Posted by: rbbadger | April 6, 2009

McCune-Reischauer sign

Here’s a sign in the old McCune-Reichauer system of Romanization, namely Korean written in a western alphabet.  Generally, in scholarly journals about Korea written in English, the Korean titles of source materials, Korean names, and the names of places in Korea will be written in the old McCune-Reischauer way and not in the native Korean script.   Scholars writing in English who publish in Korea would use the new Revised Romanization that the government came up with in 2000, but for the most part, McCune-Reichauer remains the scholarly standard except in the field of linguistics.  In that field, the Yale system, invented by Samuel E. Martin is used.

The McCune-Reichauer script used a couple of accent marks not currently used in most languages, namely ŏ and ŭ to represent the vowels 어 and 으.  Under the new Romanization of 2000, eo represents 어 and eu represents 으.  Some of the forms for the spelling of consonants also changed, so every single sign had to be taken down and written again in the new Revised Romanization.  Thus Kimp’o International Airport is now Gimpo International Airport.  Pusan was changed to Busan and Kwangju to Gwangju.  And of course Ŭijŏngbu was changed to Uijeongbu.  For English speakers at least, these marks are a good hint on the pronunciation. 

You do still see some signs in McCune-Reichauer.  But for the most part, they’ve all been changed.  The McCune-Reichauer system is, I think, a more foreigner friendly system.  But it is no longer official.  At least Korea’s situation is not like Taiwan’s. Taiwan has experimented with no less than five different styles of Chinese Romanization.  It is still possible to see street signs in Wade-Giles, Gwoyeu Romatzyh, MPS2, Tongyong Pinyin, and Hanyu Pinyin.  Some streets signs will be in one style of spelling.  Others will be in a completely different style.  At least there is one standard in Korea, though every once and a while, you do see exceptions to that rule.

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