Saturday, May 14, 2005

Korea versus Corea

NOTE TO VISITORS FROM GORD SELLAR'S ARTICLE ON ANTI-JAPANESE DRAWINGS BY KIDS IN THE SUBWAY: That is one old post at Gord's, but I still get lots of hits from there. Although I think Gord's post is important, it is also misleading. Please take a look at the addendum in this post, particularly the first and last paragraphs, for a bit of perspective on the issue and on Gord's somewhat distorted presentation. (2009.01)

REVISED NOTE: This three-year-old post, easily the most widely popular I've written, is pretty much okay as is, just a little rough around the edges toward the bottom. Some day, when I don't have work and school and serious family issues, I may try to polish it up, but for now it's good to go. (2008.05)

ORIGINAL NOTE: This post is still a work in progress (I had asked people not to link to it, but nobody paid any attention, so I'm officially withdrawing that request), but I'm going to keep it up here as I go along. I'll remove this paragraph when it's ready for prime time. Hopefully I'll have time to polish it up after finals (2005.11). In the meantime, all the information presented is accurate to the best of my knowledge.

ORIGINAL POST (2005.05):
Back in 2002, during the FIFA World Cup, Korean stadiums were awash in a sea of red-shirted spectators. There was a giddy month-long national celebration as Korea's home team shattered all expectations and made it to the semi-finals of world soccer.

Amidst all this, considerable irony abounded, with partying fans wearing the Konglishy "Be the Reds!" t-shirts (irony because this nation-loving display had an inadvertent pro-communist message), and, after making a big deal about Korea's name going first in the 2002 Korea/Japan World Cup name, so many people were displaying banners, signs, etc., with Korea spelled with a C: hence the signs rooting for Corea.

Indeed, this Korea-versus-Corea spelling issue is something that bubbles up from time to time. Most recently (as of this writing), a member of the National Assembly even put forward a bill in 2003 to change the official spelling of the country's name to Corea. (The linked article refers to the "allegation that Korea is a vestige of Japanese colonial rule over the nation.")

The K-v-C issue is not new. In fact, it has become a symbol of pride for uber-patriotic Koreans to label themselves Corean and their homeland Corea. Google yields 6.08 million hits for Corea, 220,000 hits for Corean, and 12,500 hits for Corean-American in quotations (though google did ask, "Did you mean, 'Korean-American'?"). Corea is a badge of honor to wear in the fight against imperialistic and racist forces, both real and imaginary.

But I am getting ahead of myself. I am introducing a value judgment about the K-v-C issue without having first explained how I came to the realization/conclusion that this entire issue is hogwash. A red herring designed to whip up anti-Japanese sentiment.

The argument goes that Japanese authorities conspired to use their nation's power in order to change Korea's traditional spelling of Corea to Korea so that Japan would come before Korea in any international forum.

Indeed, it is an irrefutable fact that Korea was at one time spelled as Corea, largely because of French influence in the 19th century. The usage of Corea is an indisputable part of the historic record, with numerous official items showing the official and unofficial spelling of Corea. Sometime in the late 19th century and early 20th century, however, both official Korean usage and unofficial usage clearly came to favor Korea.

That Japan was behind the spelling change in order to come out ahead of Korea is an interesting hypothesis, but it is full of holes in the form of logic and fact. The story is verifiably false for the following reasons:

1. No one has ever been able to come up with hard, conclusive evidence that such conscious decisions were ever made.
When the Japanese government denied official involvement in the mobilization of Comfort Women during World War II, historians combed through document after document to prove them wrong. Japanese historians xxx and xxx found the evidence to show that the Japanese government's denial of official sanction was a lie.

If the Japanese still had records that would implicate the government in something so heinous as the creation and mobilization of the Comfort Women corps, it would stand to reason that the decision to change Corea to Korea would be documented somewhere, too. Yet it has not turned up.

The member of the ROK National Assembly who proposed in 2003 that Korea be changed to Corea does say he has seen a document indicating that Japanese officials complained of Koreans using "Corea" to spell the country's name, which was seen as a sign of nationalism. I have not seen this, but it may well have been that the official was complaining of Koreans not using Chosen, the Japanese pronunciation of Choson, not that he was complaining of Korean spelling. This is purely speculative on my part, but well grounded. Nevertheless, you will see that this is not relevant.

Link to Barbara Demmick article on K-v-C issue, which includes mention of the apocryphal story (my description, not hers) that Japan changed the spelling in time for the 1908 Olympics in London. Note that the Korean Olympic Committee was formed in 1946, before the Republic of Korea was officially established, and in time for the 1948 Olympics when Korea made its Olympic debut (South Korea also participated in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, despite the Korean War raging at the time). Simply put, Korea was not one of the 22 countries that participated in the 1908 London Olympiad.

Of course, the lack of such records is not at all irrefutable evidence. Arguably, it is not evidence at all, since there could be a whole host of reasons why a document may exist (or once existed) but hasn't turned up. Fortunately, this is the weakest piece of evidence why the Korea-versus-Corea issue is nothing more than a red herring. I only mention it because it is the first sign that the pro-Corea argument simply doesn't hold water.

2. As ruler over a Korea that had been absorbed into Japan, there would be no reason for Japan to be concerned with how Korea's name appeared in international forums.
Sohn Kee-chung (Son Kijŏng), known as Kitei Son in Japanese.

1930s medal commemorating Olympic marathon gold medalist Kitei Son (the Japanese pronunciation of Son Kijŏng), an ethnic Korean who, as a Japanese citizen, participated on behalf of Japan. His English name is officially spelled Sohn Kee-chung.

3. The name Korea was used in official government materials long before the Japanese took over Korea.

stamps (although Japanese helped make them)

1884 Korean stamp labeled as Corean Post.

1900 stamp from Imperial Korean Post.

Chosŏn imperial-era 50-poon stamp identifying country as Korea.

Postcard issued by Imperial Korean Post.

Imperial Korean passport issued by The Imperial Korean Foreign Office.
This evidence is not new. In fact, pro-Coreans counter this argument by pointing out that Japanese influence in Korea was strong well before 1910 when Japan annexed Korea, and even before 1904 when Japan began plans in earnest to not just control Korea but absorb it into Japan. Going back to Japan's 1895 victory over China in the Sino-Japanese War, the Japanese government and Japanese individuals had been exerting considerable influence on Korea's politics and its economy.

That is why exhibit #4 is rather important.

4. The Japanese authorities continued to use Chōsen or the Corea spelling during their rule of Korea.

This is where my argument goes beyond that of most others who have debunked the Corea myth. The ultimate way of demonstrating that the Japanese authorities were not behind the Korea spelling for any kind of malicious alphabetic purpose is that they continued to refer to Korea using two spellings that begin with C.

Chōsen, for those of you who are not aware, is the Japanese pronunciation of 朝鮮, the Chinese characters that represent Chosŏn (Joseon in the atrocious NAKL writing system) the name of the Korean kingdom (1392-1910) begun by Yi Sŏnggye (later King T'aejo) at the end of the 14th century. The Japanese continued to use 朝鮮 to refer to Korea, as do the North Koreans even today (although the North Koreans tend to write it in Korean script, 조선).

1937 "green card" (U.S. alien registration card) of Japanese national listing Chosen as country of birth.

The same U.S. Immigrant Identification Card of ethnic Korean of Japanese nationality showing country of birth as Chosen.

Imperial Japanese passport with U.S. visa stamp issued by American Consul at Seoul, Chosen.

1939 postcard with Chosen stationery.

Japanese occupation-era postcard with Keijyo, Chosen postmark (Keijyo, a later alternate spelling of Keijō, is the Japanese pronunciation of Kyŏngsŏng, or 京城 , the Japanese name for Seoul).

Japanese occupation-era postcard with Corea in postmark.

Japanese occupation-era postcard with Custom House stamp issued by Umaji Takahira at Fusan, Corea (Fusan is the Japanese pronunciation of Pusan).

Japanese consul stamp from Kensan, Corea.

Postcard of Chemulpo, Corea with postmark from Chemulpo, Corea (Chemulp'o is the older name of port area in modern-day Inch'ŏn).

1923 postcard postmarked from Kinsen, Corea (Kinsen is the Japanese pronunciation of Inch'ŏn).
To sum up:
1. There is zero solid, documentary evidence that Japan officialdom ever set out to change Corea's spelling to Korea.

