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

King, Ross Ross.King at ubc.ca
Thu Mar 13 01:36:06 EDT 2014

I think we need to be careful to distinguish between meta-linguistic considerations and the nitty-gritty of on-the-ground linguistic change. 
In our case here, we seem to have conservatism of both types on the Korean periphery--conservatism in the metalinguistic realm (ideas _about_ language and language change) AND conservatism in Sino-Korean phonetics and phonology. They are not necessarily related (and indeed, traditional modern-day linguistics would bristle at the idea that metalinguistics could influence on-the-ground linguistic change, although we know now that this does indeed happen, though only in certain cases where the linguistic phenomenon in question is somehow more salient or accessible to lay speakers--see Michael Silverstein's work on 'the limits of awareness'). 


Ross King
Professor of Korean and Head of Department
Department of Asian Studies, University of British Columbia
Asian Centre, 1871 West Mall
Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z2
vox: 604-822-2835
fax: 604-822-8937
ross.king at ubc.ca
From: Koreanstudies [koreanstudies-bounces at koreanstudies.com] on behalf of Kirk Larsen [kwlarsen67 at gmail.com]
Sent: March-12-14 8:39 PM
To: Korean Studies Discussion List
Subject: Re: [KS] Variable Romanization of ?(?) in McCune-Reischauer

I'll probably get in trouble for dabbling in areas I know next to nothing about, but ....

Isn't there an argument about linguistic conservatism being more prevalent on the borders/margins with the center/metropole being more willing to adopt new usages, new pronunciations, etc.?

If so, wouldn't Ross's late-Chosŏn writers who saw their own pronunciations as "more archaic, and hence more authentic, more correct, and closer to the Way of the Sages, than contemporary spoken Chinese readings," potentially be telling the truth (to some extent)?

I've always been struck by how it seems that Cantonese, Taiwanese, and Korean pronunciations of Chinese words are closer to each other than any of them are to standard contemporary Mandarin.


Kirk Larsen

On Tue, Mar 11, 2014 at 12:21 PM, King, Ross <Ross.King at ubc.ca<mailto:Ross.King at ubc.ca>> wrote:
Dear Colleagues:

Actually, Frank Hoffman is onto something here when he suspects ideological (and pseudo-national) connections between Korean ideas about ‘correct’ Sino-Korean pronunciations and their spelling. Andrew Logie is also correct in asserting that “Sino-Korean vocabulary resisted” sound change, but that resistance was only partial, with accommodations made in late Chosŏn in the knowledge of sound change that had occurred in (Sino-)Korean pronunciations since the 15th century.

These changes in Sino-Korean pronunciation and the ways in which late Chosŏn scholars justified or rationalized them have been studied in the fascinating work of Rainer Dormels (see below for references). My own view on this is that, in essence, at least two things were going on. One is a sort of Chŏng’ŭm 正音 ideology (chŏng’ŭm 正音 meaning ‘correct sounds~orthodox readings’ and always referring to the readings/pronunciations of Chinese characters = Sino-Korean readings in the case of Korea) that was concerned with orthodoxy in Sino-Korean readings, and in reconciling the differences between 15th-century Korean readings and 18th- and 19th-century readings, always with one eye on contemporary pronunciation in China itself. The broader context here was sojunghwa ideology--late Chosŏn thinkers saw Chosŏn as the keeper of all things orthodox that had been buggered up by the Qing.

The other was what could be called Tong’ŭm 東音 ideology. Late-Chosŏn sojunghwa 小中華 cultural pride and the growing fascination with ‘Chosŏn-ness’ came together in yet another language ideological manifestation closely related to chŏng’ŭm 正音 ideology: the idea that tong’ŭm 東音 or ‘Eastern sounds’—the traditional Sino-Korean pronunciations of Chinese characters—were more orthodox (more 正), more archaic, and hence more authentic, more correct, and closer to the Way of the Sages, than contemporary spoken Chinese readings, corrupted as they were by the ravages of time and barbarians (especially the Manchus).

This latter issue then fed into a form of Korean regional linguistic differentiation and its ideologization, whereby intellectuals from the Korean northwest perceived their own regional form of Korean pronunciation (esp. in the case of Sino-Korean readings) as the most ‘orthodox’ of all because it preserved distinctions lost elsewhere in Korea. But the spelling facts, both then and now, are _not_ about dialect—they are about yet another form of Korean conservatism and fundamentalism, this time orthographic in nature. See King (2010) for a detailed discussion of this and the ways in which it relates to modern-day orthographic debates and experiments, and to North Korean spelling (which, again, has nothing to do with regional dialect).

Dormels, Rainer (1999a). 18 segi han’guk hanjaŭm ŭi kyubŏmhwa kwajŏng e sumgyŏjin tonggi [The hidden motives behind the 18th-century process of normatization of Sino-Korean pronunciation]. Kugŏhak 33:125-143.

Dormels, Rainer (1999b). Koreanische Reimwörterbücher des 18. Jahrhunderts: List und Tücke bei der Standardisierung der sinokoreanischen Lautungen [Korean rhyme dictionaries of the 18th century: Sneaky tricks in the standardization of Sino-Korean pronunciation]. Hamburg: LTI.

Dormels, Rainer (1999c?) Sneaky Tricks m the Standardization of Sino-Korean Pronunciation m the 18th Century. Typescript.

King, Ross. 2010. Dialect, orthography and regional identity: P’yŏng’an Christians, Korean spelling reform, and orthographic fundamentalism. The northern region of Korea: culture, history and identity. Ed. Sun Joo Kim. University of Washington Press, pp. 139-180.

Ross King
Professor of Korean and Head of Department
Department of Asian Studies, University of British Columbia
Asian Centre, 1871 West Mall
Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z2
vox: 604-822-2835
fax: 604-822-8937
ross.king at ubc.ca<mailto:ross.king at ubc.ca>
From: Koreanstudies [koreanstudies-bounces at koreanstudies.com<mailto:koreanstudies-bounces at koreanstudies.com>] on behalf of Frank Hoffmann [hoffmann at koreanstudies.com<mailto:hoffmann at koreanstudies.com>]
Sent: March-11-14 10:20 AM
To: Korean Studies Discussion List
Subject: Re: [KS] Variable Romanization of ?(?) in McCune-Reischauer

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

Kirk W. Larsen
Department of History
Director, Academic Programs and Research
David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies
2151 JFSB
Provo, UT 84602-6707
(801) 422-3445

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