English Edges out Hangeul at Korean Cultural Sites

      October 23, 2009 07:22

      Hangeul is taking a back seat to English even at prime Korean cultural sites. About one-third of the signboards along Sejongno, named for King Sejong the Great who is credited with inventing the Korean alphabet, make do without any Korean lettering at all. The Chosun Ilbo on Sunday found that 18, out of 58 signboards were written in English only.

      Even the name of the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts is in English only on the glass wall of the lobby and signboards. Due to Koreans' general preference for English over Korean, the names of coffee shops, cosmetics shops, and building signboards are written in English only.

      A study by the Korean Language Society and DongA University of signboards in Seomyeon, Busan in 2007 found that 286 out of 1,339 were in English. Yu Woon-sang at the Korean Language Society said, "Just like having good knowledge of Chinese characters was regarded as a status symbol in the past, today people who speak English well are thought to be smart."

      Yoo Kyung, a social worker, said, "Many senior citizens enroll in English classes offered by local welfare centers because they cannot read English words they come across in daily life such as 'push,' 'coffee,' or 'stop.'" The Nowon Senior Welfare Center in North Seoul had to select students by ballot because its basic English course for senior citizens drew more than double the applicants for the planned class size of 30.

      Kim Se-jung of the National Institute of the Korean Language, said, "By law, public signboards, placards, wall posters and leaflets should be written in Korean, at least jointly with other languages, but the ambiguous clause on penalties considerably compromises the validity of the regulation. Even in Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in China, the prefecture requires everything to be written both in Korean and Chinese. But in Korea, nobody really takes the law seriously."

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