[KS] formal question (which version of Chinese characters?)

Andrew zatouichi at gmail.com
Tue May 26 14:13:39 EDT 2015

Dear Frank and all

I would suggest the best solution would be to use whatever matches your
source - or what matches the time and place of that historical person.

To try and clarify the question you asked.

I'm not a proper linguist either, but in the context of scripts, I'm using
'Sino-Korean' to refer to Korean hanja 漢字 read with Korean pronunciation.

You gave the example of Deng Xiaoping - a non-Korean - and whether to write
his name in traditional or Simplified characters, with the implication that
the choice of traditional characters would be for the benefit of a Korean
Studies readership who prefer them, or Simplified because that's how his
name was and is written in mainland China. Of course, because his life
spans the switch from traditional to Simplified there's also the possibilty
to give his name in traditional characters because that's how it was
written when he was born and might be appropriate if you were dealing with
the early half of his life. Therefore I see three ways of writing his name,
even if two happen to look similar: traditional, Simplified or Sino-Korean.

But assuming you're discussing the Simplified era of his life - or simply
take the example of any mainland Chinese person born more recently - if you
were to write their name in Sino-Korean hanja for the benefit of Korean
Studies readership then you are essentially writing it in a foreign script.
That is, if you accept the assertion that - synchronically (and
politically) speaking - traditional and Simplified are two different

Concerning Marion's description of the difference as "somewhat politically
coded variants of the same script used to represent the same language". In
the case of the choice within mainland China between traditional and
Simplified, that seems true (although there's the question of 'dialects'
such as Cantonese), but in the case of Korea and Japan I would argue
against it representing the same language, even if restricted only to
Sino-Korean and Sino-Japanese vocabulary. With Japanese it's not even
possible to restrict it that way because most Japanese names are read with
kun-yomi (訓読み) so the underlying language isn't the same at all. Even with
the Sino-readings (音読) of Korean and Japanese, the underlying language is
not contemporary Mandarin Chinese.

I think the political implications might be important too. Perhaps the
distinction has always been political. Maybe it could be said that -
politically speaking - traditional Chinese and Sino-Korean/Japanese were
the same script during the premodern era because of the notion of a Sinic
empire/civilization, which at least Korea adhered to. In the colonial era,
Sino-Korean then became the same as Sino-Japanese script (to the extent
that the characters were the same and they were read with Japanese
pronunciation and Japan had control over standardization). But during the
Dae-Han Empire era, and since 1945, the usage of hanja has been as an
independent Korean script.  (This is only meant as a provocative

I would prefer the idea of using traditional characters as a universal
pan-East Asian script, but I don't think it matches currently political
reality - who decides on standardized forms? (Unicode overlords?). The
regional studies disciplines are also currently defined/restricted by the
same political paradigm.

Completely separate point I've noticed about fonts:

Korean characters where the initial consonant alternates depending on if
it's at the start of a word or not, namely ㅇ /ㄹ  seem to keep this
distinction even after being changed into hanja and this seems to confuse
some databases. e.g. 요동 遼東 / 료동  遼東 - China Text Project is happy with
both, but Scripta Sinica will only show results for the second one.

Andrew Logie
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