Korean (language): Will Hanja experience a resurgence in South Korea?
Dan Kim, I knowKorean history
AnsweredJan 31, 2016
Hanja was always more difficultscript to learn than Hangeul or just about any other phonetic script system forthat matter. It's always been inconvenient to use it over other phoneticscripts. In fact, Koreans invented at least two different phonetic scripts tohelp people learn to read - one of which is Hangeul. Even China itselfcontemplated ditching the script for a phonetic script - Sin Wenz (similar topinyin), an alphabet based writing system. The main reason why it was notadopted is because - "the system was less well adapted to writingregional languages, and therefore would require learning Mandarin."
Fortunately, Korea doesn't havethat problem, so we adopted phonetic language - which we conveniently alreadyhad.
The reason why hanja was used hadeverything to do with China, and little to do with efficiency. In fact hanja'sdeath started as China became less important in Korea's internationalrelations.
Hanja is just no cake walk tolearn, learning of which is completely avoidable because you already knowanother script.
By 1980s it was already dyingout.
I lived through that time inKorea, newspapers back then already contained lot less hanja than in the 60's,but kids still couldn't read newspaper properly until high school. Even earlyelementary kids can read newspapers now. I had seen many adults even askingeach other how to read this hanja character or that back in the days. Even tome, as a third grade kid in elementary school, it made no sense to learn ascript that was completely redundant. Hanja is a beautiful script, and it hasits own set of strengths over hangeul,but ease of learning isn't one of them.Hanja is perfect when you want to have a single unified communication systemfor large number of people that speaks 100 different languages. Not so perfectfor a group of people speaking the same language.
As China becomes morenationalistic, some Chinese resent the fact that Koreans no longer use Chinesescript, but I hope they will wake up and realize one day that not everything isabout them. There's a reason why every other country that used to use Chinesescript ditched it over phonetic script. Even China seriously contemplated it -
A newspaper written in sin wenz.
Feb5, 2016 · 3 upvotes
Hanzi/Kanji/Hanjais difficult to learn, but only initially. Once you get passed the steep partof the learning curve, things become really smooth and you will find itactually provides much advantage over phonetic scripts--logograms are easier tobe combined to construct new words/concepts. Think of how you would need toteach your kid what "schizophrenia" means--while with Han logogramsone could easily understand 精神分裂症 (?? ???).
Alphabetworks best with English, Hanzi works best for Chinese, and Hangul works bestfor Korean. People use whatever writing system that fits their languagebest. Also, the reason why Koreans continued to use Hanja almostexclusively while Mongols, Manchus, Vietnam, and Japan preferred to adoptphonetic scripts well before 20th century had nothing to do with merits ofHanja itself, and everything to do with the fact that China used them - meaningplethora of books and knowledge were written in hanzi, not hangul. It'sthe same reason why English is so useful for Chinese, Koreans and Japanesenow. Most of modern knowledge is available in English first andforemost. Language of choice for knowledge in Asia before the rise ofwest was Hanja, as simple as that. Even the best writing system ismeaningless if there are no books written in it.
Feb6, 2016 · 4 upvotes
Igot your points but I hope you can see my point as well--that logograms aren'tautomatically harder to learn than phonetics esp. if you look at the time andefforts need to achieve "full literacy". Logograms are hard to learnat first but in the long run it provides cognitiveI advantages.
Idon't resent Korean/Vietnamese to do away with Han logograms. It's justthat people often got the wrong impression that Han logograms were simply toodifficult to learn and would lead to low literacy. But people seem to forgetthat literacy was low in England and France as well before the system ofcompulsory education was implemented.
我已经明白你的意思，但希望你也能同样的理解我的意思—语素文字在机械记忆上并不比语音文字更难。如果你想要努力实现“无障碍的阅读”，语素文字刚开始会比较困难但长远来看它会证明自身的认知优势（ cognitiveI advantages）的。
Feb6, 2016 · 2 upvotes
Allvery fair point.
Idon't think hanja is too difficult, But:
Koreanshave hangul, which is easier for us to learn
Chineseis no longer the first source of knowledge, English is.
