August 25, 2012

Hangeul or Hangul

Here's the link for the Wikipedia entry for "Hangeul."

Now here's the link for the Wikipedia entry for "Hangul" (Without the "e")

Notice anything similar? Of course you do, they both point to the same entry! Now why is that? It's because there is no real set romanization of the Korean language. Or at least one that is universally accepted in South Korea. Why does this matter? Korean is a language with an alphabet, there shouldn't be a need for romanization right? Just learn some 한글 and be done with that! To hell with the Latin script!

But that's really not good for foreigners. Are you Korean? Can you read 한글? If not, then those two characters mean nothing to you. Only if I tell you that those two characters are read like "hangeul" or "hangul" can you begin to pronounce the word. Romanization is an essential step for foreigners in learning a foreign language.

Take two examples, the Chinese pinyin, and the Japanese romaji. Both are excellent examples of romanization and are taught in any elementary Chinese or Japanese language class. Since both languages use Chinese characters extensively, a proper romanization system is absolutely critical to read words. Otherwise, how can I, a foreigner, just look at 汉字 or 漢字 and even begin to know how to pronounce it? When the two words are paired with "hanzi" and "kanji" can my brain make an association between the character and its proper pronunciation.

Let's look at the Chinese pinyin as an example. It is a bit difficult to learn at first because the pronunciation is not what a native speaker of English would expect. For example, the pinyin "you" is not pronounced like the word "you," but rather like "yo" in the word "yo-yo," or the greeting, "yo!" But the most awesome part about pinyin is that, once mastered, every single character in the Chinese language can be spelled using it. This way, once you learn a character's pinyin, you can immediately know how to pronounce it. How useful is that!

Now let's look at the Japanese romaji. Compared to pinyin it's a lot easier to pick-up, and similarly, once mastered, becomes a valuable tool in learning the Japanese language. As you can see from the Wikipedia article, every Japanese hiragana or katakana character has a romaji counterpart. Since all Chinese characters are also made up of hiragana characters, by the transitive property, all Japanese characters have their own romaji counterparts. Learn the romanization, learn the basic characters, then learn the Chinese characters. Boom! You can read Japanese.

Another interesting little fact is that, typing in both Chinese or Japanese requires knowledge of the romanization. Sure there are some other methods of typing, but for the most part, Chinese and Japanese people use Latin letters to type on computers and phones. So the average literate Chinese or Japanese citizen is very familiar with their respective languages' romanization styles.

But since Korean is an alphabet, typing it is just a matter of which key to press for which character--it's really simple once you learn it, just like English. Therefore, foreigners have to not only deal with the lack of an easy way of pronunciation recognition, but have to also learn an entirely new keyboard to type the Korean language. It's just too much effort!

I think the government needs to adopt a sweeping new universal system--one that makes sense, one that is easy to read and understand, and one that'll make Korean a much more accessible language for foreigners. Because it sucks to not be able to pronounce Korean names or streets! Then perhaps people will start taking Korean seriously and more people will actually be willing to learn the language.

On a side note, I am nearly complete with my personal website! Keep on the lookout for a blog post when it's live!
On a side side note, 2012 is on its way to being the worst year for my blog! So little posts!
On a side side side note, I missed the 3rd birthday of my blog! Oh no!


Jeffrey Shiau said...

Cools man! 2010 is such a huge outlier for your blog.

Jeffrey Shiau said...

Cools man! 2010 is such a huge outlier for your blog.

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