2. Having absorbed Korea, Japan would have no need to worry about whether Korea would come above it or below it in an international forum.

3. Korea's royal and imperial governments began using the Korea spelling before Japan started wielding sufficiently hefty influence over Korea around 1904.

4. The Japanese continued to spell Korea's name with a C (as Chōsen or Corea) when they controlled Korea.
The evidence is clear for anyone who wants to look into it. This is all the more reason it is so irresponsible for organizations and companies to jump on the Corea bandwagon: they are unwittingly buying into an argument exists to promote animosity toward another country.

It is also true that some, such as the artist linked here, feel that even if it is not true that the Japanese imposed the Korea spelling, the Corea spelling "represents the lost memories of a pre-occupation pre-war unified Corea, without North and South, without a communism versus freedom connotation. At the very least, it gets people to ask why I spell it like that and learn a little about Corean history, even if they disagree or do not care."

That may be fine, but what kind of history are they learning? The Corea spelling as a modern issue is inextricably tied to attempts to whip up animosity against another country.

And what exactly does Corea hearken back to? It was the spelling of the country when its people were suffering under the weight of a corrupt and oppressive monarchy that was often unable or unwilling to meet the challenges of a new era, which helped Korea become swallowed up by Japan.

Please don't get me wrong, a great deal of horrific things happened at the hands of imperial Japan prior to 1945. And it can be argued that modern-day Japan's current leadership is not facing up to that legacy with the genuine contrition that would be needed for Japan to move forward with the countries it once invaded, occupied, and brutalized. But I feel that the actual atrocities of occupation, forced labor, mobilization of the Comfort Women sex slaves, etc., are enough by themselves to make Koreans take pause when regarding Japan without making up new insults and injuries.

If anything, these fabrications diminish what has actually happened to real people at the hands of the Japanese. It is an insult to the Comfort Women and the forced laborers, for example, because it says to those people, "Sorry, but your actual suffering is not enough for us to whip up anger against Japan, so we have to make stuff up."



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  2. I have decided to take the picture down. A pic of myself when I was young may be appropriate as a gravatar, but not as a centerpiece on what is supposed to be a serious blog.

    I thought when I pasted it up, it would be a lot smaller. There's too much slobber, which is sort of gross.

    Anyway, baduk, the pic is me, not my son. I'm not yet married and, to my knowledge, have no children. And why would you assume people of mixed ethnicity have a mother who's Korean and not a father?

    Enough said. I prefer to transcend race, becaused it's a ridiculous construct we use to pigeonhole people.

  3. Feel free to comment on anything here. When I get the Korea-versus-Corea post finalized, I will re-post it, so that the comments will be new.

    In the meantime, feel free to critique.

    This may sound a little ambitious (or even cocky), but I am hoping that particular post will become the go-to reference whenever someone is trying to defend the K side of the issue. I may even try to get it on Snopes.

  4. I had always been content to give the Corea club the LOL they deserve and stop there, but that was a brilliant and devastatingly logical post, Kushibo. (BONUS POINTS because it's always fun to peruse old stamps and documents).

    Although North Korea has jumped on the Corea bandwagon recently, officially it has called itself the DPRK for 50 years. If there were merit to the Corea argument, you'd think that the planet's most jingoistic and anti-Japanese country would be the first to call itself DPRC.

  5. Actually, there are a couple things this post needs before it's ready (besides having more coherent and thoughtfully written paragraphs to connect the pictures and each bullet point).

    First, I need to get myself a picture of the Korean Provisional Government in Shanghai using the Korea spelling, with the KRC (Korea Red Cross) thrown in for good measure.

    Second, I need to see if I can get hold of the document that the Assemblyman mentions in the Boston Globe article I linked to (where his "smoking gun" is a Japanese official complaining of people using "Corea" as a form of nationalism).

    If such a document exists, I suspect it may be complaining that people are using Corea instead of Chosen. But I don't want to pull a Gerry Bevers (look out! ad hominem attack! ^^) and have mere speculation be a major part of my argument.

    But this is why the official Japanese usage of Chosen and Corea is key to the argument: it undermines any attempt to put the K spelling on the Japanese, who kept using not just one, but TWO spellings of the country's name with C.

    Mindless nationalism really bugs me, which I think I make clear in the opening and closing paragraphs. This K-v-C business is a slap in the face to the actual victims of Japanese imperial aggression.

  6. Oh, and slim, I think that the "Corea" issue will rear its ugly head when/if reunification comes anytime soon.

    I know some people are looking to change the name of Korea to something new (or old), at least in Korean. Like 고려 (Koryŏ). That would avoid the problem of deciding whether 한국 or 조선 should prevail. I just hope they don't spell it Goryeo (I loathe the NAKL system).

    My personal preference would be to name the new country 新韓 (Shinhan, literally "New Korea"), though:

    Shinhan Minguk! 新韓民國!

  7. hi kushibo,

    Shinhan Minguk!

    this is customarily followed by "man-sae!!" (and yell it like you mean it) So it should be

    Shinhan Minguk, Man-sae!!

  8. I was thinking of it more like the World Cup cheer: 대~한민국! (clap, clap, clap, clap)

    But you're right, in the traditional sense, it should be followed by 만세:

    新韓民國, 萬歲!
    Viva New Korea!
    신한민국, 만세!

    (You can't tell, but I'm waving both hands really high up in the air right now.)

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  11. Hi, Kushibo:

    Quite apart from the C-vs-K debate, I really enjoyed seeing all those old postcards, stamps, etc. When you move on to a different article, please consider posting more old images like that, if you have more where those came from.

    I knew the "C"-spelling was more prevalent in the 19th century, but I had serious doubts about the claim that the change was brought about by Japan. Seeing "Corea" in the colonial postmarks is just about as solid as you can get—well, it just stands the whole issue on its head, doesn't it!? (Unless someone in the LDP complains that the Imperial Japanese Post Office was being run by anti-colonial leftists!)

    If we leave apart English, the Romance languages generally spell it with a "C," while the Germanic languages spell it with a "K." Then again, evidently it's spelled with a "K" in modern-day Latin (witness: Tripitaka Koreana).

    Should unification ever come, it makes sense to go with 고려, as it would suitably represent the whole peninsula. 대한 and 조선 were both names applied to the whole of Korea at one time or another, but of course, in recent times, they've each denoted only one half of the peninsula. And if 고려 were to become the new name, it would make sense to just retain Korea as the English name, since (a) it's already used in English by both countries; and (b) Korea is in fact derived from 고려 (by way probably of Italian traders or Jesuit missionaries from China).

  12. 신한 is interesting: I've never heard or read it before. It sounds very much like a back-formation from English, though ("New Korea").

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  14. Kushibo wrote,

    "(You can't tell, but I'm waving both hands really high up in the air right now.)"

    And typing at the same time!? That's quite the feat! Or you were typing with your feet.

  15. Kushibo wrote:

    "But I don't want to pull a Gerry Bevers (look out! ad hominem attack! ^^) and have mere speculation be a major part of my argument."

    Oh no, don't pull Gerry into this! We may have to enlist the help of the illustrious Admiral Yi Sun-shin in that case!

  16. Sewing wrote:
    신한 is interesting: I've never heard or read it before. It sounds very much like a back-formation from English, though ("New Korea").

    Shinhan is the name of the bank that owns half of my apartment.

    That's not why I thought to name the country after them, though. It's just that their name happens to correspond with what a unified country's name might want to convey: a new Korea.

    There isn't much precedence for this, except in places like New Mexico (which was part of old Mexico) or New England. Or the New Taiwan Dollar (?), which is the official name of the Taiwan dollar (or is it Singapore?).

  17. I have a chemistry final (yes, chemistry!) on Thursday, and after that a textbook project to finish up. I hope to finalize this by the weekend, though.

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  19. You know, it's supremely ironic (and I mean that in the correct sense of the word) that Korea used the "K" spelling (the "Korean Empire" stamps), while Japan used the "C" spelling (the "Corea" postmarks).

    If anything, this should be a convincing argument against adopting the "C" spelling, since it would be embracing a spelling perpetuated by none other than Japan!

    And Kushibo, you make a very good point that focussing on trivial (and, as it turns out, highly misguided) issues like this detracts from issues of substance, like, as you said, the comfort women and forced labourers.

