Discounts in Writing

I’ve been trying to learn some Korean lately. Hangŭl 한글/韓글 is easy enough. It can be learned in a couple hours. Actually I went through that before a visit to Seoul in October. While there with friends I stopped in to a small eatery with a handritten menu. The friends, students of Korean, had some trouble making out the letters. I, oddly enough, did not. I just figured maybe it was because the same strokes in handwritten hanzi 汉字/漢字 get messy in the same ways when used to write Korean.

Then, this past week, I met a Korean named Michael. Figuring that wasn’t his original pre-study-abroad-in-America name, I asked him for his Korean name, which would be Kim Yongsan. I tried writing it out (김용산 金龍山) which apparently is my new party trick (see the ghost write hangŭl) which is a nice addition to the old party trick (hear the ghost speak Mandarin). After throwing some lines on paper I was told I write it well. It’s funny to hear that when a 16-stroke syllable is now a circle and a couple straight lines, but I digress.

Clearly there’s something to be said for writing hangŭl after a few years of writing hanzi. Like learning the bass guitar after mastering classical guitar, perhaps. I have absolutely no experience with hiragana, katakana or any other non-Sinitic, non-Korean writing systems, but I’d be willing to bet the same discounts in writing exist for Japanese. Now if only it would help me write Naxi.

Can anyone vouch for the discount being applied toward kana?

12 responses to “Discounts in Writing”

  1. Karan says:

    Hiragana and Katakana are also pretty easy to learn and I’m sure you could pick them up in an afternoon. Hangul is probably a more cleverly devised an easier to learn system though.

  2. Louis says:

    Can anyone vouch for the discount being applied toward kana?

    Yes. The underlying mechanics are the same.

  3. Carl says:

    Hiragana and katakana were created from cursive kanji and partial kanji respectively, so if you’re good at cursive or just writing half a character, you can do those (Ex. ‘Ka’ comes from 加 and became か and カ). It’s an extra ~100 characters to learn though, so it might take a couple days to master them.

  4. Aaron says:

    I think familiarity with Asian scripts’ “blockiness” definitely pays dividends across languages. What’s important is the knowledge that hanzi are always distinct and laid out on a grid, with the resulting text being approximately monospaced, as opposed to Latin alphabets’ proportionally-sized characters and smushed-together ligatures.

    For you the trickiest part I suspect would be getting the proportions of the curvier hiragana correct. They’re much more fluid than the average hanzi.

  5. Aaron says:

    Correction: “Asian” scripts is too broad; I should have just said “CJK”.

  6. Tanya says:

    I found the same thing when I studied Korean after years of Mandarin. Hangŭl are so easy to read and write! The cursive was much easier to follow at first glance than Mandarin cursive (less strokes to be left out, perhaps?)

    I also found my experience with “blocky” scripts (as Aaron characterises them) helped when learned Thai script. While Thai is written in long words/sentences, not in blocks like Chinese or Korean, the vowels are places in relation to the consonant they follow rather than as a separate letter. Some fall to the left, some to the right, some are placed above and a few go below. While my classmates struggled with this peculiarity, I found myself looking a syllables within the word rather than just the word as a whole, which helped a lot.

  7. Kellen says:

    I suspect curvature proportions wouldn’t be any more difficult than those of handwritten hanzi. But yeah,

  8. I play that trick with my students often, many of whom are Korean. But aside from being able to read and write hangul, I have no idea what it means. :(

    Maybe you can post on how basic sentences are constructed, especially if you think you can boil it down more than your average textbook.

    And encouraging you to digress more, there is one thing I’ve wanted to look into, but I’ve never had a big enough base of Koreans to try it with. Do they have a standard for which direction the circle is drawn in? If so, is the standard followed? I think I’ve met people who say it’s clockwise, and people who say it’s counter-clockwise, but knowing which is official and what the distribution of each is would be interesting.

  9. yes, korean students will point it out to you when you draw the circles in the wrong direction. unfortunately, soon after returning from korea, i lost this particular piece of knowledge. can anyone help out? is there a good korean calligraphy site?

  10. ok i have it. i found a screenshot from a commercial teach-yourself-hangeul program that claims the circle has to be written in counter-clockwise direction. that is easy to remember if you think of the hangeul letter m, which is a square that starts on the left with a downstroke, and that is almost exactly how you start the circle.

  11. Kellen says:

    Makes sense. Right handed people usually draw circles that way anyway.


  12. kimchikraut says:

    My calligraphy manual says counter-clockwise in cursive but two strokes in non-cursive: 1. counter clockwise from 11 o’clock to 5 o’clock and then clockwise from 11 o’clock to 5 o’clock.

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