Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Hangul Romanization Revision Proposed

Already? Even now this country is awash with two quite different Romanization schemes. I hate typing Korean words in English because, quite unlike Japanese or even Chinese, there is NO universally agreed on system of Romanizing Korean words. Without getting into actual names of different Romanization schemes, there is an old system (Pusan, Taegu, Chongno, Kyongju with a doohickey above the "o") and a new system (Busan, Daegu, Jongno, Gyeongju, with no special characters).

Even this blog is not internally consistent. I spell the neighborhood where I spent most of my waking hours J-O-N-G-N-O (new system) but just a few entries below this one I mention Kangnam (old system) not Gangnam (new system). Why? Because I felt like it.

I'll agree that the "new system", which most guidebooks follow, can be confusing to pronounce for people who don't know Korean phonetics. The big Buddhist temple in Busan is called Beomeosa. That's pronounced "buhm-uh-sa." Not exactly intuitive. But look at Chinese Pinyin, which is pretty universal as a way of writing Chinese words. What Westerner would instinctively know how to say "c" or "x" in Pinyin words? Pinyin works because the Chinese government has been promoting it for decades, even getting the whole world to write "Beijing" and "Mao Zedong" rather than "Peking" and "Mao Tse-tung".

My only piece of advice for Korea: Pick a Romanization scheme, and stick with it. Don't change it after five years. You don't want half the English signs saying "Kyongju" and the other half "Gyeongju".

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