    Anyhow, on second thought, Shinhan ("New Korea") makes as much sense as Daehan ("Great Korea"). I guess the issue with retaining the name "Han" (韓) after reunification is that it makes a regional-specific allusion to the southern Samhan (三韓) of times past. ("Choson"/"Joseon" also making a regional allusion, in this case evoking the early northern kingdoms of 고조선 (Kojoson/Gojeseon) and 위만조선 (Wiman Choson/Joseon).)

  20. Actually, Plunge, I am already on the KS list. I don't post much, though.

  21. Great post. I wonder if you spotted this howler on one of the articles you linked to (

    "Han-guk" breaks down into HAN = "one" and GUK = "people".


  22. Hey, nice page. I got linked from Marmot. Good research. I didn't know about that last section of continued Japanese usage. Even though you're not done, I'll be sending over some fob's so that they can finally put this stupid C vs. K issue to rest.

  23. First, I salute you for an absolutely brilliant and well documented presentation. The controversy reminds me ot the complaints about T.E. Lawrence's first edition of "The Seven Pilalrs of Wisdom", in which the editors complained about his rendering the names of the Arabian places in different romanized forms. Since Arabic has only a single written vowel, he reponded by varying the spellings even further, pointing out that only the original Arabic script was valid. Romanizing Koran is simpler (mroe vowels, and even dipthongs), but still allows for variants. I am frankly surprised by this "controversy" as it is more appropriate for some obscure third world region than an economic superpower. As for some of the other comments, "Guk" is not "people", but rather "nation" and comes from the Chinese "Gwo", but I definitely like the "Koryeo" (or "Goryeo") spelling idea upon unification, but the reality is that different nations of the world will continue to spell Korea (ou Coree) in accordance with their own spelling systems.

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  27. As "Korea"/"Coree"/etc. is derived from Koryo/Goryeo anyhow, I think it would be perfectly fine to continue using the western name.

    The article mentioned by Aaron is erroneous in another matter, as well. The country was called "Choson" (조선) until 1897; but thereafter, it was called "Daehan Jeguk" ("Korean Empire"), and this is where the 1919 term "Daehan Minguk" ("Republic of Korea") comes from.

    Anyhow, I don't think I can even read "Corea" now without getting sick, thinking about how a benign, archaic spelling of the word has become a touchstone for passionate nationalists, unwittingly promoting its use despite its having been perpetuated by the very country said nationalists so despise!

    It's really, really sad, and it detracts from more serious historical issues that still need to be addressed.

    Of course, nationalistic reinterpretation of history is not a practice unique to South Koreans, and occurs in many places around the world (not least in South Korea's immediate neighbours to the north, east, and west.) And we should not let this sad story colour the fine work done by Korean scholars who objectively analyze their own country's history.

    As for me, I'll continue to study Korean language, culture, and history.

    Anyhow, on another topic, Kushibo, as I mentioned somewhere up above, once you've moved on from the C-vs.-K story to something else, please consider a post or two with more old postcards and other ephemera. Quite apart from this issue, it was really quite fascinating to see them. (And I couldn't help noticing that one of the postcards appears to give a glimpse into the state of corporal punishment 100 years ago; you can skip those ones in the future!)

  28. I meant to write: "As for me, I'll continue to study Korean language, culture, and history."

  29. ...And I hope you did well on your exam today.

  30. It tells you a lot about someone's self confdence if they are worried about how their country is spelled. The other day I had a Corean go into shock when I mentioned the body of water to the south of the U.S. was called the Gulf of Mexico. "How could you allow that name?"

  31. Clear arguments backed by excellent research - well done! I can only hope this is chapter one in an ongoing "Korea debunked" series followed by "East Sea", fan death, and kimchee vs SARS.

    When you're finished with this one I strongly recommend that you request a link from the Korea entry on wikipedia.

  32. I am very impressed by your arguments. You should try to publish your findings in the Korean press (both Korea Times and Korea Herald are very receptive to guest columns)--though you may not want to attract so much controversy to yourself.

  33. Ditto to what Won-joon said. This is the sort of thing that should be published, but then again, you may not want to publish it....

  34. Great research.
    I always thought this C-v-K argument was caused by Koreans' anti-Japan sickness.

  35. Great post.

    Just to throw in my penny's worth on the new name of Korea, I personally like Koryo. Perhaps because it's the name by which the non-Sinic world (firstly the Muslim world I believe) came to know Korea.

    I have to say that the reinvention of Korea as 'Hanguk' in the late 19th century has often puzzled me. Who came up with the idea of using an obscure Chinese character used for some early state-like entities at the southern end of the peninsula to stand for the whole country?

    I do understand though, that the whole Taehan cheguk (大韓帝國) thing was modelled on (guess who?) Japan, which at the time had styled itself 大日帝國. This in turn was something of a back-formation from the Japanese name for the British Empire (大英帝國), where the character tae 大 stands for the 'great' of Great Britain (someone please correct me if I'm wrong on this one). Of course this perhaps reveals something of a misunderstanding on the part of the Japanese translators as 'great' in this context meant larger or 'greater', denoting a contrast with the smaller Britain, which is in fact the French peninsula known in English as Brittany (see Wikipedia entry for Great Britain). Anyway, the legacy of all these linguistic shenanigans is still there whenever football fans shout 'Taehan minguk'.

    I did actually have to rethink my position on *Han*guk / Koryo a little bit recently though, as I was talking to a fellow historian who told me that it is almost impossible to find sources where the Koryoans referred to their own country as Koryo. In fact, they often used the term samhan 三韓 instead and it mostly seems to have been the Chinese that called the country Koryo (as in the title of the famous travelogue 'Kao-li T'u-ching'). Of course down the years Korea had a great number of different names, one of the most common simply being Tongguk 東國 or 'Eastern Country'.

  36. Your argument, while a noble attempt at persuasion, avoids the central issue that "Korea" is an English word and so speakers of English, not Korean, decide upon its spelling. Occurrences of "Corea" should be labeled as misspelled in English, case closed. “Corea” may be correct in Italian or French, but not in English.

    Just because some Koreans speak some English, do we have to start revising Webster’s to suit their liking? If so, why stop with “Korea”? My students could suggest thousands of creative spelling revisions to suit their English pronunciation or lack thereof. While we’re at it, we could start replacing English words with Korean words to make it easier for Koreans to learn English.

    Come to think of it, why don’t we all just speak Korean?

    Some Koreans think that (1) whatever they say should be taken seriously and (2) if it’s on a t-shirt, it must be true. Luckily, for the rest of us, they’re wrong on both counts

  37. anonymous:

    If the South Korean government decided to change the country's English name to the "Republic of Corea" (much as I disagree with it), the world would have to comply.

    The Ivory Coast demanded back in the 80s that it should be referred to by the French name "Cote d'Ivoire," and sure enough, English-language reference works now refer to the country by that name.

    And alas, methinks there are lots of people around the world who think that "if it's on a t-shirt, it must be true."

  38. Kotaji, thanks for the historical explanation behind 大韓帝國, and also for saying that Koryoans generally referred to themselves as 三韓 (which seems really odd, but I'll take your word for it).

  39. Actually it would be interesting to submit this to Oh My News. Even better if you can translate into Korean and submit both. I'd be interested to see the Korean netizen reaction.

  40. My favourite archaic name for the country is Taedong (大東; "Great East"), as in the famous map Taedong Yojido (大東與地圖), by Kim Chong-ho/Kim Jeong-ho (no relation to you-know-who), the gentleman whose picture graces my comments.

  41. Libertine, I wonder that myself. Could it cause a sea change in this issue? Or would some claim that the pictures were somehow doctored (as happens in the matter of a couple of other contentious Northeast Asian cross-border historical issues, though not by Koreans)?

  42. Sewing, I wouldn't quote me as saying the Koryoans *generally* referred to themselves as 三韓. My understanding is that they used this quite often as well as other names, while the use of Koryo (高麗) was rare or non-existent.

    Another aside on the 'Taehan' thing: I work in the close of vicinity of the British Museum, much-loved destination of Korean tourists (and people who want to see stuff Britain stole from them 150 years ago). Funnily enough in Korean it is always referred to as the 'Taeyong pangmulgwan' (大英博物館), which would sound quite weird if translated back into English.

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  44. Piwon? I had occasion to eat there last week and was quite impressed. I'm usually a bit disappointed by the quality of Korean food in London. But with the numbers of Koreans coming here at the moment, things can only get better (and cheaper).

    I fear we are straying far from the topic...

  45. Kotaji:

    "Great British Museum." (Or more properly, "Great English Museum"?)

