) that
>> has > bothered me for years, but I haven't yet found a satisfactory answer.
>> > > On page 32 of the ALA-LC guidelines, it gives several examples of >
>> romanizing 년, but in some cases it will romanize it nyon while in > others
>> it will be yon. Logically, I think it should be nyon all the > time. At
>> first, I thought the use of yon was some arbitrary rule for > years written
>> in Indo-Arabic numerals, but I have seen it used both > ways in various
>> publications. > > Does anybody know what the exact rule is for choosing yon
>> over nyon, > and more importantly, why? Also, does this apply to the
>> Revised > Romanization system as well? > > Here are the examples given: > >
>> 천구백구십육년 Ch'on-kubaek-kusip-yungnyon > 1996년 1996-yon > > 六十二年 事業 計劃
>> Yuksip-inyon saop kyehoek > 62 年 事業 計劃 62-yon saop kyehoek > > > Thank you,
>> > Dennis Lee > > > > -------------------------------------- Frank Hoffmann
>> http://koreanstudies.com

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