Don’t believe the 하이프

Some of you might remember all the media hype about the Cia Cia tribe, a group of 80,000 on the remote Indonesian island of Bau-bau, officially adopting Hangeul as their native script.

Well, that was a load of phooey.

The Hangeul adoption program, which was announced in 2008 was apparently never even asked for.

“Mayor Tamim (of the Cia Cia) only mentioned that official discussions have begun and he was consulting with the central government over the adoption of Hangeul in a media interview,” he said. “However, the media wrongfully translated his remark as if he had received formal acknowledgement from the government.”

The program, which was initially launched through the private funding of the Hunminjeongeum Society, ended up amounting to “a total of 37 hours to some 50 fourth graders last year at an elementary school in Bau-bau and now it is being taught to some 190 students in two schools,” says the KT

They also say that:

…a host of media outlets ran stories claiming that Bau-bau Mayor Amirul Tamim said the Indonesian government had finally authorized the adoption of Hangeul as the tribe’s official alphabet to preserve their dying language.

Reminiscent of the Jeju being one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World story this time last year, Korea’s media seems to have let national pride obscure their journalistic goggles.

Or maybe it was simply a case of there being a junior translator/fact checker at the copy desk that day?

“Mayor Tamim only mentioned that official discussions have begun and he was consulting with the central government over the adoption of Hangeul in a media interview,” he said. “However, the media wrongfully translated his remark as if he had received formal acknowledgement from the government.”

I am sympathetic to translation discrepancies, there are no doubt few if any Cia Cia in Korea to check the translation, but for at least several years it went unchecked or followed up on and was sold as part of the national brand without question.

With more spot on reporting, a similar piece in Ye Ole Chosun today says that the Cia Cia have a spoken language absent of a written format and that Hangeul was to be there go-to script.

Not so counters the KT article — Cia Cia law specifically states that when in Bau-bau, do as the Romans.

Professor Chun, who first proposed the idea of adopting the Korean alphabet to the Bau-bau mayor in 2007, claims that the official adoption of Hangeul by Cia Cia will be unlikely to happen as Indonesia’s Basic Law stipulates that all tribal languages should be preserved in Roman characters for national unity.

The KT also points out that, “Not only the Korean press but also foreign news media showed interest in Korea ‘officially exporting’ its 564-year-old writing system.”

The KT does not however, mention that they too were spun by the story.

But hey, if we extrapolate the KT numbers over of the life of the program, Hangeul did manage to reach 1.5 percent of the Cia Cia population. That’s at least worth a two or three day run in the news cycle right? Ahhh, the venerable Fourth Estate.

  • WangKon936

    Sometimes Korea reminds me of Silicon Valley. Big dreams, bold predictions, not always realistic. A lot more and homegrocer.coms than Googles and Amazons. However, we people in the private equity world accept their exuberance as perhaps an element that drives part of Silicon Valley’s success. However, we would never put real money into a We leave that to the crazy people in venture capital. Let them piss their money away. They have the courage to swing ten times for one home run. We are happy with two singles and a double out of ten swings.

    Anyways, Koreans dream big and talk big. Not always reality. But sometimes, just sometimes, some of those dreams come true, like a black & white 1960′s Samsung commercial that predicted that it will fill the land of the Statue of Liberty with television sets or the Hyundai 70′s commercial where the Pony invaded North America. It may look stupid now, but the Koreans will keep trying no matter how stupid we tell them it may look today.

    Who knows? Maybe hangul will be adopted more widely by non-Korean people then any of us may imagine sometime in the future. Or maybe it won’t. But the Koreans will keep trying. If they don’t succeed here, they sure as hell will succeed elsewhere.

  • hoju_saram

    Completely agree – can’t fault Koreans for effort, persistence and cleverness. But trying to teach hangul to developing nations is bad news all around. It’s a brilliant script – for Koreans. But the fact that it can’t be used for v and f – let alone words ending with consonants – pretty much cripples it for the use of the majority of people in the world. Try spelling “forever” in hangul and then ask someone to read it back. It’s a recipe for mangling languages other than Korean. And shouldn’t these folk be spending time studying English? As the international language, it’s a far more useful tool for them and their country in the future.

  • hamel

    Or try writing “the robber dropped his rubber, the lobber killed a land lubber, and fashion is all about passion” in 한글.

  • 2ms

    The KT article that’s referenced first is from 10-06-2010. I’m confused.

    And there’s an article from today that says it was adopted:

  • berto

    If Hooters had a business lunch marketing gimmick and had a promotion for the first day it was offered, it would be the “Raunchy Lunch Launch”.

  • yuna

    하이프, not 하이푸.

  • Bobby McGill

    Thanks Yuna –will make the change :). I have an English only Keyboard and had to use this transliteration site, which is actually an interesting idea, though it did give me 히페 for hype.

  • yuna

    Not at all.
    I think the 으 sound is both blessing and the curse of 한글.
    Same goes for 여 sound. I guess it could be considered good, as is the case here to have a syllabic vowel sound to represent a consonant not followed by a vowel in the English alphabet as 으 (as in Sports can be written as 스포츠, not 수포추, although this is only marginal and not great improvement as the Koreans would still pronounce those ㅡ as a clear syllable). However, Having such a distinct variety of vowel sounds is very hard when non-Koreans try to pronounce Korean, as in the case of ㅓ and ㅕ.

