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Wednesday, March 10, 2004

(Korean language) Renaming Han River, or Chinese characters 漢 and 韓 do matter

A second post today about Han'gang.
(Correction: 漢江 and 韓江 had changed place below - or more honestly, I had them wrong.)

A few days ago I had a note about the plans to give a new Chinese character name for Seoul. Now the council that has been responsible for designing the new name is also proposing to change the Chinese character of the river flowing through Seoul from 漢 to 韓 (in Chosun Ilbo) so that Han'gang would be 韓江 instead of 漢江. As with the Chinese language name of Seoul, 漢城, the problem is with the character 漢, which refers to the old Chinese state of Han and not to the Korean Han, 韓.
Changing one character of a Korean river name will surely be easier to accomplish than making the Chinese use a wholly different word for the Korean capital. (Why not rename the ditch to 恨江, wouldn't that be representative of Korea.)

There is a precedent; I'd always thought that the characters for "East Asian medicine" (or "Chinese medicine") are 漢藥 or 漢醫 (and that's how they are given in my Dong-A's Prime dictionary from 1996), but I started adjusting my perception after seeing signboards like 韓醫院 in Korea. And now, checking the authoritative (?) National Academy of Korean Language web dictionary, the character han in both cases (한약 and 한의) is given as 韓. Seems that the change has happened in the 1990s; just wonder how deliberate it has been.

Does that mean that Koreans are giving more and more attention to Chinese characters, now that it matters a lot what the Chinese think and write about them? I am all for more hanja awareness in Korea, and I'm not in a position to condemn the Koreanization of place names, just paying attention...
(There's this fortress in an island off the coast of Helsinki, called originally Sveaborg [Swedish castle] when built during the Swedish time, but quickly renamed Suomenlinna [Finland's castle] after the independence from Russia.)

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