"Try to find personal and creative ways to express your love for Hangeul"
Jae-hwan Jung, Co-representative of Hangeul-munhwa-yeondae (Korean Language Culture Solidarity)
Q: I heard you had had a successful career as a broadcasting personality. What made you study Korean so diligently?
A: I spent some years working for broadcasting companies, and hosted some programs on my own. I had to write the overall scripts for the whole programs. At that time, I realized the importance and difficulty of using Korean correctly, and I started reading books on the Korean language. Naturally, I decided to study more about Hangeul.
Q: Studying Hangeul and getting a PhD. degree might have not been easy for you.
A: No, it was not easy, but anyway, I went to study at Sungkyunkwan University as an undergraduate and graduated with a doctoral degree. My close friend, Lee KyeongKyu once told me, "Studying Korean will hold you back from developing your career." His point was that comedians should mostly distort or break grammar to make people laugh. That was true. Just like he said, I couldn't stand breaking my language to elicit laughter from people. So I found different ways, mostly by funny contents rather than simple farcical language.
Q: Why did you establish the Hangeul-munhwa-yeondae?
A: Well, I myself, had written some books on the Korean language. One day, Professor Yeong-myung Kim at Hallym University called me after reading my book, Jajangmyeon Is Right. Then, What about Jambong? (Jajangmyeon-i majayo, Jambong-eun?). The book was about the correct usage of the Korean language. Those years, some politicians and researchers insisted that English should be an official language in Korea. It meant that schools should teach different subjects in English. As the issue caused a hot debate all over the nation, Professor Kim wanted to found an organization to preserve our language, and we agreed. It was in 2000.
Q: What is the organization working on these days?
A: These days, we are working on a project called "Easy and Correct Usage of Common Language." When we say common language, it means Korean. Many words are based on Chinese and words loaned from other languages, mostly English. We try to lessen the use of loanwords and replace them with pure and easy Korean words. We had made some progress and pure Korean expressions have increasingly been used in our life. We have our common language that everyone understands.
Q: Well, can you tell us about the Korean Language (Joseon Language) Society and their contribution to the development of our language.
A: I have to briefly mention how the Japanese tried to colonize our country in that era. Colonization wasn't only about taking the nation's territory; it was about taking their own culture as well. Language has always been a big part of culture and taking away the language meant taking away the soul, lifestyle and the history of one country. Japanese imperial regime banned people from using Hangeul. The Korean Language Society predicted this situation and had written a Korean Language dictionary at the cost of their lives. The dictionary has played a pivotal role in keeping our own identity and our culture as well as collecting our vocabulary. There always must be a standard when starting something new. Otherwise, the society will surely crumble into chaos. Thanks to their efforts, we could publish textbooks on the basis of the standardized rules of Hangeul spelling to start our public education right after we gained our independence.
Q: You wrote a book I Started to Study English at the Age of 50 in addition to many books including The Day We Were Deprived of Our Language you wrote recently. Tell us about what made you write the book.
A: I am not only a Korean History professor, but also a teacher teaching Korean Language, but it doesn't mean I am not interested in other languages. I studied Japanese first, and English was just my next goal. As I gave lectures to students, I often felt a bit embarrassed because I couldn't speak English as "a failure of English," like most people of my generation, while almost all students could. Also, if I know how to speak English, it is easier for me when I travel to different countries. And I thought, if I learn English, I will be able to use English as a tool when teaching Korean history and language to foreigners.
Q: Lastly, please leave a message for our young readers.
A: Everyone does say that they love Hangeul. However, I don't really see people who put their love into action. I want the young generation to find a way, their own personal ways to show that they love Hangeul. It can be small actions that make big changes. Try to find personal and creative ways to express your love for Hangeul. Reading an article about Hangeul Day in your English newspaper and letting foreigners know about it can be a way, too.
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