  • αβγδε

    Hangeul can be easily modified to accomodate b’s vs v’s, p’s vs f’s, z’s vs j’s, l’s vs r’s and all that, with diacritical marks.


    I believe as it is, such marks should be introduced and standardized for the Korean language now.

  • Jakgani

    Didn’t they fly over a large group of the “Bau-bau natives” to Seoul last year for a week long tour of Korea – claiming they now spoke and read Korean and used Hangul to write their own language?

    They had photos of them here in Seoul on the news.

  • WangKon936


    Roman characters are ill suited for Germanic languages like English. That’s why we have special digraphs such as th, sh and wh.

    A tonal language like Vietnamese is even less suited… but that didn’t stop the French!

  • bumfromkorea

    Considering that the 한글 was specifically designed (as in, scholars sat down and actually manufactured it) for the Korean language (as opposed to coming about organically), I’d say it’s the worst type to be adapted by other languages as their alphabets.

    R and L can actually be accommodated by 한글 somewhat, though. “그럴래?”, for example, has both r and l pronunciation (next to each other, no less).

    @ Bobby McGill

    If you have Windows, 한글 program should actually be included.

  • WangKon936


    Well… wasn’t Roman character specifically designed for the… Romans?

    Greek Cyrillic was specifically designed for the Byzantine Greeks, but that didn’t stop the Russians or Bulgarians from adopting it!

  • bumfromkorea

    Yeah, but did a bunch of Roman scholars sat down and went “Okay, so this is how we’re going to write our language”? I mean, 한글 was literally manufactured in a single generation (like esperanto, for alphabet), while other alphabets were developed more organically.

  • WangKon936

    Roman characters are based on Greek characters, so it was more organic. However, Cyrillic was more invented, specifically for the Buglarian kingdom from work done by the Byzantines.

    There are some linguists who believe Hangul was based on Mongol script precedents. However, that is a different conversation for a different time. Very few things are created completely out of a vacuum.

  • WangKon936
  • CactusMcHarris


    I remember seeing in a book for learnin’ the Urimal that K. Sejong’s associates created the shape of the letters based on the position of the tongue/throat/other mouth parts when making that letter’s sound. I said to myself ‘Fuck, even more for the masses!’ and was gratified again that I was studying such a scientific vox populi.

  • CactusMcHarris

    Bobby M.,

    Thanks for the correction – Yuna got to it before I did, but your adoring public is a critical mass.

    You got to get some Hangul installed – that ‘Install East Asian Language Fonts’ on the Regional and Language Options of the control panel will be your doorway to bilingual typewritten joy. You should eventually get an icon on the lower right of your screen that will allow you to toggle between the two.

  • jk641

    αβγδε @9,

    I agree.
    We could always add new consonant sounds to the Korean alphabet.

  • Bobby McGill

    Cactus, done and done. Me ol’ Mac is now an international beast.


  • Arghaeri

    Roman characters are ill suited for Germanic languages like English. That’s why we have special digraphs such as th, sh and wh.

    Seems somewhat contradictory, since in the same sentence you say roman characters are ill suited, while sumultaneously demonstrating how they are well suited to forming digraphs to solve the issue.

  • CactusMcHarris


    There’s no need for new – bring back the Hangul that’s been previously thrown away and assign new sounds for them.

    ㆁ ㆆ ㅿ

    And I had no idea Wikipedia was this informative:


    Other names

    Until the early twentieth century, Hangul was denigrated as vulgar by the literate elite who preferred the traditional hanja writing system.[3] They gave it such names as:

    Achimgeul (아침글 “writing you can learn within a morning”)[4]
    Gugmun (Hangul: 국문, hanja: 國文 “national script”)
    Eonmun (Hangul: 언문, hanja: 諺文 “vernacular script”)[3]
    Amgeul (암글 “women’s script”; also written Amkeul 암클).[3] Am (암) is a prefix that signifies a noun is feminine
    Ahaetgeul or Ahaegeul (아햇글 or 아해글 “children’s script”)

    However, these names are now archaic, as the use of hanja in writing has become very rare in South Korea and completely phased out in North Korea.

  • jk641

    CMH and αβγδε,

    I’m thinking more about umlaut’s or tilde’s.
    Ñ (N tilde) as in Spanish.

    b’s vs v’s, p’s vs f’s, z’s vs j’s, l’s vs r’s

    We could use ‘ㅂ tilde’ for ‘V’.
    ‘ㅍ tilde’ for ‘F’.
    ‘ㅈ tilde’ for ‘Z’.
    ‘ㄹ tilde’ for ‘L’.

  • WangKon936


    Okay. They were ill suited before those digraphs were invented. Happy?

  • Arghaeri


    Please advise the time and date where they went miraculously from being ill suited to well suited.

  • Arghaeri


  • Arghaeri

    as the use of hanja in writing has become very rare in South Korea

    That may be your perception in your world CMcH, and certainly hangeul predominates, but I can assure you that in the korean corporate world hanja are in no way rare

    Almost every internal report in major korean corporates makes use of hanja. I was handed a bunch just yesterday.

    Why, however is a mystery!