Where is the Korean Romaji?

Have you ever seen Korean Hangul written out in English letters?  It’s atrocious.

My personal peeve is hearing Seoul stretched across extra syllables like it’s being tortured on a rack.

More recently is hearing GANGnam pronounced with a long A, as though Psy should be carrying a gat and wearing Nikes, a tracksuit and chains.

Not that I blame westerners for not getting how to pronounce Korean: the real culprit is the horrific conventions for spelling out Hangul phonetically.

The letter A by itself has multiple pronunciations: every Korean learns that in school.  How hard would it have been to make it an unambiguous “ah”?

And how is anyone supposed to know that Seoul is actually 2 syllables “suh-ul”, let alone that “eo” should be pronounced as “uh”?

But what kills me is not just that the existing standards are bad, but they’re so needlessly bad.

The underlying Hangul alphabet is widely praised by linguistics as “the most perfect phonetic system designed.”  Hell, Koreans even have a holiday to celebrate the king Sejong (named after my nephew) who invented the script.

After all the effort he went to – convening all his scholars when they have other pressing work, like oh administering the kingdom – you’d think contemporary Koreans could at least follow through with the minimal effort of devising a Romanization that reflects the language’s simplicity and elegance.


I mentioned in my previous post that Agile tech consulting is the first of two threads I want to pursue with my new company.  The other, more speculative but potentially bigger – both at a business and personal level – is to devise and write software for a new transliteration standard.  The exact recipe is as follows:

  • devise a simple, user-friendly standard to transliterate Hangul
  • write software to automate it
  • profit

Yeah, OK maybe I need to think through the business side of this equation a bit…

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