[FOUNTAIN]Hangul can’t be controlled by legislationSohan, the 12th lunar subdivision, is generally the coldest time of the year. The ancestors used to say, “Daehan freezes to death at Sohan’s house.” Without knowing the Chinese characters for Daehan and Sohan, the saying is hard to understand. The wisdom of the saying is that the weather is colder during Daehan, the big cold, than Sohan, the little cold. Without borrowing Chinese characters, it is the Korean language’s fault that pure Korean words alone are insufficient.
Of course, we sometimes use Chinese words excessively. The English-Korean dictionary is a good example of the use of difficult Chinese characters when there are pure Korean words that work. Linguists point out Koreans adopted Chinese characters during the Japanese colonial era. In the last 100 years, Koreans have been accustomed to using Chinese characters in writing and speaking.
At the end of last year, the National Assembly passed the “Law on the National Language.” The legislation will exert a great influence on the daily lives of Koreans. Since a vague clause, “The official documents of the Republic of Korea are written in hangul, but Chinese characters can be used at the same time for the time being when necessary,” defined the law on exclusive use of hangul in 1948, the law is the first designed to protect and develop the Korean language. However, the law on the national language contradicts trends emphasizing cultural freedom. According to the law, the government will establish a five-year plan to enhance the language, hold a national language test for citizens and standardize specialized terms and expressions. The program is more about closing than opening the language. While senior scholars suggested that the rules on the use of Chinese words should be included, it was not accepted. Some proposed that we should use “Korean language” instead of “national language,” but that was also ignored.
From the surface, it seems like a conflict of interest between the Korean Language Society and the Movement for Chinese Character Education, but the story behind it is not so simple. The specter of the “language purification movement,” which had been criticized as nationalistic, might have returned. History has taught us that the language we write and speak is like a living creature and cannot be controlled by law or force.
by Chung Jae-suk
The writer is a deputy culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.