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.”


variant Chinese characters and Unicode

A submission to the Unicode Consortium’s Ideographic [sic] Variation Database for the “Combined registration of the Adobe-Japan1 collection and of sequences in that collection” is available for review through November 25. This submission, PRI 108, is a revision of PRI 98.

This set “enumerates 23,058 glyphs” and contains 14,664 tetragraphs (Chinese characters / kanji). About three quarters of Unicode pertains to Chinese characters.

Two sets of charts are available: the complete one (4.4 MB PDF), which shows all the submitted sequences, and the partial one (776 KB PDF), which shows “only the characters for which multiple sequences are submitted.”

Below is a more or less random sample of some of the tetragraphs.

Initially I was going to combine this announcement with a rant against Unicode’s continued misuse of the term “ideographic.” But I’ve decided to save that for a separate post.

sample image of some of the kanji variants in the proposal

Korean university students show little knowledge of Chinese characters

A group of 384 freshmen at Sungkyunkwan University in South Korea were tested on their knowledge of hanja (Chinese characters, as are sometimes used in writing words in Korean). Although this sample isn’t particularly large, I haven’t seen any indication that anyone believes it is not representative of Korean university freshmen as a whole. The results — at least for those who believe that Chinese characters still play a major role in literacy in Korean — are fairly dramatic:

  • 20 percent couldn’t write their own names in Chinese characters
  • 77 percent couldn’t write their mother’s name in Chinese characters
  • 83 percent couldn’t write their father’s name in Chinese characters
  • 71 percent couldn’t write “new student” in Chinese characters
  • 96 percent couldn’t write “economy” in Chinese characters
  • 98 percent couldn’t write “encyclopedia” in Chinese characters

And as for reading Chinese characters?

  • 93 percent couldn’t read the word for “ambition” as written in Chinese characters
  • 96 percent couldn’t read the word for “honor” as written in Chinese characters
  • 99 percent couldn’t read the word for “compromise” as written in Chinese characters

Remember, this refers to students at a prominent university.

A pro-character editorial in response to this states:

Seventy percent of Korean words including most conceptual and abstract nouns are made of Chinese characters. Terminology used in humanities, social studies and natural science are mostly Chinese characters. It is difficult to understand the meaning of words by pronunciation alone, without learning about the meanings of the Chinese characters that represent them. Words such as “recurrence”, “repatriation” and “homing” contain the Chinese character that stands for “return.” Without knowing that character, you must memorize each of those words separately by sound.

Whoever wrote that needs to be sent to the board to write “Chinese characters are not words” one hundred times. But I don’t know what it would take for the author to realize that learning words by sound rather than Chinese characters is entirely normal — exactly what native speakers of languages the world over do.

For a little more information on the complications in the use of Chinese characters with Korean, see Asia’s Orthographic Dilemma by William C. Hannas, especially the sections on the so-called homonym problem and the supposed transitivity [of Chinese characters] across languages.


See also Occidentalism’s thread on this, which already has more than thirty comments.

chlorinated alphabet

images of Chinese characters and 'radicals' produced when typing various letters in a fontTian at Hanzismatter always manages to find good stuff. But this time, with the help of Alan Siegrist, he’s outdone himself. I’ve got tears streaming down my face because I’ve been laughing so hard at the font of random characters and so-called radicals that some people have apparently been mistaking for a phonetic guide to Chinese characters.

My title for this entry is in reference to the character given when the letter Z is typed: 氯. This is , which means “chlorine.”

names, ethnicity, and colonialism

Joel at Far Outliers has an interesting post on how Koreans chose Japanese names during the Japanese colonial period. (Spotted on Language Hat.)

Regarding name frequency in Taiwan, I once did some checking of an old version of Chih-Hao Tsai’s invaluable list of Chinese names (in Taiwan) and ended up with the top ten names covering 50 percent of the population. Now that he’s got an improved name-list online, I should check again.

Also here in Taiwan, few aborigines have taken the trouble to change their official names, now that they finally have an alternative to the sinicized versions that had been forced upon them by Taiwan’s officialdom. It will be interesting to see how the situation changes, if at all, now that new national ID cards are finally being issued. For more on this, see Romanization to be allowed on some Taiwan ID cards, including the link in the note.

Korea’s official seal

South Korea’s official chop has become cracked, worn, and should be replaced, according to government auditors there.

The 2.15 kg, 18-karat gold chop, commissioned to mark the nation’s 50th anniversary in 1998, is used to authenticate public documents and diplomatic papers, honorary certificates, and certificates of appointment.

The chop uses a “more modern font” than that of its predecessor. According to the report on this, “critics had complained that the old seal used Korean characters that looked too much like Chinese characters.”

(Emphasis added.)

Here’s the current seal:

source: Crack in seal, 6 years old, irks auditors (Joong Ang Daily, September 23, 2005)

‘Net influences writing in Chinese

Related sorts of Internet-influenced mixed scripts, abbreviations, and loan words are also popular in Taiwan and China among the young.

“よøぎㅎビλĦㅎコ_¤ 읍ㅎF_しち흐ロっㅉヴ”_≥∇≤☆”

This is one of the commonly used words of teenagers on the Internet. It means: “Hello. You are so cool.”

The language used on the Internet is passing over the danger level for breaking down Hangeul, the Korean alphabet.

Up until recently, it was just writing down the words as they were heard or shortening words, like “ban-ga-wo” (meaning ‘glad to see you’ in Korean) to “bang-ga” or “yeo-ja-chin-gu” (meaning “girlfriend” in Korean) to “yeo-chin.” However, lately, it has gotten to the point where words that the general public cannot understand at all are being used.

The language for these words used by some netizens for communication, mixing special characters, Japanese, Chinese characters and Korean, are called “alien words.”

The meaning of alien words such as “㉯㉯납별뉨ⓔ는ⓔ렇퀘글쓰능高☆로㉯뽀게생각안훼 (I, Byeol-nim, do not think using words this way is that bad)”, can be guessed when looking closely, but some seem like codes, such as “읍ㅎ℉를_ㅁ|てつ효_∩∇∩★ (I believe in you)”.

These alien words are becoming popular among some teenage netizens who want to share secrets of their own. They even make community clubs on the Internet and talk with each other in alien words.

However, these alien words are not in the Korean spelling system, and so netizens using this language sometimes misunderstand each other. Accordingly, a translation program for alien words has appeared. It translates Korean words into alien words.

The problem here is that this language used by teenagers on the Internet is continuing into use in everyday life, becoming a serious threat to breaking down the Korean language.

In fact, teachers are pointing out that many students are writing “추카” instead of “축하” and “겜” instead of “게임” during writing classes. (Words are written by the way they sound or by shortening the original word.)

Accordingly, the Education and Human Resources Development Ministry (MOE) has published a teachers’ guide to refine the Korean language and effectively teach students the manners in language for everyday life to be distributed throughout schools on Monday, January 10.

This teachers guide, titled: “Refining Internet Language, Manners for Language in Everyday Life,” was written by the MOE, the National Academy of the Korean Language, the Information Communication Ethics Committee, the Korean Education and Research Information Service and the Teachers’ Clean Media Movement, and will be used during classes starting this semester.