North Korea cracking down on wussy given names that don’t end in consonants

Korean consonants

North Korea is a scary, scary, scary place. Fortunately, at least for those of us not living in that People’s Paradise, every so often the country also provides important linguistic tips, which I am duty-bound to pass along to you.

For example, did you know that names without final consonants are “anti-socialist”? The wise authorities in North Korea have reportedly come to that conclusion and are presently dedicated to the task of cleansing that evil. Since October, “notices have been constantly issued at the neighborhood-watch unit’s residents’ meeting to correct all names without final consonants. People with names that don’t have a final consonant have until the end of the year to add political meanings to their name to meet revolutionary standards,” a resident of North Korea’s North Hamgyong told Radio Free Asia.

In meetings and public notices, officials have gone so far as to instruct adults and children to change their names if they are deemed too soft or simple …, another source said….

The government has threatened to fine anyone who does not use names with political meanings, a resident in the northern province of Ryanggang told RFA on condition of anonymity to speak freely.

Naturally, it would be unwise to adopt any sort of name that reminds the government authorities of names in South Korea or elsewhere.

In the past, North Koreans were encouraged to give their children patriotic names that held some ideological or even militaristic meaning, such as Chung Sim (loyalty), Chong Il (gun), Pok Il (bomb) or Ui Song (satellite).

In recent years, though, as the county has become more open to the outside world, North Koreans have been naming their children gentler, more uplifting names that are easier to say, such as A Ri (loved one), So Ra (conch shell) and Su Mi (super beauty), sources inside the country say.

Instead of names that end on harder sounding consonants, children are being given names that end in softer vowels, which is more like names given to children in South Korea.

But recently, North Korean authorities are clamping down on this trend, requiring citizens with the softer names to change to more ideological ones, and even their children’s names, if they aren’t “revolutionary” enough, the sources say.

source: North Korea forcing citizens to change their names to sound more ideological, Radio Free Asia, November 30, 2022

related article in Korean: “남한식 이름 불가” 북, 혁명적 개명 강요 (“South Korean names are not allowed.” North Forces Revolutionary Name Changes), Radio Free Asia, November 28, 2022

Further reading: “북 채택 예고한 ‘평양문화어보호법’, 사상·정신적 이완 방지 조치” (North Korea to adopt Pyongyang Cultural Language Protection Act to prevent ideological and mental relaxation), Radio Free Asia, December 7, 2022.

China attracting fewer and fewer U.S. study-abroad students

China is continuing to decline as a destination for U.S. study-abroad students, slipping from fifth place to sixth (behind Britain, Spain, Italy, France, and Germany; with Ireland, Australia, Costa Rica, and Japan completing the top ten).

This likely indicates that the craze for learning Mandarin has already peaked. Greater awareness of the unhealthy levels of pollution in China may also be a factor.

chart showing how US enrollments in study-abroad programs in China were low in the 1990s (about 2000 students), grew sharply in the 2000s (to almost 15000 in 2011), and have been declining ever since
Note: The dip in the 2002–2003 school year was a result of worries about the outbreak of SARS.

Meanwhile, almost all other parts of East Asia saw increases in 2015–2016 over 2014–2015:

Destination Students in 2014-15 Students in 2015-16 % Change
China 12,790 11,688 -8.6
Hong Kong 1,508 1,612 6.9
Japan 6,053 7,145 18.0
Macau 3 4 33.3
Mongolia 71 71 0.0
South Korea 3,520 3,622 2.9
Taiwan 880 980 11.4


Additional reading:

China and U.S. study abroad programs

China remained the fifth most popular destination for U.S. students studying abroad during the 2008/09 school year, and it continued to account for 5 percent of U.S. study abroad.

In the previous academic year, growth for the PRC as a destination increased 19.0 percent, while study abroad as a whole increased 8.5 percent. But for 2008/09 growth for China was a much smaller 3.9 percent, while the total worldwide figure declined -0.8 percent. Figures for the top four destinations also dropped.

The order of the top 10 remained the same as in the previous year, except Mexico and Germany switched places.

Top 10 destinations for study abroad by U.S. students in the 2006-07, 2007-08, and 2008-09 school years
China shown as the fifth most popular destination for study abroad. The top destination is the U.K., followed by Italy, Spain, and France. See the link to my source material for the actual numbers.

Some other figures of possible interest:

  • Japan was in 11th place with 5,784 students, a 1.3 percent increase over the previous year.
  • Taiwan’s total grew 3.3 percent to 597.
  • Hong Kong grew 5.7 percent to 1,155.
  • South Korea grew a dramatic 29.1 percent to 2,062.
  • Singapore grew 7.7 percent to 612.

