Hanja from phonetic usage to modern usage.

Discussion in '한국어 (Korean)' started by ShakeyX, Jan 25, 2014.

  1. ShakeyX Senior Member

    British English
    Okay I actually have not begun any real learning into Korean but don't let that discourage an answer :p I'm currently learning three other language but the interest into how korean works has kept me up at night and I have finally hit a dead end.

    Just going to give a breif run down of why I am confused.

    If anyone knows how Japanese worked it went basically;

    - Japanese spoken language / Chinese high class literature language
    - Chinese characters used for their phonetic value to represent Japanese words (man'yogana) so by this logic, the chinese characters which spell a japanese word meaning WATER could by all means actually mean BANANA FLAVOURED MONKEY by looking at the characters themselves (just an example)
    - The man'yogana was simplified in two ways resulting in katakana and hirogana syllabary which are now used pretty much in the same way that man'yogana was using them, however they are just unrecognizable as the chinese characters.
    - The use of kanbun (using japanese to mark chinese in ways readable to a japanese person) led to much sino-japanese vocabulary and the use of modern day kanji for its meaning and not its sound

    (I know this is not the japanese forum, but it leads to my point so if anyone does know that I am wrong, please correct me)

    So KOREAN:

    This example is given on how chinese characters were using in Korea pre-hangul.

    So again we have "hani" 爲尼 using characters which actually have NOTHING to do with the word "to do" but simply make the sounds for the Korean native word. So as Hangul was created along side this and Hanja is still used today, at what point did Hanja stop being used for its nonsense phonetic reading and become used for it's semantic graphical meaning? I am pretty sure today that if Hanja is used in korean it's sound value isn't forced into the place of a native korean word, it is simply seen as hanja and read for its meaning, the same meaning as would be in china (although a slightly different sound). So how did this process happen, you can see how it shifted in japan but how did koreans go from one day reading 爲尼 as Hani "to do" and the next day wake up seeing 爲尼 "hani" - become a nun, which I assume nowadays if a korean were to read hanja he would have to know the second meaning, as hangul would be used for "hani" to do.

    hope people get what i'm trying to say here, thanks for your help.
  2. Flaminius

    Flaminius coclea mod

    capita Iaponiae
    日本語 / japāniski / יפנית
    爲 is "to do" as well as "to become." Its pronunciation as a Sino-Korean word is wi. Gugyeol system uses 爲 for a Korean word with the same meaning, ha. I am not sure, however, if ha can mean "to become" as well as "to do."

    If understood as a Sino-Korean word, 爲尼 would be pronounced wini. I assume that there was no such word and people could easily understand that it was not to be understood as a Chinese word but as ideographically representing a Korean word.

    Chinese characters have largely fallen out of use. A major milestone was the 90s when newspapers started to print horizontally and mostly with hangul. It does not mean the Sino-Korean vocabulary is gone. They are now written out in hangul.

    This doesn't make much sense. If a Chinese character is used in Korean but its sound value isn't forced, how could it be pronounced with "a slightly different sound"? Chinese characters, when they are used are read their meanings and sounds are akin to those in Chinese (although I don't think they are 100% matches all the time).

    In the history of Korean 爲 wi and 尼 ni (and other devices of gugyeol) were always known for their Sino-Korean meanings and sounds. It is only within limited contexts that the two combine to make a word and get a new pronunciation. The "shift" happened when they stopped mixing Chinese texts (caveat, not words) into Korean texts.

    It's a typical global misunderstanding, but kambun is not the Japanese ways of annotating texts written in Classic Chinese. It simply means texts written in Classic Chinese.
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2014
  3. ShakeyX Senior Member

    British English
    Okei I am still at a bit of a loss, I'm sure you adequately explained it was just abit confusing for me. I guess my main question is this, are Korean Hanja used today for their phonetic value (in order to make Korean words using the sound value of the Chinese characters) or are Korean Hanja recognized the same way Japanese Kanji is... as having the same meaning as the Chinese word, but can in certain contexts be said using either the loaned pronunciation or the native Korean word?

    You see what I mean, so if you give me an example of Kanja now... in modern korean, does its sound value simply get used to make the sound of a korean word or like japanese does the character itself have meaning which koreans understand.