Ifeither of those conditions didn't exist, we'd still be using hanja. It'sjust simple matter of practicality. I'm sure you didn't learn English asyour second language because it was the easiest language to learn, you learnedit because you needed to. China was the cultural center of east asia backin the day. It's not just about mechanics of learning hanzi, it's just apart of it.
Inall fairness though, the complaint that hanzi is difficult to learn didn't justcome from other countries, Chinese were some of most vocal critics ofhanzi. Historical documents abound. CCP even attempted to replacehanzi at one point. Zhang Wentian wrote an essay where he argues that Chinesescript was remnant of oppression by owner class - by being difficult and timeconsuming to learn, Chinese writing system was suppressive to the farmers andthe working class.
Dan Kim's answer to Why doesn't China reform itswriting system to make it phonetic and hence easier to learn?
Feb6, 2016 · 2 upvotes
Therewas a specific time in history (1910s and 1920s) that a small minority ofChinese scholars advocated the abolition of Hanzi--but their reasoning wasrather naive and mostly based on the perceived weakness of Chinese military andtechnology as compared with western countries. Most of the scholars (includingthe likes of Hu Shi) later reverterd their positions. Basically it was mainlymotivated politically rather than culturally/linguistically.
CCPpeople did hold on to that "revolutionary" viewpoint a little longerthan most of other young scholars. Mao, in particular, was a strong advocate ofreplacing Hanzi with a phonetic script and the simplification of Hanzi was partof his grand plan towards the eventual abolition of Hanzi. Again his effortswere politically motivated.
Interestingly,most people, including Chinese, don't understand how simplified Chinese becamethe standard of PRC. They all think it is much easier to learn than thetraditional one and that simplification had nothing to do with Maoistideologies. They were again very, very wrong--it is not really easier to learnand the current simplification was entirely a product of Maoist politics.
Ibelieve that the decision to switch to Hangul also had a (big) nationalisticand political component; So did the adoption of Quoc Ngu in Vietnam.
Hangulis very easy to learn by the way. It took me half of an hour to memorize it.
Feb6, 2016 · 1 upvote
Iagree that simplified Chinese was completely unnecessary, and wasteful evensince historical documents can no longer be read. But I'm not sure if theQuoc Ngu had anything to do with nationalism since latin script doesn't haveorigin in Vietnam. In Korea's case, most Chinese mistakenly believe thatKorea abandoned Chinese in 1945 after Japanese rule. But the truth isthat Koreans abandoned it in 1920's, Japanese outlawed Chinese text in 1923,and Koreans used Japanese script for about 25 years by the time Korean gov'twas set up in 1948. By this time, even well educated people could notcommunicate strictly in Chinese. Sure, they knew many characters, butcould only communicate using Japanese alphabet alongside. Koreans weren'tgoing to continue its use of Japanese even if the hell froze over, so wereplaced it with hangul, which was also practical to boot. If we werestill using strictly hanja in 1948, I'm not sure if hanja would have beenreplaced, because hanja didn't feel foreign to us - that's what happens afterusing it for over 2000 years. In fact, the way Hangul was initially usedwas very much like how Japanese script worked, using the same Japanese Chinesewords. After Korean war where communist China saved North Korea andprevented the unification, Chinese was even less popular, and we started to useit even less. But the abandonment of Chinese wouldn't have been possibleif hangul was inadequate, but as it turned out, it was a pretty well designedlanguage. Some Korean scholars in the 50's didn't think Hangul wascapable of replacing Hanja just as some Chinese scholars thought hanzi wasinferior to latin scripts in the 20's.
Howmuch of the decision was nationalist sentiment vs practicality? Theanswer's subjective, but it's hard to deny that both played a factor. Because part of the reason why Koreans now use hangul is same as why Chinesewish Koreans still used hanja. It's a matter of national pride. But, that doesn't mean hanja feels very foreign to Koreans. It may feelold or official, but it really doesn't feel foreign. It's so natural thatmost traditionally Korean of activities - wedding, funeral, birthdays, etc -feels completely unnatural without hanja. South Koreans laugh when theyread North Korean replacement words for Chinese words (North Koreans don't useany hanja nor Chinese words in its language). So, hanja is fine, I don'tthink hangul will be abandoned, but I don't see why hanja can't be widelyaccepted as pseudo second language again if China and Korea becomes reallyclose - but probably not possible with NK.
