[KS] the Korean language
schroepfer at oranckay.net
Thu Apr 10 20:24:09 EDT 2003
I agree with everything critical that's ever been said here about the nationalist and sometimes imperialist statements from some linguists in the our-writing-system-can-beat-up-your-writing-system faction. Having said that, however, I do think there is room for a little more understanding of the context in which the word kwahakchOk is often used.
As most will recognize, the writing system known as han'gUl was invented, deliberately, using (dare I say) scientific methodology. Now to many, it may not be a very kwahakchOk use of the word kwahakchOk to then say that han'gUl is kwahakchOk, but you can certainly see the connection. The confusion arises in the unwillingness by most native speakers of Korean to differentiate between language and methods of recording it in writing. Han'gUl is han'gugO, and han'gugO is han'gUl. Hence you have a kwahakchOk writing system becoming a kwahakchOk language, and that becomes "Korean is a scientific language" in English. (This failure to differentiate also leads to very un-kwahakchOk terms like "yOngja," as if romaja belonged to English.)
I would like to submit that while "kwahakchOk" is a word all too often abused in Korean, even when it isn't, I think there are many occasions when it should not be translated as "scientific." I'm thinking of the times you see the word used quite naturally, but in contexts that would sound inappropriate in English. Just today I was reading about soktam (proverbs), and there was something about how these sayings have "kwahakchOk kUn'gO." Maybe the word has been misused so often that even I'm confused, but the expression seems "acceptable enough" to me in Korean, even though I'd hesitate to say "proverbs have scientific basis" in English.
About the claim that Korean is not only scientific but the "most" so, I wonder also about where "most" comes from. Surely there is no shortage of Korean linguists who really do think Korean and/or han'gUl are the "best" in the world and that they are the "most" whatever, more than all the rest. But time and time again I am impressed by sentences in Korean where the writer clearly just means "one of the most" but says "kajang" this or that, and how "one of the most" or "one of the best," when said in Korean, often sound either like coarse translations of English phrases or as if someone is getting too technical for everyday speech.
I think "kajang" sometimes gets misused much in the way "nOmu" often does. If someone ways "nOmu choa," I am not going to think they're saying they wish they'd like something less because they "like it too much," unless we are talking about an addiction. Likewise, if someone asks "Don't you think han'gUl is kajang kwahakchOk?" I say, "Yes it sure is! Relatively."
Just some thoughts,
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