    I stand corrected on the misuse of the word "generally."

    Anyhow, this is trivially interesting. I searched (without too much success) for 大日帝國 in Google, forgetting, of course, that I'm not using the right semi-simplified character for 國 (the one with 玉 inside 口). As it turns out, Google returns results with both the traditional character and its simplified variants!

  46. Sorry, accidentally deleted that message!

    Yes, Biwon. I'm glad it was one of the better places, as I was taking a complete gamble on eating there! The food was good and the prices reasonable (except that everything costs an arm and a leg for a Canadian there). Even the washrooms were nice (well, the men's anyhow; can't say about the women's).

  47. Google did turn up a number of hits after all for 大日帝國/国, 大日 being evidently the familiar term "Dainichi" (didn't know that).

    So now we have the complete etymology: 大英帝國 → 大日帝国 → 大韓帝國 → 大韓民國!

  48. Not to mention that the full, official name of Korea during the Choson/Joseon Dynasty appears to have been "Taejosonguk" (大朝鮮國). (I recall reading it somewhere on the Internet other than on all the cloned Wikipedia pages.)

  49. So now we have the complete etymology: 大英帝國 → 大日帝国 → 大韓帝國 → 大韓民國!

    Not quite complete:
    大英帝國 → 大日帝国 → 大韓帝國 → 大韓民國 → 新韓民國!

    I really do think that a unified Korea will want (and possibly need) a new official name, even if the country retains Korea or Corea in English, as it likely would.

    I think that Shinhan Min'guk (新韓民國, New Korea Republic) or Taehan T'ong'il Min'guk (大韓統一民國, Unified Korean Republic) would be good, succinct, and appropriate. But I'm not sure if I'm getting the unified name right.

    But if they choose to go with Koryŏ over Han, then it would be 新高麗民國 (Shin Koryŏ Min'guk) or 高麗統一民國 (Koryŏ T'ong'il Min'guk).

    The shorthand would be 高麗 (Koryŏ). I just hope they don't spell it as Goryeo.

    It always cracks me up when I see someone explain that Korea or Corea came from the ancient name Goryeo. I could see someone getting Korea from Koryo, but not Korea from Goryeo.

    The NAKL system sucks eggs.

  50. Kushibo, do you want to know some pertinent facts about kitei son?

  51. Addressing a commenter, the French for Korea is not Corea but Corée.

    Kushibo, well done! I too would love to see more epehemera, but more importantly, your post is excellent.

  52. “The argument goes that Japanese conspired to use its power in order to change Korea's traditional spelling of Corea to Korea so that Japan would come before Korea in any international forum.”

    This is exactly what I used to hear. I began to realize that the argument might be a bullshit, when I saw the Olypmic marches from Athens last year. Korea actually marched much before Japan! The Greek for Korea may come before Japan. I also notice that Japaneses often use Nippon for Japan.

    Nice work, by the way.

  53. Kushibo, I do have to disagree with you on your assessment of the NAKL system.

    I see the merits of McCune-Reischauer and have even begun using it on my own blog (though not for place names).

    The initial consonants ㄱ, ㄷ, ㅂ, and ㅈ sound to my ear somewhat between their unvoiced M-R and voice NAKL renditions, so I don't think either system is exactly perfect in that regard. (Though I wouldn't want to get into an argument with a phoneticist over this point!)

    I do have an issue (as do you) with the way that the Revised system drops the "h" in such combinations as 시, 씨, and 쉬.

    As for the vowels, apart from ㅓ/ㅕ and ㅡ, the two systems transcribe the vowels almost identically.

    The only really big sticking point for me is "eo" and "eu." I used to be of the admittedly high-handed opinion that people should just know that these each represent one sound. But my wife's name is written with an "eo" (coming from the system that was in use prior to 1984), and I have heard her name consistently mispronounced so many times in exactly the same way that I now have absolutely no doubt that the "eo" and "eu" are, quite simply, useless, as they most trip up exactly those who are supposed to most benefit from any romanization system: people who don't know the Hangul alphabet and therefore cannot necessarily recognize that these are supposed to pronounced as single sounds!

    Whew, that's that. Okay, back onto the topic at hand....

  54. So I guess I agree with you after all! Everything is fine about the NAKL system except "eo" and "eu," but that one exception alone pretty much ruins everything for me.

  55. Problems with NAKL:

    1. eo, eu for 어, 으
    2. si for 시
    3. One size fits all use of g, d, b, and j for ㄱ, ㄷ, ㅂ, and ㅈ.

    Words like 학교 are hakkyo (with the k's pronounced separately), not hakgyo. Similarly, there is no g in makkŏlli. There is no g sound in there.

    As for initial sounds, I give you two exibits. First, way back before Romanization was even an issue, people from around the word heard 고려 and what did they think it was: Corea or Gorea?

    Second, the word Tokyo. This is begins with an obvious T sound, not a D sound (that would be どうきょう, not とうきょう).

    Koreans used to write it primarily as 동경, the Korean pronunciation of the Chinese characters, 東京. But a transcription of the Japanese in Han'gŭl has become common nowadays.

    How is it written? Not as 토쿄, but as 도쿄. Go check it out on Here is a case where the politics of Romanization have not infected the decision what to write, and Tokyo is written with a beginning ㄷ. Clearly, this is an example of how even Koreans think of that initial sound as a t.

    The problem with NAKL is that it represents the two ㄱ in 고구마 or the two ㅂ in 바보 as the same sound: goguma and babo. But they are not; pronounce them out and you can here it. NAKL fails to make a distinction, which hurts the learner in the beginning, perhaps handicapping him or her permanently.

    McCune-Reischauer, however, differentiates between the internal d, the initial t and the aspirated t'. A learner will see that there are two different initial t sounds. I use the Lonely Planet Phrasebook to teach my students how to read Han'gŭl because it explains the difference.

    NAKL is not just useless, but it's detrimental for people like them: it makes them learn an imprecise pronunciation, making them think all g's, d's, b's, and j's are created equal, and the eo/eu makes their pronunciation so bad that they often feel learning Korean is hopeless.

  56. Okay, I take back what I said about the initial consonants. I admit that I have been conditioned by the old pre-1984 system, which also always used "g" for initial ㄱ, etc., the result being that I do (perhaps mistakenly) pronounce 바보 as "babo" (of whose proper pronunciation I should be keenly aware, since my wife uses it quite a lot! ;) ). Then again, I do pronounce anything beginning with 그 correctly....

    I do have a very practical question for you, however: do M-R diactritics (Ŏ, ŏ, Ŭ, and ŭ) appear properly in your browser? I actually decided to switch to M-R on my own blog, and they show up fine in IE6 on my Windows 98 computer at home, but not at all on my Windows 2000 machine at work (where I never blog from, of course).

  57. ...I should add that this only appears to be a problem with Blogger. On other web sites (and even Jodi's Typepad blog, for example), M-R shows up fine.

  58. I think it's a matter of the Blogger settings, then.

    I'm not an expert, so I'm looking this up now...

    Go into the Blogger "dashboard."

    Select SETTINGS from the above menu.

    Within SETTINGS, select FORMATTING.

    About seven options down, you will see "Encoding."

    From the long list of languages, choose "Universal (Unicode UTF-8)."

    I think this is what you need in order to ensure that your diacriticals show up. I realized this because, on Macs at least, the diacriticals are made from the U.S. Extended keyboard, which is an ISO set-up (I think).

    I'm not that knowledgeable about computers, which is exactly why I prefer a Mac. I have two offices for three different workplaces, and both of them have PCs we use regularly (for .hwp, since there has been no Mac version of HWP since 1997, although there is supposed to be a new Mac version this year), and I can't believe some of the problems those things have. All of them brand new computers running on Windows XP!

  59. Hi, Kushibo:

    Thanks for the tip, but it was already set to Unicode! I even have it that the reader's browser is forced to Unicode encoding. Darn it...I'll stick with the Korea Times romanization for now, but probably at least continue to use apostrophes for ㅊ, ㅋ, ㅌ, ㅍ, etc.... Let's see: Chungchong, Ch'ungch'ong...I dunno; when I was first learning Korean, the apostrophes threw me off anyhow, and I ended up pronouncing it like CHungCHong....

    I might just adopt both romanizations, but it gets to a point where there are just too many glosses for a single word! (E.g., Kwangmu (Gwangmu; 광무; 光武).)