Feb9, 2016 · 4 upvotes
1.Simplified Chinese is bad, but it doesn't greatly reduce the ability to readhistorical documents. Most Mainland Chinese read traditional Chinesefine.
2.A big part of Vietnamese nationalism in the early 20th century was to separateVietnamese history/culture/language from Chinese. Of course, the creation ofQuoc Ngu had nothing to do with nationalism, but its adoption in school andgovernment definitely did. And I'm not saying the nationalistic component wasthe primary factor---but it did play a big role.
3.You are right that written (Classical) Chinese ceased to become the officialwritten language under Japanese rule. But Hanja was in common use until 1970sand even 1980s, in the form of mixed script ( ?????). I think there's something lost in translation whenyou said most Chinese were mistaken on this issue. By "Chinese", onecould have meant "Hanja/Hanzi/Kanji" or the "written Chineselanguage (i.e. Classical Chinese).
Itseems to me that mixed script had been working well for Koreans--and ifpresident Park Chung-Hee didn't officially abolish Hanja, there's a good chancethat mix script would have persisted to this day.
I'mfundamentally against all form of nationalism. To me Han logograms doesn'tbelong to Chinese alone. Koreans, Vietnamese, Japanese and Ryukyuans have allbeen using it for millennia and contributed to its development. In fact, Idon't see it as "Chinese" at all. And if we really think about itcarefully, the word "Han"漢"doesn't have much to do with modern nation state(s) of China. 漢字 and 漢文 (ClassicalChinese) should be considered the common assets of East Asia.
Reading Classical Chinese and understanding is twodifferent things. And knowing hanja and being able to communicate withoutusing Hangul is another matter. The reason why hanja was droppedfrom Korean is because Hangul didn't need hanja to be able to communicateeffectively. There's simply no need. People used hanja until 70s becausemost people knew hanja already, but younger people just didn't want to learnwhat they didn't need. I went to school during this time, so I have first handknowledge of how it went down. Curriculum emphasized English over hanja, butteachers actually encouraged learning hanja and you got bonus points for usingdifficult hanja. But it doesn't mean hanja was necessary in communication. In90s with wide spread use of computers, mixing hanja with Hangul became evenmore useless. That's just the way it was. Park Chunghee died in the 70s. Hanjawas dropped in the 90s.
Japanese would have dropped their use of kanjiif their script allowed for it. Simple as that. It's not about nationalism.Most Chinese don't get this.
The only reason why Koreans used hanja evenafter advent of Hangul was due to agency issues, once it was lifted, hanja wasgoing to be used, there's no going back.
Feb 9, 2016 · 2 upvotes
Japanese would do just fine without Kanji and even Chineselanguages would do fine without Hanzi as well. There was a very successfulphonetic script for Hokkien, Pe?h-ōe-jī,that has very similar origin with Quoc Ngu--and it worked fine for over 100,000people. Today a minority of Taiwanese nationalists are promoting Pe?h-ōe-jī,just as how Vietnamese nationalists did in the early 1920s.
There'shardly anything in written languages that are true necessities that weabsolutely need to communicate effectively and efficiently. But languages aremore than communication, aren't they?
Feb 9, 2016
Japanese can't drop kanjiwithout introducing whole new script system - again this can't be done due toagency issues. There's just not enough ways to deal with homophones.
Chinese did try to switch to Latin script, butcouldn't do it due to agency issues. Koreans didn't have that.
Feb 28, 2017
No. Simplified Chinese Characters were necessary for themajority of the populations since they were illiterate in written Chinese andspoke in dialects that had little commons in Mandarin years ago. The story wentlike the occurrence of Hangul. Simplified characters are much more efficient towrite down than classical one in the writing time. Once you learn thesimplified one, the traditional characters are not that difficult to recognizebecause the rules of simplify are apparent.