Understanding Korea materials - Hangeul: Appendix/Korean Romanization

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Understanding Korea Series No.1
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2) Establishment of Korean Orthography Appendix: Korean Romanization 3) The Script Reform: Mixed Script to Hangeul-only Script

Korean Romanization

The romanization of Korean was initiated by Westerners attempting to transcribe Korean using Latin alphabets. Several romanization systems have been suggested since the 19th century, and the following three systems are most widely used currently: (1) McCune-Reischauer Romanization (2) Yale Romanization (3) Romanization of Korean.

The McCune-Reischauer Romanization was suggested in a paper written by G. M. McCune and E.O. Reischauer in 1939, titled “The Romanization of the Korean Language: based upon its phonetic structure (Transactions of the Korean Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society Vol. XXIX, Seoul).” They clearly state the purpose of this paper: “We have devised our Romanization with the purpose of providing a comprehensible guide to the standard modern pronunciation of Korean for those unfamiliar with the language, as well as for those who know it” (McCune & Reischauer 1939: 8). Due to this intention, diacritic marks and phonetic distinctions which is not phonemes in Korean were added to this romanization.

However, S. E. Martin suggested these were problematic and devised the Yale Romanization. Martin (1968: 87) describes the background behind his invention: “As a result of dissatisfaction with existing systems, I began devising what I call the Yale System, and the first version of this was used in my monograph Korean morphophonemics (1954). ... and the modified form is the one used in this study and also throughout the Korean Reference Grammar.” He criticizes the McCune-Reischauer Romanization on the same page: “the principal drawbacks are the phonemically unnecessary diacritic marks (ŏ, ŭ, apostrophe for aspiration) and the phonemically unnecessary distinctions of b:p, t:d, k:g, r:l etc.” At the same time he called his Yale Romanization “the regular representation of the phonemes” (Ibid, p. 89).

The priority for the McCune-Reischauer Romanization is on actual Korean pronunciation, whereas the Yale Romanization devised by S.E. Martin emphasizes the importance of the morphophonemic structure of words. This feature of the Yale Romanization is the reason why the linguists prefer the Yale Romanization.

The Romanization of Korean was revised by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism of Korea in 2000. This system is closer to the McCune-Reischauer Romanization than the Yale Romanization, since it stresses the importance of actual pronunciation. But unlike the McCune-Reischauer Romanization, this system eliminated various diacritic marks. Currently, this system is applied to all books, signs and instructions published in Korea.

The following tables show the comparison of the McCune-Reischauer Romanization (MR) and the Yale Romanization (YR) that Martin (1968: 88) indicated plus the current Romanization of Korean (ROK).

<The Comparison of Korean Vowel Romanization Systems>
a a a
ŏ e eo
o o o
u wu u
ŭ u eu
i i i
ae ay ae
e ey e
oe oy oe
wi wi wi
ya ya ya
ye yeo
yo yo yo
yu yu yu
yae yay yae
ye yey ye
wa wa wa
wae way wae
we wo
we wey we
ŭi uy ui

<The Comparison of Korean Consonant Romanization Systems>
k, g k g, k
kk kk kk
k’ kh k
t, d t d, t
tt tt tt
t’ th t
p, b p b, p
pp pp pp
p’ ph p
ch, j c j
tch cc jj
ch’ ch ch
s s s
ss ss ss
h h h
n n n
m m m
ng ng ng
l, r l r, l

Understanding Korea Series No.1 Hangeul

Foreword · Acknowledgments

1. Korean Language and Hangeul in East Asia · Appendix: Korean and the Altaic Family

2. Transcription of Korean Using Chinese Characters

3. The Creation of Hunminjeongeum · 3.1 King Sejong and Hunminjeongeum · Appendix: King Sejong and Jiphyeonjeon(The Academy of Worthies) · 3.2 The Design Principles of Hunminjeongeum Letters · Appendix: Various Hypotheses on the Creation of Hunminjeongeum · Appendix: Special Features of the Korean Alphabet(called Hunminjeoneum or Hangeul) · 3.3 The Phonological Features of the 28 Letters of Hunminjeongeum · Appendix: The Philosophical Background of Hunminjeongeum · 3.4 Letter Usage

4. Changes of Hangeul · 4.1 Changes in the Name: From Hunminjeongeum to Hangeul · 4.2 Changes of Letters

5. History of Hangeul Usage · 5.1 Records Written in Hangeul · 5.2 Establishment of Korean Orthography · Appendix: Korean Romanization · 5.3 The Script Reform: Mixed Script to Hangeul-only Script

6. Hangeul Now

Reference · Glossary · Sources · About the Author