G.J. Ramstedt, "knowledgeable teacher"
|A TV crew from KBS is coming around in a couple of weeks to make a small piece of documentary on G. J. Ramstedt, Altaic linguist who did pathbreaking work in the first half of the 20th century on Altaic (Turkic and Mongolic) languages, and later during his time as a charge d'affaires of Finland in Japan during the 1920s learned himself Korean (after learning Japanese in a matter of months), researched it thoroughly and published the first properly linguistic grammar of Korean in 1939. |
I haven't been taking Korean TV crews that much around, but this time it's likely to be more gratifying than doing sauna, Santa Claus and xylitol chewing gum stuff. There's also a somewhat sadder side in this, realizing that scholarship here has not been able to carry on Ramstedt's legacy in institutional terms.
This is not a question of lack of talented and dedicated researchers but lack of institutional resources. The producer of the TV crew now coming seems to have been under the impression that an illustrious scholar of Ramstedt's magnitude surely would have a research institute named after him, but little did he know.
Perhaps it was only the specific historic moment in the beginning of the 20th century that enabled the founding of a branch of scholarship, Altaic linguistics; Finland being a part of the Russian empire, which facilitated the fieldwork among peoples under the Russian rule, and a bunch of dedicated and talented scholars.
Ramstedt as a scholar of Korean language; as far as I understand his grammar was extremely important, but his suggestions about the Altaic link of Korean have not stood the test of the time, except for perhaps some Korean governmental material, in which the even more obsolete hypotheses of the Ural-Altaic group is given life to connect Korean to for example Hungarian. (A Finnish businessman once asked me in Seoul if the talk about our language and Korean being related is true; I told that the most honest answer is that there is no connection, but we agreed that in cases when it helps selling stuff to Koreans, the two languages may as well be related.)
Photograph of G.J. Ramstedt and his Korean language informant Ryu Chin-kel (Ryu Chin-gôl), a Korean student in Japan, reproduced from Harry Halén: Biliktu Bakshi, The Knowledgeable Teacher. G.J. Ramstedt's Career as a Scholar.
For those interested residing in Korea, I'll let you know about the date and time of the program later.
Categories at del.icio.us/hunjang: Koreanlanguage ∙ academic ∙ Koreanstudies ∙ Korea-Finland