The Korean Tradition of Translation: From the Primeval Period to the Modern Era
Published Online: Jan 01, 2017
The Korean people have lived mainly on the Korean peninsula, forming a cultural community using Korean as an inherited, native language. In the early years, Koreans tried to express their own words with Chinese characters; Hanja was used as a method to express Koreans’ proper thoughts and feelings even when they had not their own letters. However, speaking in Korean yet writing in Hanja left Koreans with a sense of incongruence of the written and spoken language. The whole writing system of the Korean language was established with the promulgation of Hangeul, the Korean script which was created by King Sejong during the Joseon Dynasty. In the beginning, Hangeul faced heavy opposition by the literate elite who believed Hanja to be the only legitimate writing system. Later rulers too became hostile to Hangeul. Yet due to the growing Korean nationalism in the nineteenth century and the Gab-o Reformists’ push, Hangeul was eventually adopted in official documents for the first time in 1894. The translation into Hangeul generally began to flourish in the late nineteenth century. Yet before the great Reform, there were frequently Hangeul-translated versions, a majority of which consisted of religious documents like the Bible. These Korean versions of the Bible contributed a great deal to the translation history of Korea and signaled the end of the discrepant language usage between the Korean spoken language and the Chinese written word.