[KS] The Other Finishing Touch on HanJa-and relation to scientific language: Part I
jblee6952 at hotmail.com
Fri Apr 11 19:19:10 EDT 2003
I hope you will forgive me for bringing the issue
of HanJa to the front again. But I found another
article in line with the earlier one, but standing
at the opposite position. I thought it would bring
some balance to the discussion that was raised
with the "finishing touch".
This article ran as an editorial in Korea Economist
on April 9, 2003, and the arguments are precisely
as in "finishing touch," but from the opposite side.
>From Korea Economist, 4/09/2003
>Making the use of HanJa a part of daily life
>Earlier, there was a shocking result regarding our people's
>While many of our nationals can simply read and write in
>HanGul, number those who have an accurate reading comprehension
>is remarkably low.
>As for the reading comprehension level of the korean adults,
>it was at the bottom from amongst the member nations of OECD.
>And it is said that the level of comprehension compared to the
>international average gets lower as we move up the
>This is the result of the negligence, which began at the end
>of the 60's, of the 70% of our vocabulary which derives
>As we look around those who were educated exclusively in
>HanGul since the 60's, that first generation now in their
>40's and early 50's simply do not know HanJa. In consequence,
>in the areas of philosophy, science, and medicine, due to
>their lack of knowledge of HanJa, they are in no position
>to understand the concepts involved and find tremendous
>difficulty in achieving a high level of knowledge in
>Although some parties claim that there is no inconvenience
>or difficulty in our daily lives and in study, the reality
>is just not so.
>The reason is simply that HanJa is not what belongs to
>another country, but what we have used for over a thousand
>years, and, as such, ours.
>Is it not the case that to insist on HanGul-Only is to be
>overly attached to the unduly nationalistic excuse arising
>from preserving what is ours in the face of the Japanese
>imperialistic policy of wiping out our culture?
>Further, even viewed as a foreign language, HanJa has great
>value in and of itself.
>Firstly, as HanJa is a writing system that reveals the meaning,
>it can accurately convey the concepts involved and thereby
>eases and enriches our communication.
>And as Huntington has pointed out, the 21st centruy Korea
>is part and pacel of that culture which include China and
>Japan now looking forward to a major resurgence. And as
>such, HanJa is important as the instrument of mutual
>communication with the 1.7 billion users of HanJa.
>It is a matter of course that if one knows HanJa, effort
>required to learn chinese and japanese is reduced in half.
>And even were it the case that these people do not know
>each other's language, HanJa makes it possible for the
>adequate mutual understanding even only through the
>writing of HanJa.
>To make such an important matter as HanJa as a part
>of our daily life,it is simply inadequate, as is the
>case, to make the learning of HanJa in middle and
>high schools an elective subject.
>According to the studies of the Japanese Ministry of
>Eduacation, study at the ages between 6 and 10 provides
>for the most long lasting result.
>And accordingly, our country must also start HanJa
>education at the elementary school level, and the
>college entrance exams must also reflect the need for
>HanJa knowledge in order for the usefulness of middle
>and high school HanJa education to be effective.
>Though it would be difficult for the recently installed
>No government to take a leading position in this effort,
>for the sake of the economic competitivenss in the knowledge
>driven world of the 21st century, this effort, I believe,
>must be advanced.
>¹é³«È¯ <ÀÎÁ¦´ë.¹éº´¿ø ÀÌ»çÀå>
>2003³â 04¿ù 09ÀÏ (¼ö) 16:55
There were several points that were of interest:
1. The article suggests that many koreans below
the age of mid 50's are simply in no position
to give lessons in HanJa, for the simple reason
of lack of knowledge on their part of HanJa.
I suppose the statement is an exaggeration, but
I do wonder how much of an exaggeration this is.
And were it the case that those giving lessons
in elementary Korean to the aspiring Koreanist
are of that generation, it would appear that
the Korean teachers in the universities are simply
in no position to teach their students HanJa as
most are as character-blind as are the students.
And it is to ask too much, surely, to ask the blind
to lead the blind.
One is led to wonder if this character-blindness
is not at the root of the type of lectures being
delivered to the students as described by
>considerations of identity and Korean modernity in
>Korea.Similar attitudes and feelings exist in the ranks of
>teachers of Korean in modern western universities, the
>great majority of them Korean born. To the extent that
>they worry about teaching Chinese characters at all,
>it's just about that: "teaching characters." If you look
>at the materials used in these classes beyond the hancha
>drills, you see few or no characters at all. It is no
>surprise that most students, observing this, conclude that
>all this hancha stuff is not important.