    Lets just say for arguments sake (this is completely untrue but for the sake of understanding) that Korea, had a native word "Guk" which meant Meat-Feast pizza. Now... do Koreans look at the symbol and use it's sound value to say their native Meat-Feast pizza word or do they now know (which they didn't historically) it's logographic meaning and therefore pronounce it guk or nara (doesn't matter which) and understand it to mean country.

    Now I assume it's the second, so in that case, when and more importantly HOW did korea go from seeing and thinking of pizza (using it for sound value to represent korean words) to thinking of the word "country".

    It seems very strange it's like me, in England, being told Cheese means cheese then waking up the next day and being told, ah... that was just its sound meaning, its acutal meaning comes from so and so place and it means something else. Do you see what I am struggling to understand?

    Sorry for the absurd example with pizza but I hope it serves to explain how I am thinking. Because there was a time when koreans would use chinese characters to spell korean words regardless of the chinese characters meaning... i.e.爲尼 which meant "to do" for koreans but any chinese person looking at it would see its true value... to become a nun.
  4. ShakeyX Senior Member

    British English
    Common.. I really can't be the only one that is confused by this. One day a chinese symbol was used for its phonetic value to match a native korean word.. the next day it is seen and valued as its original chinese meaning regardless of which pronunciation is sued. How does that change happen. Is the phonetic reading of chinese characters for native korean words still in use.

    So would have gone from being used to make up some korean word.. to simply becoming the word for "country" (although ofcourse it can be written in hangul i'm talking about occasions where the hanja is used)
  5. Flaminius

    Flaminius coclea mod

    capita Iaponiae
    日本語 / japāniski / יפנית

    In the earliest history of East Asia, Chinese characters were used for reading and writing in Chinese. This is true for countries where the native language is other than Chinese. (Maybe I shouldn't use the catch-all word "Chinese" because it subsumes dialectal differences within Chinese.) In most of the countries there, Chinese was the first language in which written texts were composed. When and how those countries started writing in their native languages is an interesting but huge topic. Let me set it aside.

    Sticking strictly to the theoretical basic things, East Asians had been long acquainted with the meanings and pronunciations Chinese characters before they started tweaking them to write in their own languages. Koreans are no exceptions.

    One day a Chinese character was used for its phonetic value as well as its Sino-Korean meaning (Sino-Korean because the sound is usually different and the meaning is sometimes so), then gradually and sporadically it was used to represent a native Korean word or morpheme (in systems like 口訣 and 吏読). I am sorry but when and how the latter tendency died out is tough to describe with my limited knowledge.

    Take your hypothetical 國 example. Ancient Koreans would see the character and understand it as a word that sounds guk and means "country." This could have been read nara and associated with the native Korean word but, for most of characters that now comprise the hanja vocabulary, the Chinese character is not matched with the Korean word. It is probably worth noting that Chinese themselves have been using Chinese characters only for the sake of phonetic values since as old as Yin and Zhou.
  6. englishistoughstuff New Member


    It's interesting and yet understandable how no Koreans have attemped to answer your question! :)

    As far as I know (having an MA in a non-Korean-related major so my knowledge to the history of the Korean language is pretty much limited to what I learned in high school), before Hangeul was created by King Sejong in the 15th century, several writing systems had been created by leading scholars in order to capture the Korean sound by borrowing Chinese letters.

    However, Hangeul gained more and more popularity (of course, it happened gradually, as the working class and females becoming literate in Hangeul while most of the male aristocrats despising Hangeul and sticking to Chinese letters until around the end of the 19th century). During the latter period in Joseon Dynasty, some famous male scholars started to write poets and novels in Hangeul - mostly to entertain their family members or themselves but some of the literary works became widely popular.

    So to anwer your question, after Hangeul was created, there were only two writing systems: Hangeul to capture every Korean phonetic sound, or Hanja (Chinese letters) capturing the meaning of every letter but no more used to mimic Korean phonetics.

    I'm not sure if right after Hangeul was made some people still used the borrowing-Chinese-letters-to-record-Korean-phonetis system, but even if they did, I'm sure they died out pretty quickly since Hangeul spread so fast. A history book says that in the next 50 years after Hangeul was created, even some slaves in provincial areas could use Hangeul.

    Hope it helps. :)
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2014

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