    We need a brand new, diacritic-less romanization system that (a) reflects sound changes (so not the Yale system); (b) solves all problems; (c) keeps all ambiguities to a minimum; and (d) is acceptable to everyone!

  60. I don't think it's possible to make such a system. There are simply too many vowels in Korean for an easy fit with the Latin-5.

    And diacritics aren't a bad thing. Let's not forget, they serve an important role in English, too.

    Without them, we wouldn't know if "resume" is supposed to be résumé or just "resume." Without the cedilla, the acute accents, and the tilde, we might also mispronounce façade, naïve, El Niño, etc.

    And the macrons (the lines over the o's in Tokyo) are used in properly Romanized Japanese.

    Diacritics are our friends. And the idea that they are too hard to use is nonsense, since the French, Germans, Spanish, and the English-speakers use them all the time!

  61. On the subject of Kwangmu, what would be the date on the Imperial Korean Passport?

    It says 9 Kwangmu 3 Month 27 Day.

    I think I also need Mae or someone verify the dates on the Japanese documents, since some of them also appear to be in imperial reign-years rather than Gregorian years.

  62. Kwangmu 9 would be 1905. The kwangmu reign name was adopted in 1897 when Kojong became an emperor and the name of the country became Taehan cheguk 大韓帝國.

    If you're looking at the history of this period you should get yourself a copy of 'Tongyang yônp'yo' a little red book you can find in most Korean bookshops. I couldn't live without it (although I concede that most people probably could). It's also useful sometimes for working out modern Japanese dates, when they insist on using the reign/era names, or indeed Korean publication dates from the 40s and 50s when they were using the Tan'gi calendar. It is only deficient in that it unfortunately doesn't provide the Buddhist calendar or the Hijra year...

  63. By the way, I wholeheartedly agree with you Kushibo about the diacritic thing. I've always thought it incredibly patronising when I've heard people say that the M-R system is too difficult. Surely it's like any orthographic system - it needs to be learned and it obviously needs to be taught. Even the mixed up non-system that most Koreans use to Romanise their own names has, in a sense, been learned, although probably in a passive way. It's worth noting just how common the use of 'u' as a Romanisation for 어 is.

  64. 1905. I was thinking of it because I'm working on the era names right now on my own blog.

    It was also the year 을사 (乙巳), one year of the (shameless plug!) sixty-year cycle.

    Actually, I noticed the date was written as "9 Kwangmu 3 moon 27 day," which is kind of interesting.

    Regarding diacritics, I love them. I know the 4 HTML codes for the M-R o's and u's off by heart. In this day and age of Unicode, it doesn't really matter, but once upon a time when people were using typewriters, Linotype (for newspapers), or even 128-character ASCII, diacritics were a major inconvenience. And since there is a natural human tendency to laziness and leaving the marks out, a system that didn't require them in the first place would be desirable. But I agree that the range of vowels in Korean makes this difficult, unless you use two-letter combinations, which as we all know lead to problems.

    (In fact, I was finally convinced of the undesirability of the NAKL system when I discovered that people consistently mispronounce in exactly the same way my wife's name, which has an "eo" in it from the pre-84 romanization system.)

  65. Shameless plug update: I have renamed the article on era names to reflect the fact that it covers both era and country names.

  66. I just like Korea. I prefer K to C anyway. I hope this doesn't change.

  67. "K" is stronger, prouder, more resolute. "C" is too soft and quaint.

  68. My first thought is that the pronunication remains the same however spelt, but I believe we can find historical examples of languages being altered to conform to spelling systems (or, in the case of the Spanish "theta", to conform to a King's Austrian lisp). The very purpose of formal linguistic education, one might argue, is to render pronunciation and spelling uniform.


  69. I found this blog through The Marmot's Hole and I admire the attempts there and here to present facts and not propaganda. After a cursory glance over the (promising and well-written, if fragmented) main post and the comments, I too want to recommend koreaweb, which is where I first learned about this weird issue.

    My only observation at the moment about this post is that the second and fourth points somewhat weaken each other. Or rather, they are part of the same point. Specifically, as the koreaweb folks note, what spelling Japan used after 1910 is irrelevant b/c Korea was no longer an independent country and thus would not appear on the same international lists as still-sovereign Japan. Moreover, even if the spelling had any significance, in 1937 the Japanese government instituted a new romanization system, under which Chosen became Tyosen, the name of the peninsula once again coming after, in fact far after, the name of the home islands alphabetically. I am hardly an expert in 20th C East Asian history, so credit/blame lies with the koreaweb pundits. However, I am a (Korean-American) collector of Korean ephemera (one reason I really enjoyed the supplemental material for this post) and in the course of pursuing my hobby have found items, like the great ones shown here, that display a variety of spellings. (In fact, to further complicate matters, I recently found a postcard of the headquarters of the Bank of "Shyosen".) I will put up some pics and post the URLs here, if anyone's interested. In the meantime, keep up the good work and I look forward to seeing the finished post.

    PS Shouldn't it be "Son Kitei" per Japanese name order?

  70. Anonymous:

    I'd love to see some of the stuff you have. These old postcards, stamps, passports, etc. are a great glimpse into the past.

    As you no doubt know, even in Korean, the spelling of Choson has changed. At least until some time in the early 20th century (I guess around the time of the standardization of Hangul spelling during the colonial period), 조선 (Choson) itself appears to have usually been spelled 됴선 (literally, Tyoson, although the pronunciation would have been the same ("Choson" in McCune-Reischauer))....

  71. As promised, here are some pics, with annotations:

    I know little hanja/kanji, but this postcard appears to be from a series commemorating the annexation. What little I can get from the lower caption is: 77 / Japan-Korea [something] / [blah blah blah] / Meiji 43 August 29 [something] Namdaemun. (The upper caption is a complete mystery to me.) Note the hinomaru flags and the single kimino-clad figure in an otherwise Korean scene. Note also the figure to the far right in what I can only describe as a white burka. Does anyone know anything about this type of clothing? Is it Buddhist?

    Front, back, and two close-ups of a postcard proclaiming the Treaty of Annexation (or rather, "Combinents [sic] of Japan and Korea"), showing what I presume is the text of the treaty and a portrait of signatory Viscount Terauchi Masatake, who became the first Governor General of Chosen.

    Postcard of "The Eank [sic] of Shyosen" (Bank of Chosen). Only example I've seen so far of this odd spelling.

    The Gyeongbokgung in "Keizyo, Tyosen," as seen from the air, with the now-demolished Government General HQ looming to the right.

    A set issued upon the completion of the Government General HQ. Ignoramus that I am, I can confirm only that the postmark is Taisho 15 (1926) October 1. Can anyone translate the rest?

    Lastly, side-by-side examples of the romanization change mentioned in my earlier comment in this thread. The Chosen/Tyosen Hotel is today the Westin Chosun, located in the exact same spot.

    As I've said, I'm Korean-American (and named generically enough, Mike Choi, BTW) and came relatively (and rather shamefully) late to my current interest in Korean history. In fact, what really lit a fire under my butt was seeing, of all things, 2009 LOST MEMORIES, which as you probably know begins with a montage of (alternate-)historical events. A nerdy novice, I went as far to research and write up a guide of sorts to (I hope) all such allusions in the movie, a project that taught me a lot and stoked my fascination. I continue to surf the web looking to learn more about my heritage (which is how I got here), my big regret being that, since my Asian language skills are near nil, I can't explore as deeply as I'd like.

    Sorry this comment is so long. I was an English major and these ramblings are the first time I've ever posted to a blog. Responses are welcome here and to me directly at mchl_choi(AT)

    PS I found the maps on this page ( to be really handy, esp. the HUGE 1946 ones, which mark both Korean and Japanese place names.

  72. I found this blog through The Marmot's Hole and I admire the attempts there and here to present facts and not propaganda. After a cursory glance over the (promising and well-written, if fragmented) main post and the comments, I too want to recommend koreaweb, which is where I first learned about this weird issue.

    Actually, I did participate on Koreaweb (now KS) in a discussion of this sometime ago, which is how I finetuned much of my argument. I will submit it for review after I prettify the paragraphs.

    My only observation at the moment about this post is that the second and fourth points somewhat weaken each other. Or rather, they are part of the same point. Specifically, as the koreaweb folks note, what spelling Japan used after 1910 is irrelevant b/c Korea was no longer an independent country and thus would not appear on the same international lists as still-sovereign Japan.