2. The article points out the interesting role that
the college entrance exam plays in education in
Korea. It does not seem irrational that students
are focused only on what matters, and what matters
as far as they can see are probably going to college
and getting their papers.
As such the efforts student put in are literally dictated
by what appears in the college entrance exams, whether
it is for Korean universities or U.S. universities.
And insofar as HanJa part comprise less than 1% of
the total score of Korean college entrance exam, it
is no wonder that they put in just that much effort,
less than 1%.
All this Education-HanJa, the 1700 so HanJa that
all Koreans are supposed to learn through high school
really amounts to just LIP-SERVICE.
No one sees it as anything but that, 1% of their
college entrance exam, deserving no more than 1% of
their effort. It has the appearance of an attempt
to appear not to know less than the Japanese.
I suppose the students are simply making the most
efficient allocation of the limited resource of time
3. The author points out that HanJa is "ours." So
apparently there are people in Korea who do think
HanJa is as much "theirs" as do the Japanese.
Though he points out that "we" have had it for
over a thousand years, it seems to have taken only
40 years to pretty much wipe it out, at least on the
But surely, a pimple on my face is "mine." I
don't mean to suggest that HanJa is a pimple, but
posession is no argument for ostentatious display or
use, though anything mine is surely of concern to me,
especially a pimple on "my" face.
4. The author suggests that the lack of HanJa knowledge
is a drag on economic competitiveness. Of course you
will recall this very point being the one that was
laughed at by "finishing touch" author.
Who is right? At the face of it, Japanese and Chinese
have produced several Nobel laureates in science and
literature. Japan, for all its current economic travails,
is at the forefront of all the technologies, with Korea
still producing only the lower-margin technologies, ones
that mainland China is diligently working to take over.
And the Japanese seem to have done it with a largely internally
educated scientists. The same statement holds true for the
Taiwanese and mainland Chinese, with Taiwan clearly leaders
in advanced electronics as well.
So the argument that HanJa is an "impediment" is decidedly
questionable. Put another way, having HanJa does not prevent
a nation from being developed and prosperous. And if prosperity
will be the gauge, the only nation with growth in Asia may be
China, the HanJa-only country. But then the basket-case of Asia
was once China. And then the country that had the financial
melt-down was Korea, the HanGul-only country. This is a tough one.
Another point of note is the preponderance of transliterated
English in Korean books as opposed to Japanese or Chinese.
There is no longer even an effort to have the actual English
equivalent to ease lookup in dictionaries. No, it is
hangul transliteration. Apparently Koreans have developed
a supernatural ability that even English speakers do not have
of knowing the correct English spelling.
Whereas the same books on topics of finance and technology
would be accessible to the native educated in Japanese and
Chinese, the same version in Korean would seem to require
that the reader be fairly well informed about English,
at least at the level of a Ph.D. from a respectable
The days of Koreans being able to reference works on the
same topic in Japanese and Chinese for equivalent terms
using HanJa seem gone forever?
I suppose Korea is unique in having brought the majority
of population to extremely high level of English competence.
5. But then, that seems to be the point of the article: the
Koreans themselves are losing competence in their own language,
at least the part dealing with chinese derived words. No small
part as it stands officially at 70%.
On this point, he is absolutely right. They are definitely no
longer able to etymologically analyze mutli-syllable words.
But I think it is an overstatement to say that therefore they
do not know the words they are using.
Specifically, they know the word as a long string of meaningless
syllables which in totality has a specific meaning.
This situation is no different from how most people know
Let's be honest, probably 90% of English speakers hardly care
or know about the etymologies of the words they use. They
seem to do fine, just as do the Koreans. But then, for most
people, they have 20 years of speaking, hearing, and living
the language, with every syllable in their context. That would
mean that they need only learn two words a day for 20 years to
achieve a massive vocabulary of 10,000 distinct words.
Massive, but not a great achievement in the light of the time
involved, and one achieved by every speaker of every language,
But then, beyond the first language, none of us has the
luxury of another 20 years to learn another language, which
is probably what a normal person requires to learn a
completely unrelated language from the first one. And
surely English is as completely unrelated to Korean even as
English is completely related to German or French.
I think most of the members of this list, exclusing myself,
are unquestionably gifted. But this assumption of giftedness
about the general public, i.e. the recipients of public
education, and most of the current Koreanist-in-training
is surely an overstatement.
It seems to be the case that chinese-derived words are now
as foreign to them as is English, so why not just use the
English terms. Actually this trend is all the better for
Americans. As the lexis of Korea becomes increasingly
Americanized, with percentage growing larger daily, the
English speakers learning Korean need only be concerned with
the shrinking portion of pure-Korean and Sino-Korean
in their effort to learn what is going on in Korea.
