Chinese creeps in on Korean language birthday

Thu Oct 9, 2008 3:27am EDT
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By Kim Junghyun

SEOUL (Reuters Life!) - As South Korea celebrated on Thursday the birth of its writing system, one of the country's leading school districts said it thinks its students should spend more time learning Chinese characters.

The Korean writing system, called Hangeul, was invented about 600 years ago as a simple and elegant way to spread literacy and bolster national identity.

For centuries after Hangeul's birth, Koreans have had a love and hate relationship with Chinese characters which turned up in government documents and refined poetry, much to the dismay of critics who said they were dragging down the Korean language.

In almost every South Korean blurb about Hangeul, the government extols it as one of the world's most scientific writing systems and a source of national pride.

About 70 percent of Korean words are derived from Chinese characters. North Korea has dropped their use as much as possible to promote what it feels is a pure Korean language.

The South has also moved away in order to remove archaic Chinese-character terms that have cluttered up public documents and made it difficult to write in computer word processing programs.

This month, one of the country's most influential school districts began a program to expand teaching in Chinese characters, which may cause others to follow suit.

The educators said that in order for its students to be better able to take on challenges presented by China and Japan, which both use Chinese characters in their writing, its charges should bolster their skills in the writing system.   Continued...