    I see your point, but I think both pieces of evidence need to be presented. This is because the C-v-K argument takes on some aspects of an urban legend, which means that several different claims must be attacked, even when the different claims themselves are contradictory.

    One of the claims is rather specific, that the alphabetic change was forced in time for the 1908 Olympics, a specific case.

    But just refuting that aspect would not be enough to refute other aspects of the claim. After all, one could point out that in some respects the Korea-Japan union was like Great Britain, with Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and England all under one United Kingdom under domination by the latter. Korea was like Northern Ireland or Scotland, still a country in some respects, but not a country in others.

    This would make the alphabetic order relevant in some situations, even if it clearly is not in regards to the Olympics.

    Moreover, even if the spelling had any significance, in 1937 the Japanese government instituted a new romanization system, under which Chosen became Tyosen, the name of the peninsula once again coming after, in fact far after, the name of the home islands alphabetically.

    While this is true, I think the burden would be on the Corea conspiracists to demonstrate that this new system (which is like the horrible NAKL system in its emphasis of one-to-one correspondence with Roman characters over accurate pronunciation) was chosen and promulgated throughout the empire for most of Japanese Romanization purposes just to push Korea back down behind Japan in alphabetic order.

    I am hardly an expert in 20th C East Asian history, so credit/blame lies with the koreaweb pundits. However, I am a (Korean-American) collector of Korean ephemera (one reason I really enjoyed the supplemental material for this post) and in the course of pursuing my hobby have found items, like the great ones shown here, that display a variety of spellings. (In fact, to further complicate matters, I recently found a postcard of the headquarters of the Bank of "Shyosen".)

    I think that is just a typo. Although I can imagine a French speaker thinking that the pronunciation of ch- in Chosen was actually sh- and so thought he/she should help clarify this.

    I have seen such a case with "Yongsan" (용산). Many English-speaking military people and civilians pronounced the 'o' in a "soft" way, as either youngsan or yahngsan.

    I have met some people who thought Yongsan was supposed to be pronounced Youngsan, and assumed errant McCune-Reischauer usage was to blame for people "incorrectly" mispronouncing Yongsan as 용산.

    Does this sound far-fetched? Well the evidence is that some of the road signs in Yongsan (proofread by native English speakers, I have been told) actually say "Youngsan."

    I will put up some pics and post the URLs here, if anyone's interested. In the meantime, keep up the good work and I look forward to seeing the finished post.

    By all means, please provide the links. I might even paste some of them up in this post by the time I'm done.

    PS Shouldn't it be "Son Kitei" per Japanese name order?

    At some point the Japanese started emphasizing Western order (given name + surname) for Japanese names (which in Japanese are surname + given name). I don't know if this was the norm in the 1930s when the medal shown was cast.

  73. Mike, glad to have you here, and don't worry about rambling. By the way, I saw the same 1946 maps at the Texas site.

    The neighborhood I have lived in since I've been in Korea as a fully formed adult has been in an area between Seoul Station, Namsan, and the military base to the south. The street with the 1935-built house I used to live in is on one of those maps.

  74. The explanations/clarifications make complete sense, which further assures me the final post will be a well-argued piece difficult for the conspiracy-theory die-hards to digest.

    Upon review I thought my selection of pics was kinda heavy on the Japanese imperialism, so I've added something more patriotic:

    This postcard shows the ceremony for the founding of the Republic of Korea in 1948. Oddly, "Korea" is transliterated not translated, but considering the hangeul lettering is almost as crude as mine, perhaps it might in fact have been written by a non-Korean who didn't know any better? (Some kind of transitional form?)

    And at the risk of veering onto a wee bit of a tangent, here's the wackiest thing I have, which I came across when I was more into WWII stuff:

    Not quite "politically correct," huh?

  75. Hi, Mike:

    Thanks for all the stuff you put up. It was fascinating.

    The Perry-Castaneda online map collection is great. I've seen that 1946 map many times before both online and offline, and it's a priceless treasure for its combination of detail and historicity. (Actually, there was a topographic map series produced for the whole country, with city insets (e.g., for Daegu/Taegu) on the backs of some maps.) It even shows virtually the entire Seoul streetcar network (except for the most outlying parts; dismantled in 1969), something of particular interest to me.

    Well, it would be a lot of work to start figuring out what some of the captions on those postcards say, but on the Namdaemun postcard, the 合邦 in 韓日合邦 hapbang/happang (합방), "annexation" or "unification" (depending on the context and the countries involved!).

    Since I never saw the Central Government Offices (ex Government General HQ) in person, the postcard showing it and Gyeongbokgung/Kyongbokkung was great, since it gives a clear idea of the relative sizes and locations of the two complexes.

    Interesting about the 1937 romanization system. I guess it never caught on outside of the "Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere," since, for example, the "Bank of (Chosen)" appears as such on the 1946 US Army map.

  76. Hey, Kushibo:

    I put up a big article comparing the M-R, Revised, and Yale Romanization systems. I would normally just wait for people to come around and look at it, but you might like to review it and provide me with any comments you have. It's at the top of my blog.

  77. Here is a Seoul streetcar from 1895:

    This pic is something I found online and kept for reference. In fact, I noticed that streetcars appear in many of my reference pics. Here is another, showing a streetcar passing through one of the old city gates (with one of those "burka"-clad people strolling by):

    This pic, taken from a Korean history course webpage at Harvard, shows even better than my "Keizyo" postcard the massive footprint of the Government General Building:

    Here is an interesting card I got just last week:

    What little I've been able to find out so far suggests this hotel was built at the turn of the previous century and was run mostly for Westerners by a Westerner who was once an adviser to the king. I wonder what, if anything, stands today on the site (supposedly on the Deoksugung grounds).

    And here is something a little offbeat:

    It seems this haraboji was 106 years old when the photo was taken in 1923. He was therefore born around 1817! (Incidentally, yet another example of a "Corea" postmark from the colonial period.)

  78. BTW, what's the best way for a US resident to get English-language Korean publications? I was looking at the SEOUL THROUGH PICTURES series, but the one place stateside that I've used so far, Hanbooks, is a no-go. One Korean outfit, Seoul Selection, charges S&H that's about twice the price of a book itself. Yikes!

    On a random note, let's see if I can make a clickable link to a pic for a change:

    Downtown Keijo

  79. Gihyeon wrote:
    Kushibo,Wonderful post that should put the whole "c" vs. "k" thing to rest.

    I think what I need to do is write it up in op-ed form. And then also, ever so politely, go to the National Assembly member who was pushing that bill and talk with him about it. If I can change that guy's mind, then the issue is probably dead.

    The one thing I regret is that, judging by the links and referrals I see to my page, this particular argument is being used by Korea-bashers and apologists for right-wing Japanese. In particular, they come to the conclusion that if this is a red herring, then most every other historical grievance of Korea's never happened. I suppose we could deconstruct the entire first half of the 20th century and conclude that World War II itself was little more than a cafeteria food fight.

    I think I'm a reasonably well educated person, and I have a master's degree in Korean Studies and a minor in Japanese Studies (I needed something tangible to show for how long I've been avoiding medical school!); I think I can look at things with a critical and
    knowledgeable eye, and while a lot of the grievances get exaggerated (not like this is a unique Korean trait), there is still meat in the
    sandwich (i.e., there is something to many or most of the grievances).

  80. Gihyeon wrote:
    I'm not so sure about the merits of M-R, however! I'm a late convert to NAKL for the simple fact that apostrophes and diacritics are often left out of the M-R transliteration.

    I believe, he problem with the diacriticals is not the problem NAKL proponents make of it. It is certainly less than the unnecessary confusion NAKL causes by the fantasy vowel sound 'eo' or by the one-size-fits-all spelling of ㄱ, ㄷ, ㅂ, and ㅈ as g, d, b, and j when these clearly are pronounced differently at the beginning of a word or as double characters (hakkyo versus hakgyo for 학교).

    First of all, English itself has diacriticals. Think of resume and résumé/resumé. Without diacriticals, how would you know
    which one it is? How would we know that El Niño is pronounced 엘 니뇨 and not 엘 니노?

    The absence of the diacriticals in M-R is not the end-of-the-world phenomenon that NAKL proponents make it out to be, either. Were someone to look at Chong and not know if it is 정, 종, 청, or 총 would make little difference when pronouncing them, not unlike how the foreigners' pronunciation of Tōkyō or Kyōtō changes little if the macron is missing. Just like with diacritical-less M-R, people who need to know can easily figure out.