How fortunate this is for the Koreanist-in-training in
the American universities. In fact, the trainee will
probably better understand the English terms in use in
Korean than the native Korean teachers helping them to
learn Korean. Another victory for English.
6. Let us get back to the corollary to his main point: that
not knowing the HanJa base of the 70% of their own vocabulary,
the students suffer great difficulty in reaching high level of
Once again, I think we must not deal with cases of people
with near photographic and "phonographic?" memory and speak
of the regular college level population.
On the point of the difficulty that the students face, the point
can be made with any language. But it is a point that has been
made by most of the college professors who note the difficulty
Koreans have in learning a large amount of new vocabulary
without being armed with knowledge of HanJa. This makes sense,
as students are proabably facing massive amounts of new material
in a contracted period of time, with all the multi-syllable
terms seemingly a meaningless jumble.
But this is the case with every language, not only Korean. Without
awareness of morphology and etymology, this is the case for any
But let's be honest, for most of the students, they will be focused
on a specific area of study and will really be dealing with a
limited set of vocabulary and will with diligence manage to master
it, if only in the way of a parrot, through diligent application
of rote memory. And they will simply put the experience of mindless
memorization as the rite of passage to society, never to lift a
textbook again in their life.
And there is in action another bottom-line attitude here, and one
which has its parallel with the Koreanists-in-training.
Though we have all the professors, and the author of this article,
trumpeting the value of HanJa, the student must look at his watch
and the pay-off from the expensive education he is investing in.
He will look at say 1000 words that he must remember to get through
the courses. Now depending on the distribution of the words, and
assuming that they comprise of two-syllable HanJa compounds in the
main, in the optimistic case he is faced with simply memorizing the
1000 words or learning 500 chinese characters which make up all the
words in the 1000 words of interest. In the worst case, he may have
to learn 2,000 distinct HanJa.
We already know that he probably didn't put much attention to his
HanJa lessons: afterall, it was only 1% of the college admission test
and 0% of the U.S. college admission requirement.
And when all is said and done, he is not likely to see
HanJa anywhere, even in the text he is using. The argument
for learning HanJa seems weak, doesn't it?
The short-sighted decision he makes is: Hell with it, just memorize
the 1,000 words as multi-syllables. It probably does take less
time. Besides, it is not clear that the even teachers know the
HanJa anyway. Rather than take 30 minute to learn each character,
he will take 10 minute to just memorize the sound and meaning.
And overhanging all of this consideration is the fact of English
as the world language. The locus of science and knowledge and
wealth is English, not Korean, not HanJa.
I think the above short-sighted penny-counting by an uninformed
youth, especially one who is hood-winked into believing that
his is a language unrelated to everything else by the garb
of HanGul and intoxicated with pointless chauvinism is what
accounts for the short-term decision he makes and the short-term
decision that the Koreanist-in-training are making. So, as
Professor Ledyard noted:
>Some students who have some genuine interest in the more
>traditional side of Korea are descouraged from pursuing
>it out of fear of the supposed difficulty of learning the
>characters. Korean-Americans especially, who now constitute
>the majority of students interested in Korean studies,
>are even more inclined against Chinese characters than the
>general population in the field.
For the Koreans in Korea, the issue may be a matter of 1,000 words
only, with the other 10,000 having been achieved through
osmosis in Korean environment over 20 long years of residence
This is not true for the Koreanist-in-training. Excepting that
he is learning Korean only to become a tourist with a terrible
accent, aside from the 500 HanJa compounds he learned in the
introductory Korean, not knowing that they were HanJa compounds,
naturally, he faces having to learn another 10,000 HanJa
compounds that every 20 year old knows. And he certainly does
not have 20 years to do it. Nor is he assuredly endowed with
photographic or phonographic memory.
Nor are the words he must learn to command in anyway related
to the English words he already knows, which is the case with
other European languages, specifically German and French.
So what will happen? As in most cases, he will console himself
that he at least knows English and will most likely abandon the
effort to learn Korean. No way will he commit to learning 10,000
nonsense syllables in 2 years, assuming he will hold his ground
in not learning HanJa. No way can he succede?
This is aside from the pure-Korean elements which has its
own phonetic and orthographic gymnastics to scare away
any but the bravest.
The streets of L.A., N.Y., and Boston are littered with failed
Koreanist-in-training, already few to begin with. And the belief
is firming that Korean is an impossibly difficult language to
learn, and one without a great payoff.
[to be continued...]
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