[KS] The Other Finishing Touch on HanJa...
dj362 at gorge.net
Sat Apr 12 15:26:22 EDT 2003
From: Dave Jensen
dj362 at gorge.net
White Salmon, WA
" 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."
I have enjoyed reading the comments on the main topic of hanja
Apologies for commenting at length on a minor tangent, but this payoff
concept is interesting, as is the subject of "failed" Korean-ists
littering the streets. There are also a few such failures cluttering up
the backwoods of the Pacific Northwest. Currently being one such (or at
least very near borderline) myself, I like to think I know something
An argument (based as usual on dangerously over-simplified general
assumptions) can be made that the type of individuals drawn to Korean
studies include a fair number who are not primed from the start for
success, or even survival, in many fields. I base this assumption on
the fact that these people, myself included, are devoting their efforts
toward an endeavor without the aforementioned clear payoff (and if that
is not the dictionary-definition of "impractical," it should be). At
least the rewards are generally of a different sort than one might earn
for studying some other subjects: business, law, finance, plumbing,
etc. It also seems a large percentage come from blue-collar families
and find the university environment, and world of professional
scholarship, an exciting yet frustrating new experience. When faced
with financial realities after graduation, it is often easier to return
to familiar ways to make a living, or else continue other studies with
a more-certain professional agenda.
Practical-minded undergraduate students of Korean expecting to later
complete legal or business studies might well question the necessity of
studying hanja beyond the usual introductory material. It's a valid
concern. A professor of Korean is a scholar and understands that a
complete knowledge of Korean requires more than a general familiarity
with Chinese characters. Some student will see this emphasis, perhaps
correctly in the case of an aspiring purchasing agent or
import/exporter, as something akin to becoming "more Korean that the
That Korean is interesting to a student is often based on the fact that
Korea is felt to be an exciting, exotic place, often introduced (or
re-introduced) by some recent, limited, experience or personal contact.
This pre-supposes to a certain degree, unfamiliarity with, and limited
access to, serious financial and professional opportunities where
knowledge of Korean could be advantageous professionally. And I would
point out that scholarly and creative altruism is perhaps even less
respected, or rewarded, in Korea than in the west.
Perhaps professional failure should be announced to Korean studies
students as the expected norm at the beginning of each semester. This
is done often in journalism courses. "Get out while you can!
Starvation, danger and ridicule await...unless you're going on to law
school," was the chant throughout my undergraduate studies, and I have
always appreciated the candor of my professors in this regard.
The only positive point I can see in all this is that the field of
Korean studies benefits greatly from those scholars whose emotional
compulsion and fascination with the subject is strong enough to
counter, if not overcome, the financial, social, and professional
realities they are faced with. And these realities make mastering hanja
look like a cinch.
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