The Revised Romanization of Korean is the official Korean language romanization system in South Korea. The system was released by South Korean authorities in 2000 and is the South Korean official replacement for the 1984 McCune-Reischauer–based romanization system. The new system is similar to the system used before 1984, except that the old system did not faithfully represent sound changes in consonants, a prominent feature of Korean pronunciation.
The Revised Romanization uses no non-alphabetic symbols (diacritics) except very limited, often optional, use of the hyphen. It was developed by the National Academy of the Korean Language starting in 1995 and was released to the public on July 4, 2000, by South Korea's Ministry of Culture and Tourism, which explained that the reason for the reduction of special characters was to eliminate difficulty of entering, or rather the ease of ignoring, diacritics on computers.
Despite the South Korean government's intentions to simplify Romanization of Korean words and place names, the release of the revised system met with considerable opposition among international residents in Korea, many of whom felt the revised system was seriously flawed and felt disgruntled that the government failed to consult with them beforehand, since they are the primary users of Romanized Korean inside South Korea.
Notable features of the revised Romanization system are:
- 어 and 으 are written with two vowel letters: eo and eu, respectively.
- ㅝ is written as wo and ㅢ is written as ui.
- Aspirated consonants (ㅋ, ㅌ, ㅍ, ㅊ) have no apostrophe (k, t, p, and ch) like McCune-Reischauer. Their unaspirated counterparts (ㄱ, ㄷ, ㅂ, ㅈ) are written with letters that are voiced in English (g, d, b, and j). However, the unaspirated consonants are also written as k, t, and p when at the end of a word or when followed by a consonant, when they are pronounced as such in reality.
- ㅅ is always written as s, and never also as sh.
- ㄹ is r before a vowel, l before a consonant or at the end of a word. Double ㄹ is always ll.
In addition, there are Special Provisions for regular phonological rules that makes exceptions to transliteration (see Korean language#Phonology).
Other rules and recommendations include:
- The optional hyphen is used to disambiguate syllables, e.g., jeong-eum versus jeon-geum
- Use of the hyphen is not necessary, but permitted, between syllables of given names
- Phonological exceptions do not apply to given names, transliterate them as they are written in Hangul
- Syllables of Korean administrative units (such as do) are separated from the placename with a hyphen
- However, names for geographic features and artificial structures are connected to the placename
- Capitalize proper nouns
The Revised Romanization is not expected to be adopted as the official romanization of Korean family names. For example, the common family name, Lee (이), would be I (Yi in strict McCune-Reischauer) in this new system. Given names and commercial names are encouraged to change, but not necessary. All Korean textbooks were required to comply with the new system by February 28, 2002. English-language newspapers in South Korea initially resisted the new system, citing its flaws, though some later gave in to government pressure. The Korea Herald currently follows the revised system, while the Korea Times follows the McCune-Reischauer system, but without breves.
North Korea continues to use a version of the McCune-Reischauer system of Romanization, which was in official use in South Korea from 1984 to 2002. Specialists in Korean studies, both in and out of South Korea, tend to use McCune-Reischauer, although a system developed at Yale University is often used by linguists.
Critics of the Revised Romanization System say that the one-to-one correpondence of Korean characters to Roman letters (e.g., usually representing ㄱ as g) that is the hallmark of the new system is overly simplistic and fails to represent sound changes that occur naturally when the position of a consonant changes (e.g., at the beginning of a word, ㄱ is pronounced halfway between an unaspirated k and a g, rather than as a straight g).
Critics also complain that people unfamiliar with Hangul pronunciation may be confused by what "eo" and "eu" are intended to represent in the revised system. With common English words or names such as "geography", "Leonardo", and "neon" representing a two-syllable sound for eo, a neophyte to Korean words may fail to recognize that eo is supposed to represent a vowel sound like that of "son" or "fun". Indeed, a frequent complaint of many foreign residents and visitors to South Korea is that the revised Romanization system hinders their ability to even come close to an accurate and comprehensible rendering of Korean pronunciation.
Finally, with the McCune-Reischauer Romanization system having been a consistently and widely used standard in Korean studies for many decades, there is little chance that large numbers of Korean Studies specialists will change to another system. Such a move, they say, would cause confusion and bring an end to consistency in academia.
It is also worth noting that South Korea is not the sole authority on matters of rendering Korean words in Roman script: North Korea continues to use McCune-Reischauer, and this is also true of organizations outside of South Korea, including many mapmakers and other related groups. History textbooks around the world, for example, teach about a "Pusan Perimeter" (see "Korean War") which is an important part of US, UK, and UN history. The United States military has a vessel called the USS Inchon. There is little likelihood that such groups not under South Korean jurisdiction would go through the trouble and expense to change such references to "Busan Perimeter" or the "USS Incheon".