Han River

Skatinginbc

Senior Member
Mandarin 國語
Sun-Mu (孫穆), a Chinese ambassador of the Song dynasty (宋朝; 960AD–1279AD) to Goryeo (918AD-1392AD), stated in his book (《雞林類事》) that 漢 meant 'white' in the language of Goryeo ("高麗方言謂白曰漢"). So I assumed Korea's "Han River" (漢江) actually meant 'White River', which originated in the "Great White Mountain" (太白山) now commonly known as Mount Daedeok. Wikipedia, however, says 'han' (漢) means 'great' in the name "Han River" (漢江). Which one is correct? Are both etymological explanations plausible?
 
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  • pcy0308

    Senior Member
    Korean
    Hello skatinginbc, as you've mentioned already, "Han" implies the quality of being "great," "galactic."
     

    Skatinginbc

    Senior Member
    Mandarin 國語
    Thank you, pcy0308.
    The Han River (漢江) was called the Hansan River (漢山河) during the time of the Three Kingdoms, and there was a Hansan prefecture (漢山州) in Goguryeo. Based on your response, I guess hansan (漢山) means "great mountain", not "white mountain".
    "galactic"
    This connotation is associated with the use of the Chinese character 漢, which denotes "galaxy" or "Milky Way" in Old Chinese.
    This connotation of "han" seems to be a native element of Korean.
     

    Skatinginbc

    Senior Member
    Mandarin 國語
    Han River (Korea) - Wikipedia: The hanja for the Han River is not 韓 ("Korea") but 漢 (Chinese). The reason behind this is because the meaning of the native Korean "han" (한), in this instance meaning "great" "large" "wide", was transliterated into Hanja with the character 漢 also meant "large", thus showing the reason why the river used the word 漢 instead of 韓.
    That doesn't make sense to me.
    (1) If the Han River means literally "Galactic River" (and thus figuratively
    "Great River/Vast River"), it is a Chinese name, not a native Korean word as claimed by the Wikipedia.
    (2) If the river's name means literally "Great River" AND if the Chinese transliteration was intended to reflect that meaning, it should have been 瀚江, in which 瀚 (한) means "great, vast".
    (3) According to Wikipedia on Samhan (三韓; i.e., Byeonhan, Jinhan, and Mahan), "han" in the name Samhan is a native Korean word meaning "great, grand, large". If that is true, then the Chinese character 韓 has been used to transliterate "han" meaning "great" in Korean, and thus it is not the main reason why the character 漢 was chosen for the Han River as the Wikipeida has claimed.
    (4) 漢 and 韓 do not have the same pronunciations in Old Chinese and in Middle Chinese. 漢 in Han River (漢江) had a voiceless onset (cf. hangang [han.ɡaŋ]), whereas 韓 in Samhan (三韓; i.e., Byeonhan [pjʌn.ɦan], Jinhan [tɕin.ɦan], and Mahan [ma.ɦan]) had a voiced onset. The voiced-voiceless contrast (韓 vs. 漢) seems to be the reason behind the choice of Chinese characters in ancient times.
     
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    pcy0308

    Senior Member
    Korean
    Hello Skatinginbc,
    Yes, Wikipedia's word choice here is not the most ideal, and your confusion is understandable. Here, rather than "transliteration," it would be more correct to say that the word is "transcribed" through a phonetic transcription (a simple Wikipedia search would do, but linguistically, "transcription" refers to a process of representing words in a certain language with phonetic equivalents of another language, unlike transliteration, which does not take into account phonetic similarities of words being transcribed).

    According to the Seoul Historiography Institute, the name, "한강" comes from "한가람."
    "가람" in native Korean means "강," a "river."
    The word in question, "" in native Korean means "vast," "big."
    "한" in native Korean is also an intensifier that is commonly used in both spoken and written Korean and is not based on Chinese character.
    An example more or less easy to come across would be "한여름" (the middle of summer, the peak period of summer).

    In the process of finding a phonetic equivalent for expressing the name "한강" in a Chinese character, 漢 is used.
    Therefore, you could look at it both ways without one being right and another being wrong as the name "한강" can be expressed both in Korean and Chinese. However, as the aforementioned origin of the name suggests, it has its root in a native Korean word, "한가람," not a Chinese character or a Chinese name.

    (Source: 서울지명사전 : 서울역사편찬원)
     
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