Study in Asia increased slightly.

Percent of study abroad performed in Asia
chart showing percentage of study abroad in Asia flat at about 6% from 1996-2000, with growth increasing since 2003 to the present 11.1% for the 2008-09 school year

source: Open Doors data portal

Previous posts on this subject:

Korea may make some spellings mandatory

I’ve been doing so much on signage lately that I’ve been neglecting the issue of romanization. (Remember romanization?) Here’s something just in from South Korea, a country that rivals Taiwan in making a national pastime of screwing around with its romanization system.

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the Presidential Council on National Competitiveness on Wednesday discussed plans to make the Korean language more accessible worldwide, including working out a Romanization standard for family names, compiling a new Hangul dictionary with about 1 million entries, and building a Hangul cultural center.

The government will come up with standard Romanization for family names this year that will become mandatory for people when they apply for new passports and for government offices that use both Hangul and English on official documents such as birth records and residence registration cards.

In Taiwan, people can choose among romanization systems for the name on their passport. Employing romanization for Hoklo, Hakka, or a language of one of Taiwan’s official tribes is also permitted.

An earlier Romanization project for family names was suspended in 2000 due to controversy over exceptions. The new standard will cost a huge amount of money as the Romanized names of businesses, schools and individuals as well as road signs will have to be changed.

A new Hangul dictionary is to be compiled by 2012, adding a large number of words to the last official dictionary published in 1999, which has about 500,000 entries, and adding easy sample sentences.

Experts have said that the younger generation have trouble understanding the conventional dictionary, as there are too many difficult Chinese characters in explanations and definitions.

The government also plans to compile a multilingual web dictionary comprising about 20 different foreign language sections — such as Vietnamese-Hangul and Thai-Hangul — to help foreigners and Korean nationals overseas.

A Hangul cultural center, to be built at a cost of W35.2 billion [US$27.5 million] by 2012, is to give visitors hands-on experience of the Korean language.

source: Standard Romanization for Korean Names Planned, Chosun Ilbo, June 25, 2009

Photo of street signs in Namyangju, Gyeonggi-do (Namyangju, Ky?nggi-do) courtesy of Robert Badger.

massive Korean dictionary of Chinese characters nears completion

The final volumes in what is being touted as the world’s largest Chinese character dictionary are scheduled to be published in May.

The fifteen-volume work (excluding the index) will reportedly cover some 60,000 Chinese characters and include about 500,000 Sinitic words. By comparison, the Zhongwen da cidian (中文大辭典 / Zhōngwén dà cídiǎn), published in Taiwan in the 1960s covers 49,905 Chinese characters.

The project was initiated by the Institute of Oriental Studies of Dankook University, South Korea, in 1978.

The first volume of the 『漢韓大辭典 』 (in Mandarin: Hàn-Hán dà cídiǎn; “Dictionary of Chinese characters Korean use,” as it is translated on the institute’s Web site) was issued in 1999. Last year, volumes 10-12 were published.

The project has reportedly cost more than W20 billion (US$21.3 million).

Yet more work may still be needed.

Prof. Kim Eon-jong of the Department of Korean Literature in Classical Chinese at Korea University said, “This project has great significance from the standpoint of cultural history. But it’s a pity that the institute hastened the final stage. It must complement and supplement the dictionary later.”


Some remarks from North Korea on language

I haven’t provided any news from North Korea in quite some time. Truly, I am wicked human scum whose frantic attempts to stifle the true voice of the people will be thwarted.

So here are some remarks from this year from North Korea’s official news agency (found on the Internet on a .jp domain — heh).

First off, in case anyone was wondering which of the world’s languages is wonderful beyond compare, it’s Korean:

There are more than 5,000 languages in the world, none of which can compare with the Korean written and spoken languages delicate in expression, rich in meaning and abundant in vocabulary.

Part of the reason for this is that Korean, at least as spoken in North Korea, has been rid of lots of foul loan words. Ah, purity!

More than tens of thousands of common vocabularies and terminology have been purified from Chinese and foreign words. A lot of inherent Korean words have been discovered and arranged and the Korean written and spoken language has developed into a new system with inherent Korean words as the main.

(Kidding aside, there really is a certain logic to this, given the problems that adopting Sinitic words and their Chinese characters into Korean caused for literacy.)

OK, back to linguistic reality, as defined by Pyongyang:

The Korean people are proud of having the Pyongyang cultured language and are embodying in their linguistic life thoroughly.

