Western research on Korean nationalism (e.g., Shin Gi-wook’s book) often neglects aspects of Korean cultural nationalism, while accounts of Korean cultural nationalism rarely discuss the salient role of language in Korean nationalism. In my own work (e.g., King 2007) I have asserted that discussions of Korean ‘linguistic nationalism’—both North and South of the 38th parallel—are better understood as ‘script nationalism’. In this presentation, I focus on a particular offshoot of Korean script nationalism that maintains that ‘Koreans’ in antiquity (i.e., from the time of Tan’gun in the 3rd millennium BCE) had already invented an indigenous, phonemic script. I trace this peculiar brand of ‘script primordialism’ from its origins in the first decade of the 20th century, through the colonial period and to the present day, noting its different trajectories in North and South Korea, and include comparative notes on similar phenomena in two other modern nations on the periphery of China—Japan and Vietnam.
Dr. King earned his BA in Linguistics and Political Science from Yale, and his MA and PhD in Linguistics from Harvard. Currently he serves as Professor of Korean and Head of Department in the Department of Asian Studies, University of British Columbia. His research interests encompass Korean historical linguistics and philology, as well as the social history of Korean language and writing with the Sinographic Cosmopolis.