Sunday, October 25, 2009

[Draft] Schizophrenic Han Part III: Language

I can report that the GRE is finally over (and unless a professor advises me to re-take the test, I feel that I will not take it over again). I have updated this posting and it is here.
After writing this post earlier in the morning and then coming back and re-reading it, I've realized that there's such a huge number of grammatical mistakes that I will be revising this shortly. Nonetheless, the point of this posting is to argue against this notion that North Korean is a more "Korean" or more "pure" form of the Korean Language. I would think a "perverted" form of the Korean Language is a more accurate description of the North Korean variant of the language.

Anyways, I will return to this shortly. There's just so much I want to talk about (there's still the embassy series of postings, the America the Dangerous series of postings, the Forming Views series of postings, and, of course, the Schizophrenic Han series of postings)...

I've been a bit preoccupied, reasons that I will share shortly. But, for those students that are re-entry students, perhaps you can emphatize with me; it's been a decade since I've taken a standardized test.

It's about time that people give up the idea that it's natural for the Koreas to remain divided by coming up with all types of false ideas. In the past, I've been very critical of the North-South States Period Theory that was first mentioned in the book, Samguk Yusa (a millenia after Silla had already unified the Peninsula), and which I point out has only become relevant now, as South Koreans try to come up any and all types of excuses to justify their inaction in both allowing a trying to come up with a unified Korean peninsula.

Well, this post is to attack this idea that somehow the North Korean government today is a legitimate government today as their variant of the Korean language is somehow more Korean. I'm pretty sure I saw this on Wikipedia at some point and if I do find it, perhaps, it's time I create a Wikipedia account and challenge that claim. To me, this claim purposely distorts history, so that mostly South Koreans can ease their feeling of collective or national guilt as they live their moderately wealthy lives and shrug aside the ongoing suffering being endured by the other half of the country.

I've always found the claim that the North Korean is a more Korean language to be preposterous and revisionist history at its worst, but a recent development (well, it's been a few weeks, but hey, I've been a little bit preoccupied) in North Korea has made me want to write about it. North Korea last month amended their constitution to eliminate the words "communist" and codified that Kim Jong Il is indeed not just the Dear Leader, but the "Supreme Leader" of the country. Also, Songun(Seongun, 선군), or the Military First policy, has become a governing doctrine or ideology of the country).

This is a short excerpt from (New North Korean Constitution Bolsters Kim's Powers)
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea has officially made Kim Jong-il its “supreme leader” and his “military first” policy its guiding ideology, according to the text of the country’s newly revised Constitution made available on Monday.

Text of the New Constitution (PDF, In Korean)The Constitution also declared for the first time that North Korea “respects and protects” the “human rights” of its citizens, and expunged the term “communism” from its text (New York Times).
I've also added a copy of the new constitution in PDF form (in Korean, unfortunately) in the Selected Articles portion of the blog.

But, I find this development to be interesting on a couple fronts. In one sense, North Korea has officially given up the fantasy that there could actually be a worker's paradise in a Communist Kingdom -- a bigger oxymoron would be hard to find. So, in this sense, any shred of North Korea providing a better life than that in South Korea is something, which its people no longer believe. Now, let's discuss the remaining claim that North Korea is somehow more legitimate because it's more Korean (is it more Korean because North Koreans call themselves Joseon people rather than Hanguk people? Or, is it because they too have a three class caste system not unlike that of Silla's bone rank system. But, this can't be it either since North Korea seems to base their heritage from Goguryeo, a state that was Silla's rival). What about language?

A common claim is that the North Korean language is more "pure" or more "Korean" (perhaps synonyms for all Koreans) as North Korea made a systematic effort to eliminate loan words from the North Korean variant of the langauge and, the complete elimination of the teaching of Sino-Korean characters in North Korean schools -- for the most part (there was a law in North Korea that stated to re-introduce a few hundred Hanja characters in the North Korean curriculum, but hey, how seriously can this be taken considering there's a reference towards human rights in the North Korean constitution now. But, also on a tangent, with these same endowments how exactly was it possible that South Korea came to develop democratic institutions?)

People that support this seem to forget that the written Korean Language, Hanguel, only came to widespread usage after Korea lost its independence (so about a hundred years ago). Koreans traditionally like to claim that the nation began in 2333 BCE, so for about 4,200 years Koreans didn't really use Hangeul. Now, considering that all scholarly work was written using Sino-Korean characters either in modified form to fit the "Korean language" spoken at that time or simply, in literary, Classical Chinese up until very recently, eliminating loan words that constitute about 50%-70% of all the words in the Korean language doesn't make the language more Korean, but rather it butchers the language.

There's a couple ways to look at this. For example, Koreans trace back a common heritage to the (Early) Three Kingdoms Period as each Kingdom is seen to be a "Korean" kingdom in that the merger of the three kingdoms respective traditions, languages(yes), and, of course, people gave way to a common Korean heritage. While somewhat similar to how Koreans have strenuously argued that considering Goguryeo to be a minority Chinese Kingdom would be tantamount to stealing Korean heritage and distorting the Korean identity, I think the systematic eradication or elimination or alteration of 50% to 70% of all words in the Korean language is much, much worse than "losing Goguryeo." It not only distorts the "true identity" of the language, but you are basically erasing (or rather choosing to forget) 50%-70% of your identity. Koreans have for a long period of time proudly stated how they have learned much from the Chinese, perhaps the lessons of the Cultural Revolution in China should not be forgotten.

So rather than North Korean being a more a Korean language, it's more along the lines of North Korea being a perverse distortion of the Korean language. Imagine waking up one day and choosing not to use 50% to 70% of the words in your vocabulary (or at least fooling yourself into thinking that you are not using it), then what do you have left? Assuming you somehow retained the ability to still be able to speak and converse with other people, you'd be using the few remaining words in your now, much more limited vocabularly a lot, lot more. If people could understand what you were saying, they might even think you are crazy for doing so. Why Koreans in the south look at this favorably is so pecular and what makes Korea so interesting.

(But, oh, South Koreans are doing the same thing except, of course, on a much lesser scale. Why it's so important to have a Korean word for yellow radish is beyond me).

No comments:

Post a Comment