Re: Q.'s about hanja

From: Jungshik Shin (
Date: Tue Nov 07 2000 - 11:24:42 EST

On Tue, 7 Nov 2000, Marco Cimarosti wrote:

> I have some questions about the usage of hanja (Chinese characters) in
> Korean.
> 1) Is it correct to say that hanja are only used for words derived from
> Chinese, and never for genuninely Korean words?

Basically, yes. Well, it depends on what you meant by genuinely Korean
words. Some new words have been made up in Korea using Hanjas. However,
those are not regarded as genuinely Korean although made in Korea. So,
the answer to your question is yes.

In addition, some words derived from Chinese have become genuine Korean
words *in people's mind* and pronuniations of them chnaged and began
to get written in Hangul only. It's pretty amusing to find those words
*in transition* (they misspell some Hanja-o - Chinese derived words -
because they don't recognize them as derived from Chinese) in on-line
writtings by younger generation (hmm, I don't regard myself as belonging
to old generation, but....). A part of the resaon for this phenomenon
is in modern Korean the number of vowels gets smaller and smaller.
(well, there's an exception to this as I mentioned the other day.
I know at least a vowel used in modern Korean that's not listed
in Unicode 3.0. Fortunately, it's among five new vowels proposed
by DPRK)

BTW, before (and even after) the invention of Hangul in the 15th century,
Hanjas and its simplified variants were used to represent genuinely Korean
words as well. Some of "those simplified variants" (used in writing system
called "Idoo" or "Hyang-Chal") may have to added to Unicode/ISO-10646.

> 2) Is it true that hanja have been abolished in North Korea? When did this
> happen?

Abolished? I'm not sure exactly when. Probably not long after the
establishment of DPRK (in 1948) or in 1950's. However, they reportedly
began to teach Hanja again recently.

Please, note that South Korea(ROK) has also a law that mandates
'abolishment' of Hanja although it's not strictly enforced.

> 3) How often are hanja used today, however? (All the Korean web pages I come
> across are totally in hangul, including

Except for some scholarly books (especially in humanity and social science
or *old* technical books which often times were verbatim translation of
Japanese books), court documents and some (not all) government documents
(especially from the legislative branch) Hanjas are rarely used. Some
newspapers and magazines still use Hanjas in their printed version,
but they don't use them in on-line version. Hardly anyone bothers
to use Hanjas in web page unless it's absolutely necessary to 'break
ambiguity/degeneracy' (people's names or very rarely used words made up
of Hanjas)

In *a* sense, Hanjas are a bit like Latin in European languages.

> 4) How do Koreans input hanja on computers?

Enter corresponding Hangul syllable or words and convert them to
Hanjas by hitting 'hot key' which brings up the Hanja selection dialog
box. In shrot, we enter Hanja by 'pronunciation'.

Hope this helps,

Jungshik Shin

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