    NAKL obviously doesn't have this problem.

    That is the only thing it has going for it. To me, that's like saying Cuba is a great place to live because they have universal health care: it ignores the other major problems that the place has.

    I think that the diacritical problem can be solved with a certain convention, that of writing out the names without diacriticals, but with the pronunciation guide right next to it: Inchon [inch'ŏn] or Kaesong [kaesŏng]. I'm guessing NAKL could benefit from the same thing: Geobukseon [kŏbuksŏn].

    Hangeul is easy to learn and is of course a better system for representing Korean than either NAKL or M-R;

    Nevertheless, people do need a guide, especially when they're learning. One of my biggest complaints about NAKL is that it teaches them that there is no real difference between, say, the two b's in babo [바보] or the two g's in goguma [고구마], when in fact there is a significant difference that is better reflected by pabo and koguma.

    any person with more than a passing interest in Korea has surely learnt it,

    One would hope so.

    but ask someone who hasn't how to pronounce "Kim Jong-Il" and you'll see the problem--almost invariably it comes out as the vowel in "Joe", or sometimes "jaw". (Of course, I'll concede that "Kim Jeong-Il" would be almost as bad!

    No, I would submit that Kim Jeong-il is WORSE. Even if people guess
    wrong, they will come close with M-R, but the fatal flaw of NAKL and
    its predecessors is that Jeong will yield a TWO-syllable pronunciation [지앙 or 제옹 or 지옹 or 제앙] to all but those who have been initiated with this spelling system.

    I have tried this, experimented with it, and the overwhelmingly better choice was M-R. NAKL confused people, got them misunderstood (e.g., Koreans pronounce Guam [괌] as kwam in an initial position), and set them up for a lifetime of mispronunciation.

    Romanization is the least of his and his country's problems, I'll admit.)

    Well, they mostly stick to forms of M-R, so at least they're consistent.

    I haven't studied Chinese or pinyin, but they get by without diacritics in that system, don't they? NAKL certainly has its faults: the lack of an "h" in the transliteration of "시" is among the more serious.

    The absence of sh, the fantasy 'eo' vowel ('eu' is at least tolerable, since it exists in French), the one-to-one oversimplification of consonants, etc. The result is an unusable system for most purposes. I've got letters from our publisher to prove it.

    However, NAKL does help to keep our "정" from our "종"! What say you?

    Thanks again for the post!

    "Jeong" takes a long time to build; it shouldn't take a long time to pronounce.

  81. The diacritic problem is a very real one. The issue is that while diacritics are extremely easy to handwrite, most English speakers are unfamiliar with entering them into computers. Even worse, the specific ones used by McC-R are not part of standard ASCII.

    The NAKL system aims to solve that problem by rendering Korean entirely in basic ASCII and bringing consonants closer to a one-to-one relationship with English. The latter isn't really necessary, though. I'd almost guess that part was added by people unfamiliar with western languages that wanted to better represent Korean orthography.

    Corea vs. Korea is a romanization problem in itself, and it just goes to show how romanization unfortunately creates as many problems as it solves. How many people even know Beijing and Peking are the same city, much less supposed to be the exact same pronunciation?

  82. I find it hilarious yet immensely frustrating that Koreans (more specifically South Koreans) generally identify anything written in Roman characters as either English or Western. Corea, as far as my Mac OSX Sherlock Translation program can make out, is the accepted spelling in Spanish and Italian, while Coreia is preferred in Portugal. Korea if not only English but also Dutch, German and more recently Polish, which seems a modification from the previous Korija. Why do I care? Because Koreans refuse to spell the names of Canadian cities, including my hometown Toronto, with anything approaching the hangeul equivalent of the correct pronunciation. I am known as Godeon Poseuteo. Spell my name correctly just once, and I might consider using C for Korea.

  83. I feel obliged to thank you for your post- I enjoyed it very much and found it fascinating. Your presentation was methodical and your supporting evidence very interesting to look at.

  84. Well, this was rather annoying. While at Wikipedia, I noticed a reference to my page and another page with almost the exact same pics. That website is here:

    Since my post is three years old and his is fairly new, I think it's obvious to everyone who put up the original post and laid out the argument with these pics. Using search engine cache archives, I think it will be easy to prove.

    I did fire off a note to the owner of the site, so he/she might change it or at least provide acknowledgement (which is fine, too), but just cribbing/plagiarizing my site without any acknowledgement is bad form.

    But what do we expect in a world where people spam other blogs using your site's address, which effectively gets you shut down by blogger, or people pretend to post as you, or people stalk you on the Internet trying to find out personal data, or even break into your email account to dig up dirt and/or plant things that they later "find" to try to embarrass you?

    Ah, the Internet is a bit of a fucked up place with a tad too many fucked up people for whom I no doubt God and karma have much in store.

    Anyway, acknowledgement を 下さい.

  85. Wonderful site! Good job Kushibo.

    Did you mean Kui Shin Bo?
    I loved it.
    My site is in french, I am approaching events from a comparative position between Japan, Korea, Guinea.
    By the way, I use Corée or Korea loosely. But North has taken Choson ((조선) which I also use when speaking about North Korea (조선민주주의인민공화국 or (조선로동당) only in contrast to Hangug or Dai Han Mingug (대한민국).
    May I put a link from my site to yours?

  86. Aliou wrote:
    Wonderful site! Good job Kushibo.


    Did you mean Kui Shin Bo?No, just kushibo 九十五.

    I loved it.

    Thanks. This post is still one of my most visited, even four years later.

    My site is in french, I am approaching events from a comparative position between Japan, Korea, Guinea.

    I wish I could remember more of my high school French to understand it better.

    By the way, I use Corée or Korea loosely. But North has taken Choson ((조선) which I also use when speaking about North Korea (조선민주주의인민공화국 or (조선로동당) only in contrast to Hangug or Dai Han Mingug (대한민국).

    That makes sense. I sometimes with Choson were a better known name, so that we could refer to North Korea that way.

    May I put a link from my site to yours?
    Feel free!

  87. I love posts like this, especially when they demolish self-important nationalists using actual archive materials. I will try and catch up on more of your best-of posts.

    As a note to the etymology debate: I don't believe the phrase 大日帝國 is really used. You have to add a 本: 大日本帝國. Maybe 帝國日本 as well, which I think is a neologism resulting from the influence of Western languages.

  88. yes, excellent work, Kushibo. I enjoyed reading.

    Odd, non-Koreans analyzing an important part of Koreas modern history. I wonder if the locals do it? Well, we are removed from their situation, so we can be a bit more non-biased, but still maybe a tad polarized, as a reaction to the nationalism.

    Its odd sometimes, I think, we live in this small country the size of Maine (the whole peninsula), and we think the world will live and die by what goes on here. Will it? Hmm..

    No matter what happens, its sad, kind of, this small manufacturing country, with some great food, and charming landscape, but not much more, but the people insist its a great empire. Its just being in the middle of two giants, and not being able to be a giant yourself. I cant understand the stress and pressure to be number one here, and I wish the locals would smile and be cool, but itll never happen. Being number one is a very narrow path with a few at the top. Even number 2 or 3 is good, hell 54th aint so bad either.

    Oh well, its not my place, and I like my salary...

  89. I read some arguments by Kushibo, who is a proponent of MR.

    Problems with NAKL:

    1. eo, eu for 어, 으
    2. si for 시
    3. One size fits all use of g, d, b, and j for ㄱ, ㄷ, ㅂ, and ㅈ.

    First, I am not sure why eo and eu is a problem. This is transliteration, not writing in 'English'. Transliteration is something people will have to learn because it is an agreement/standard, not English words. One agrees to pronounce 'eo' as in "duh.." But you don't transliterate as "duh". You should write as "deo" and be consistent.

    Second, "si" vs "shi" is something they can add on to the current new system. This is not a reason to go back to MR. In fact, the government had this in 1984-1988 period but never caught on at that time. Let's add this one this time.

    Third, the 'one size fits all' issue on consonants is a nusance, but not a 'deadly' flaw. pabo vs babo, at least one can pronounce pretty close and most of all, one can write into Korean without any confusion, the most important thing for 'transliteration'.

