Posted by: rbbadger | February 4, 2009

Something I wish I’d brought my camera for

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the photographer’s with the kids for some class photos.  I don’t know when we will see those, but hopefully we will see them soon.  Anyhow, at the photographer’s, they had something I had long wanted to see, namely a Korean Hangeul typewriter.

Unlike Chinese, a language not really meant for typewriters, Korean typewriters had been in existence since the Korean War period.  I had posted on the old blog an image of a Chinese typewriter.  In case you had forgotten how truly scary they looked, here is an image.  Basically, the typist had to know, either from memory or from a chart, where each one of the pieces of individual type was located on a tray.  Then, they would locate it, grab it with the machine, and then type.  And of course, this has to be done with each character.  It was cumbersome, slow, and inefficient.  No Chinese or Japanese typist ever managed more than 10 characters a day and their functional lifespans, according to William C. Hannas, were on a par with “uranium miners or Chinese political activists”.  Typing in Chinese characters has eased considerably with the availability of computers.  Sometimes, they just type in the text in Roman letters and menus of possible characters appear.  Taiwan has its own special alphabet which is often used for inputting Chinese text.  Or they can use Taiwan’s way of writing Chinese in Roman letters.  The programs have gotten considerably more advanced.  Now, today’s Chinese speakers can input large amounts of text without having to click on a menu each time.  But every so often, you will run against the homonym problem in Chinese and have to deal with the menus time and again.


A Korean typewriter is infinitely easier to use.  I really wanted to play with it, as I was curious how it dealt with the way in which Korean is written.  Rather than stringing the letters out like we do, i.e. ㅎ ㅏ ㄴ ㄱ ㅜ ㄱ hanguk which means Korea, they put them into blocks of syllabules like this, i.e. 한국.  Korean looks far more attractive written in its syllabic form than strung out in individual letters.  From what I have read, dealing with this feature of Korean was a horrendously difficult challenge for the designers of the first Korean typewriters.  Despite the ease of learning the alphabet, getting used to reading whole syllables at a time is tricky.  Unfortunately, the typewriter at the photographer’s was broken, but in case you wondered what it looked like, it looked very much like this.  It had a few more keys than your standard English typewriter would have, but it looked fairly easy to use.



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