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authorSean Whitton <>2015-11-18 10:09:12 -0700
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+[[!meta date="2014-03-09 13:56:00"]]
+[[!meta title="Learning some Chinese characters"]]
+[[!tag imported_PyBlosxom korea korean]]
+I recently learnt about twenty Chinese characters as they are used in
+writing Korean. In this context the characters are called *hanja*.
+Korean is rarely written using hanja today, and studying them is
+generally thought to be useful at very advanced levels of studying
+Korean. I decided to learn a few when the school principal gave me an
+elementary school hanja textbook recently, and though I've now stopped
+because learning Korean vocabulary is a much better use of my time, I
+learnt a few things that I want to write about.
+[[!more linktext="continue reading this entry" pages="!blog/entry/*" text="""
+One thing that attracted me to learning a few hanja is the mysterious
+and attractive suggestion that thousands of years of Eastern culture and
+thought are inextricably bound up with them. All the different dialects
+of Chinese are written with the same set of characters, and Korean and
+Japanese may be written with them too. I thought that an Eastern
+conceptual schema might be a constant between these languages, to the
+extent that the different grammatical structures of the languages might
+not outright prevent someone literate in one of them from reading
+something written in another. So far as I can tell this is true only for
+some characters, mainly basic ones like *tree*, *fire* etc.
+In reading a bit about how Chinese is written with Chinese characters, I
+learned that new words are written by using the characters phonetically,
+that is, choosing single syllables that are pronounced in a certain way
+in other words and putting them together to make the new words. This
+replaces one issue I had with hanja with another. I used to worry that
+the system must be unreceptive to intellectual progress because it's not
+practical to keep coining new characters that everyone then has to
+learn. That means you're stuck with one conceptual scheme. But then
+instead what you have is something extremely inelegant: concepts that
+are really old get their own characters or pairs of characters, and new
+ideas are weird bastardisations of something that might otherwise be
+A related worry is that hanja *enforce* a certain conceptual schema and
+discourage changes.
+A Korean friend of mine studies philosophy in a Korean university. I was
+surprised to learn that hanja are used when studying Western philosophy.
+Replacing Korean words with hanja is meant to disambiguate, and get at
+the concept the original author is getting at, which the hanja is meant
+to be closer to than the Korean word is. This has got something to do
+with the fact that there are (many) more hanja than there are Korean
+A similar strategy in English-speaking philosophy, when dealing with
+material written in another language, is to just adopt the foreign word.
+So we talk about eudaimonia and arete, Greek concepts rather tahn
+flourishing or virtue, which are the standard rough translations. But
+then using hanja would be useless when dealing with western concepts,
+which are more foreign to Korean culture than Greek concepts are to the
+English-speaking world. So I don't think I've properly understood why
+hanja get used in universities.
+Most of this post is barely substantiated conjecture. I've yet to meet
+someone fluent in English who deals in hanja, so I've not been able to
+get my questions answered.