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[Op-Ed] Standard Korean

Posted May. 29, 2009 06:48,   


Let`s try to change Kim Young-rang’s poem “Wow, Autumn Colors,” which is expressed in the dialect of the Jeolla region. If the poem’s phrases are changed into standard Korean, it will lose the beauty and taste of its words. In April 2006, five members of Taetmal Dure, a group which studies dialects in the country, published the book, “Korea’s Traditional Taetmal.”

Taetmal is language a person learns when he or she is a fetus within a mother’s womb. The five people proposed a change to the common perception by changing dialects into Taetmal. They said in a statement, “While standard language is common language, Taetmal represents who I am and where I’m from, and hence should be valued and preserved.”

Taetmal Dure also filed a constitutional appeal in May 2006 against the definition of standard Korean as “modern Seoul language that is widely used by civilized people.” The group consists of 123 people, including public school students, parents and scholars. They say the requirement to follow the rule of standard Korean in school textbooks and official documents not only restricts the use of provincial dialects, but also constitutes discrimination against other regions and a violation of the people’s right to happiness, equity and education.

The Constitutional Court yesterday unanimously rejected the appeal three years after the filing. The ruling said the definition of standard Korean as Seoul language used by civilized people in and of itself holds no legal effect, and hence does not infringe upon an individual’s freedom and rights. Justices Kim Jong-dae and Lee Dong-heup, however, expressed views that went against the ruling, saying, “If the country defines a language used by people in a certain region as the standard, people using other dialects will feel restrained in their lives. Provincial languages are not only historical, cultural and emotional creatures of people in their respective regions, but they are also the shared common heritage of all people.”

Lee Sang-gyu, a professor at Kyungpook National University in Daegu who once served as the head of the National Academy of the Korea Language, said Korea needs to expand the boundary of Korean to imply a “common language” defined as “modern language that is most common, and in which Koreans most widely communicate.” Incumbent academy chief Kwon Jae-il has emphasized that the value of standard Korean as a tool for communication and dialect as a Korean cultural heritage should be both respected. The court ruling is limited to textbooks and official documents. It means that the Korean language can be abundantly used with words and phrases such as the expressions in Kim Young-rang’s poem. Korean language linguists say the country must collect and preserve languages that exist outside the scope of standard Korean, even just for the purpose of preserving variety in the Korean language.

Editorial Writer Kim Sun-deok (yuri@donga.com)