Global Perspective as Main Course, or Side Dish?


30 March 2009

Crudely speaking, it seems a “good” time to be a writer of color.  Cross-cultural and transnational narratives are, dare I say, popular these days.  The perspective of the “other” creeps its way into the mainstream cultural psyche little by little.  Consider the obvious example of President Obama’s best-selling memoir Dreams From My Father, and the even more obvious point that we elected Mr. Obama to the Presidency with a 52% popular majority. Other literary examples abound (Zadie Smith, Junot Diaz, Jhumpa Lahiri, et alia).

Today, I face the issue of Korean-language anglicization in the manuscript of Long For This World.  John the copyeditor, with his Irish-Scottish surname, seems to know more about this than I do, oddly — or maybe not so oddly — enough.  He writes:

There are two systems currently in use: the official Korean one introduced in 2000; and the more familiar but less accurate McCune-Reischauer from the 1930s, which is still used by ALA and the Library of Congress. 

I consider two primary issues here, which needn’t necessarily be in opposition, but which might well be:  1) ease of reading for the average English-speaker, and 2) fidelity to pronunciation.  Protocol of systems, as stated above, matter less to me personally.

Re: 1) — hyphens are not typically used in either of the accepted systems, but I can’t help but wonder if they would help to break up the visual jumble of words like, say, jeonbokjuk (abalone stew) or sinseollo (an elaborate hotpot dish made for royalty).  Jeon-bok-juk?  Sin-seol-lo?  Latin-based-language speakers, your thoughts most welcome.

Re: 2) — a friend recently complained to me about the anglicization of our shared surname, i.e. “Chung,” which, in Korean, is really “Jung” or even “Jhung,” with a soft, aspirated lead consonant.  (“Chung” makes us Chinese, which is a whole political-history ball of wax in itself.)  Thus daenjang chigae (stinky soy bean stew), as it’s often anglicized, really should be daenjang jjigae.  Similarly, panchan (all those little appetizer plates that you get before the main course at a Korean restaurant) would be banchan.

I’m just about ready to break for lunch here, now that I’ve whetted my appetite; but before I do, another case in point regarding the ever-globalizing world: the NY Times online today offers in the header the option of switching from the “US Edition” to the “Global Edition,” which I’ve just done for my home page.  The major difference, today, is the headline, “Gunmen Storm School in Pakistan” (and a “Global Spotlight” box in the upper-right corner) vs. “Obama Issues Ultimatum to Carmakers.”  These days, I guess it’s mostly a matter of whose bad news you want first.

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