    Now, let me go over the 'deadly flaw' of MR. Most people pointed out, but the problem with daicritics. The reality is, 99% will never bother using those symbols (I never bothered with them and I do not know any other Korean who did). SO, that is basically saying you write the same way for ㅓ and ㅗ, and ㅜ and ㅡ. You can not just give an example of 'resume' and say it is no big deal. Words like that is like <0.01% of the whole English. In Korean, you are talking about a big chunk of confusion.

    Believe me, when you start doing serious scholary work, you want a solid transliteration system. If you want nice looking words, you make adjustment for trademarks and company names (it is not like you are going to write diacritics in "Samsong" even in MR system anyway). But for the standard transliteration system, you need a CONSISTENT system. Just this flaw warrents to get away from MR system. The minor flaws of 'revised system' just reflect the fact that there is no perfect trasnliteration.

    Let's talk about Chinese pin-yin. It is NOT friendly for English speakers. I work with many smart, educated engineers and no one can pronounce the "Q", "X" and "C" etc.
    Last names like "Cao" reads like "Chao", but Americans say "cow". Words like "Xing", peole don't even try !!!

    BUT, this pin-yin is just nice when you try to figure out how to write in English and vic versa. It is consistent and no confusion. The word 'Peking' is shorting than "Beijing" and even prettier. But if you need to write Beijing, then that is the way it is. It is not for lazy people.

    I had snubbed the 'new system' for many years until I had to do translation work. Then I became a true believer in the 'new system'. MR no good...

  90. I agree there is a problem with the diacriticals being left out, but I think that can be fixed by encouraging a convention in Korean newspapers to provide (as Hong Kong papers do) a pronunciation/Chinese guide next to names as they're introduced so that it's not necessary to keep writing the diacritics.

    And I know from having had to conduct research on this that the diacritic-less M-R yields greater comprehension among Korean natives listening to non-Korean speakers than does the Revised Romanization. I worked for a publisher that adopted and then tossed aside the Revised Romanization when they got complaints from lots of readers about not being understood when they used the transliterations in RR.

    But moreover, a point you dismiss a bit too prematurely, is that Revised Romanization's one-size-fits-all for consonants is that it forces learners or newbies of the language into incorrect pronunciation (c.f., the koguma and pabo examples), which ultimate retards their entire Korean-speaking foundation later on. That is a greater problem than someone not knowing whether it's ㅓ or ㅗ when they see "o," in my opinion.

    The Revised Romanization wanted to be simple, but you cannot have something simple when it comes to Han•gŭl-to-English transliteration and still be close to accurate.

    And finally, I think the "eo" problem is much more significant than you let on. The "eu" not so much (since it has precedence in French, which a lot of English speakers have exposure to).

    For reference, Revised Romanization is like writing Toukyou or Kyouto for Tōkyō or Kyōto whereas McCune-Reischauer is like writing Tōkyō or Kyōto, and diacritic-less M-R is like writing Tokyo or Kyoto.

    Trust me, Kyongsang or Kyŏngsang will get you closer to the original than Gyeongsang. Ditto with Chosŏn or Choson versus Joseon, or Koryŏ and Koryo versus Goryeo.

  91. What really threw me off with MR system was, as a Korean I could not figure out what the word was when written in MR !

    For example, Korean king Sonjo. I was going crazy, who the heck this is?? And it turns out they didn't add the breve above the 'o'...
    My common sense told me, it should be either Sunjo, or Seonjo. but Sonjo ??? That would be 손조. (and it turns out in MR, Sunjo is '순조')

    If a PhD native Korean has a hard time guessing the corresponding Korean word for the transliterated word, then you have a serious problem. That is when I caught on to the new system. What is the use of nice looking words if a Korean cannot figure out what it is??

    Whatever system the government decides, they should never have the diacritics or appostrophies. Absolutely not.

  92. Yes, you have a problem. But the problem is in educating people how to use the common Romanization system (a problem that exists even with Revised Romanization, since many people omit hyphens that need to be there, as well as the consonant sound changes), not with getting rid of it.

    If I saw "Sonjo," I would guess 손조, but if I knew I were reading a source that didn't use diacritical marks (and that does NOT include most Korean history works I've read that do use M-R), then I would guess maybe it's 선조.

    So you think "Seonjo" is the solution, but then someone not familiar with this whole problem ends up thinking "Seonjo" is pronounced Say-on-joe or some other three-syllable construction.

    Seriously, that is a problem. A lot of people think Incheon is three-syllables. Axing M-R's diacriticals doesn't solve the problem; it only creates a new one. And these problems make the most frequent users of Romanization (and the ones most reliant on it) poorly understood.

    I'm going to write a post on this later on, one that includes prescriptions for how to employ M-R in a less confusing way, even if the diacriticals are left out. I'll link to that here, so if you're getting follow-up comments, you'll be alerted.

  93. "That is a greater problem than someone not knowing whether it's ㅓ or ㅗ when they see "o," in my opinion."

    I think this is the philosophical difference between those who prefer MR vs new system. It is about easier pronounciation/foreigner friendly(MR) vs better 'transliteration'.

    I will not dispute that MR (without diacritics) is better for foreigners who really don't care about the spelling of Korean, but just want to pronounce it, or do conversational Korean.

    Kim Yona would be MR, and new system would be Kim Yeona (Kim Yuna is Yuna system ;) ). I agree first time viewers will not know how to pronounce Yeona, and will prefer Yona.

    But, the question is what is the main purpose of transliteration. The Korean government should just acknowledge the new system is not the most friendly for foreigner visiters, but just say it is the best 'transliteration' system.

    I do see the point by Kushibo a little better now. MR is acceptable, but there will be clearly some sacrifice in the 'transliteration' aspect. You will have to see the context, so it becomes an imperfect system. But if 'foreigner friendly' is the number one goal, I do not think it unacceptable.

    The Chinese pin-yin are NOT foreigner friendly. The Koreans can decide whether they want to take a different approach.

  94. Regarding babo vs pabo and goguma vs koguma, I don't know the point of your complaint. I am a native Korean and babo and goguma are closer to their native pronunciation. Pabo and Koguma sound as if a foreigner was trying to speak Korean. If you throw out your preconceived pronunciation of English words (ie. George, gun), and accept transliteration rules for NAKL, it's a much superior system than M-R. The key test for any system is to see if you could romanize a Korean word into roman alphabet and then back into Korean characters without change, and in that sense NAKL is leaps and bounds better than M-R.

  95. Respectfully, xradman, the from-one-language-and-back test is about translation, not transliteration. And Retro Romanization wouldn't pass that test anyway because if you saw "eo" and you didn't already speak Korean, you wouldn't know if it were 어 or 에오. Likewise if you saw "eu," you wouldn't know if it were 으 or 에우 (and there is a certain electronics market in Seoul where this frequently comes up).

    M-R is necessarily slightly more complex than RR when it comes to consonants because it reflects the slightly more complex way in which Han'gŭl changes sound, vis-à-vis the Roman alphabet.

    I've necessarily had to research how this actually works out with actual non-Korean-speaking people pronouncing Korean words (everyday words, place names, people's names, etc.) and M-R won hands down over RR. Moreover, RR tended to hobble Korean language learners, whereas M-R introduced the concept of the changing consonant sounds that is key to more accurately being understood.

    But I will give you that too much aspiration on an unaspirated k, t, p, or ch can make someone almost as easily misinterpreted as if they pronounced it like a hard g, d, b, or j that RR represents it as.

  96. Some people complain that it is cumbersome to type breved vowels (ŏ and ŭ), but they all forgot one fact: Orthographies, including romanizations, do not define how characters should be input or typed; thus, orthographies and romanizations have no responsibility for inputting.
    Those people should stop blaming the romanization system just because it is hard to type those breved vowels.

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  98. I realize your post here is quite old, BUT I was surprised to find it. The passport you show here belonged to my uncle, of KIM Sung Nak (Luke). During a brief window of a more liberal education policy by the more moderate (compared to his predecessor Hasegawa Yoshimichi) Third Japanese Governor-General Admiral Saito Makoto, Luke received an American theological education, returned for a period of time to become a minister in PyongYang, then managed to immigrate with his wife and children shortly before the ports were closed by the Japanese as a result of their increasing war aggression. He began the first and ultimately largest Korean American church in Los Angeles, which still thrives. I know Luke's papers, including these documents, are archived in a Korean American digital library somewhere on the west coast, and only wish you had credited the source. Thank you. Interesting discussion. Eugenia Kim, author of THE CALLIGRAPHER'S DAUGHTER.


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