The Pyongyang cultured language is the standard one of the nation, which is fully reflecting the national characteristics and constantly developing in accordance with the requirements of the times.

The Koreans are a nation of one and the same blood who have lived in a territory with same culture down through history. They have developed the Korean language into the Pyongyang cultured language, centering around Pyongyang, the hub of the politics, economy and culture, since the liberation of the country from the Japanese colonial rule.

The Korean language, with abundant vocabularies, can correctly distinguish the differences between various objects and their meanings and clearly express people’s feelings and emotion, color, taste and etiquette.

Its pronunciations are fluent, intonations soft and sounds beautiful.

The Pyongyang cultured language comprehends the superior linguistic factors of the national language.

In particular, all the words of foreign origin which are difficult to understand have been removed and a vocabulary system has been established on the basis of home-grown words. As a result, the Pyongyang cultured language protects the purity of the Korean language on a high level.

Chinese and Japanese words had been brought into the Korean language in the past owing to the flunkeyism of feudal rulers and the Japanese imperialists’ moves to obliterate the Korean language. Foreign words including them have been arranged into Korean ones.

So now you know.


And for lagniappe: KCNA Random Insult Generator

China shifting its position on traditional Chinese characters?

Many Web sites in China are running the story that Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Taiwanese scholars have reached an agreement on unification of Chinese characters — and that this involves using many traditional characters.

If any “agreement” has indeed been reached, it probably won’t mean much, if anything at all — certainly not to the government of China. But the number of sites running this story and the prominence of some of the members of the PRC delegation make me wonder if this might just be a little more than much ado about nothing.

Zhōng xīn wǎng 11 yuè 5 rì diàn jù hǎiwài méitǐ pīlù, shǔyú Hànzì wénhuà quān de Zhōngguó, Rìběn, Hánguó Sānguó hé Zhōngguó Táiwān dìqū de xuézhě juédìng zhìzuò tǒngyī zìxíng (wénzì de xíngzhuàng) de 5000-6000 ge chángyòng Hànzì biāozhǔn zì.

Hánguó “Cháoxiǎn rìbào” kānzǎi wénzì jí shìpín bàodào chēng, dì-bā jiè “guójì Hànzì yántǎohuì” shàngzhōu zài Zhōngguó Běijīng chuánméi dàxué lóngzhòng zhàokāi, huìyì yóu Zhōngguó Jiàoyùbù yǔyán wénzì yìngyòng yánjiūsuǒ hé guójiā Hànyǔ guójì tuīguǎng lǐngdǎo xiǎozǔ bàngōngshì zhǔbàn. Huìyì jìhuà jiāng Yuènán, Mǎláixīyà, Xīnjiāpō, Xiāng Gǎng, Àomén xīshōu wéi xīn huìyuán, kuòdà Hànzì shǐyòng guójiā huò dìqū de cānyù fànwéi. Huìyì juédìng zhìzuò gè guójiā dìqū Hànzì “bǐjiào yánjiū cídiǎn”, zhújiàn tǒngyī gèguó shǐyòng de zìxíng. Huìyì hái jiù míngnián zài shǒu ěr jǔxíng dì jiǔ jiè yántǎohuì, gèguó fēnbié shèzhì 3 míng liánluòyuán (yánjiū fùzérén) dáchéng le xiéyì.

Jù bàodào, “guójì Hànzì yántǎohuì” yú 1991 nián fāqǐ. Qí mùdìzàiyú, yùfáng Dōngyà guójiā yīnwèi shǐyòng Zhōngguó Táiwān de fántǐzì, Zhōngguó de jiǎntǐzì, Rìběn de lüèzì děng bùtóng xíngzhuàng de Hànzì chǎnshēng hùnluàn, quèdìng chángyòng Hànzì de zìshù, tuījìn zìxíng biāozhǔnhuà (tǒngyī).

Běnjiè huìyì yǔ 2003 nián zài Rìběn Dōngjīng jǔxíng de dì-qī jiè yántǎohuì xiānggé 4 nián. Jù bàodào, běn cì huìyì tíyì, 5000 duō ge chángyòng biāozhǔn zì jiāng yǐ “fántǐzì” wéizhǔ jìnxíng tǒngyī, rúguǒ gèbié Hànzì yǒu jiǎntǐzì, jiù jìxù bǎoliú.

