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

Frank Hoffmann hoffmann at koreanstudies.com
Tue Mar 11 13:20:17 EDT 2014

Andrew, that is highly interesting and a convincing argument! You must 
be right. Even in case not, that is a beautiful argument. I threw my 
first quick assumption out the window as soon as I was one reading your 

It is actually quite amazing for someone who grew up in the modern 
period in "the West" to see how politically conservative even the 19th 
century Tonghak leaders (and peasants) were -- seeing politics and 
culture here as a unity. The Sino-centric world view was hardly ever 
challenged from the inside before the 20th century, and Chinese script 
and the classics were essential to that. When I wondered if language 
change might be related to a wider culture-political reorientation in 
the 18th and 19th century, I had at first thought of another "layer" of 
such cultural changes at work (think of the Sirhak school or my 
painting example), and then taking on a more self-confident and 
pragmatic approach when it comes to the pronunciation of Sino-Korean. 
That would have meant an indication of such changes in many areas of 
cultural life. Yet, as nicely as it sounds, as logic that may be when 
writing it down, deep inside it still feels wrong, is against actual 
experience with things Korean (seen through sources). Actual experience 
shows that the *change* -- after many decades of a socio-economic 
downward trend -- came in Korea extremely sudden, basically only after 
the Japanese had taken over. (I was just recently doing some research 
into a scholar who, already having left Korea, still wrote his letters 
in classical Chinese until World War I began -- full of phrases from 
the Classics, at which time he then from one day to the next changed to 
Han'gŭl and/or modern mixed script.) Maybe looking for a sort of 
"underlying" or "slow" cultural changes is more of a handicap of people 
trained as cultural historians, and maybe part of what makes the Korean 
modernization process (and that of some other once colonized countries) 
special is how very fast and abrupt the process happened? I also think 
you must be completely right as for the "freezing" aspects that the 
later implementation (already under colonial rule) of orthographic 
rules had. These basically stopped the fast changes in language.  


On Wed, 12 Mar 2014 01:27:09 +0900, Andrew wrote:
> I am probably wrong, but might it not be rather the opposite to 
> Frank's hypothesis: the dropping of initial ㄴ/ㄹ process was 
> underway across the whole language (at least in Seoul and the south), 
> but that whereas for the non-Sinic vocabulary there was nothing to 
> obstruct the change, the Sino-Korean vocabulary resisted precisely 
> because of the remembered association with Chinese pronunciation, and 
> this was later frozen in a state of transition by 20th century 
> orthological conventions?
> sincerely to all,
> Andrew Logie

Frank Hoffmann

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