Chūxí cǐcì huìyì de Zhōngfāng dàibiǎo yǒu Wáng Tiěkūn (Jiàoyùbù yǔyán wénzì xìnxī guǎnlǐ sī fù sīzhǎng, Zhōngguó Wénzì Xuéhuì fùhuìzhǎng jiān mìshūzhǎng), Huáng Dékuān (Ānhuī Dàxué xiàozhǎng, Zhōngguó Wénzì Xuéhuì huìzhǎng), Sū Péichéng (Běijīng Dàxué jiàoshòu), Lǐ Dàsuì (Běijīng Dàxué jiàoshòu); Hánguó fāng dàibiǎo yǒu Lǐ Dàchún (Guójì Hànzì Zhènxīng Xiéhuì huìzhǎng), Lǐ Yīngbǎi (Shǒu’ěr Dàxué míngyù jiàoshòu), Jiāng Xìnhàng (Chéngjūnguǎn Dàxué míngyù jiàoshòu), Chén Tàixià (Rénjǐ Dàxué shǒuxí jiàoshòu), Jīn Yànzhōng (Gāolí Dàxué jiàoshòu); Rìběn fāng dàibiǎo yǒu Zuǒténg Gòngyuè (Zhùbō Dàxué jiàoshòu), Qīngyuán Chúnpíng (qīnshàn bù huìzhǎng); Zhōngguó Táiwān dìqū [sic] dàibiǎo yǒu Xǔ Xuérén (“Zhōngguó Wénzì Xiéhuì” lǐshìzhǎng).

source: Zhōngguo, Rìběn, Hánguó yǔ Zhōngguó Táiwān dìqū xuéjiè jiù “tǒngyī Hànzì” dáchéng xiéyì (中日韩与中国台湾地区学界就“统一汉字”达成协议), November 5, 2007

reviews of books related to China and linguistics

Sino-Platonic Papers has just released online its first compilation of book reviews. Here is a list of the books discussed. (Note: The links below do not lead to the reviews but to other material.)

Invited Reviews

  • J. Marshall Unger, The Fifth Generation Fallacy. Reviewed by Wm. C. Hannas
  • Rejoinder by J. Marshall Unger
  • Hashimoto Mantaro, Suzuki Takao, and Yamada Hisao. A Decision for the Chinese NationsToward the Future of Kanji (Kanji minzoku no ketsudanKanji no mirai ni mukete). Reviewed by Wm. C. Hannas
  • S. Robert Ramsey. The Languages of China. Reviewed by Wm. C. Hannas
  • James H. Cole, Shaohsing. Reviewed by Mark A. Allee
  • Henry Hung-Yeh Tiee, A Reference Grammar of Chinese Sentences. Reviewed by Jerome L. Packard

Reviews by the Editor

  • David Pollack, The Fracture of Meaning
  • Jerry Norman, Chinese
  • N. H. Leon, Character Indexes of Modern Chinese
  • Shiu-ying Hu, comp., An Enumeration of Chinese Materia Medico
  • Donald M. Ayers, English Words from Latin and Greek Elements
  • Chen Gang, comp., A Dictionary of Peking Colloquialisms (Beijing Fangyan Cidian)
  • Dominic Cheung, ed. and tr., The Isle Full of Noises
  • Jonathan Chaves, ed. and tr., The Columbia Book of Later Chinese Poetry
  • Philip R. Bilancia, Dictionary of Chinese Law and Government
  • Charles O. Hucker, A Dictionary of Official Titles in Imperial China
  • Robert K. Logan, The Alphabet Effect
  • Liu Zhengtan, Gao Mingkai, et al., comp., A Dictionary of Loan Words and Hybrid Words in Chinese (Hanyu Wailai Cidian)
  • The Mandarin Daily Dictionary of Loan Words (Guoyu Ribao Wailaiyu Cidian)
  • Shao Xiantu, Zhou Dingguo, et al., comp., A Dictionary of the Origins of Foreign Place Names (Waiguo Diming Yuyuan Cidian)
  • Tsung-tung Chang, Metaphysik, Erkenntnis und Praktische Philosophie um Chuang-Tzu
  • Irene Bloom, trans, ed., and intro., Knowledge Painfully Acquired: The K’un-chih chi of Lo Ch’in-shun
  • Research Institute for Language Pedagogy of the Peking College of Languages, comp., Frequency Dictionary of Words in Modern Chinese (Xiandai Hanyu Pinlyu Cidian)
  • Liu Yuan, chief compiler, Word List of Modern Mandarin (Xianhi Hanyu Cibiao)
  • The Editing Group of A New English-Chinese Dictionary, comp., A New English-Chinese Dictionary
  • BBC External Business and Development Group, Everyday Mandarin

This is SPP no. 8, from February 1988. The entire text is now online as a 4.2 MB PDF.