Exciting news for writing-system aficionados: the Yonhap News Agency reports that “A minority tribe in Indonesia has chosen to use Hangeul as its official writing system, in the first case of the Korean alphabet being used by a foreign society.” The tribe in question is on the island of Buton, in or around the city of Bau-Bau (which the Yonhap story gives as “Bauer and Bauer”); a Korea Herald story specifies the language as “Jjia jjia,” which would suggest that it’s Ethnologue’s Cia-Cia (population 79,000, alternate names Boetoneezen, Buton, Butonese, Butung, South Buton, Southern Butung). As Victor Mair at the Log says, “That’s one small step for [an] alphabet, one giant leap for the Korean people [and their economy].”


  1. So someone’s sold them on the phonetic perfection of Hangul.
    I can’t tell if this is useful establishment of Abstand, and therefore a constructive thing, or squandering of access to any local Ausbau, and therefore a catastrophic folly. Don Hat (as No-Sword calls you), you obv. think it’s cool; I’d… want to hear more first. The article as word is, as commenters over at the Less Cool Blog say, naively phrased.

  2. Mpf. “The article as worded is…”

  3. Well, yeah, it’s a terrible article (even worse than the usual language fluff served up in American and U.K. papers), and I’m not at all sure whether it’s a Good Thing in terms of the best writing system for the language involved, but just as a factoid I do indeed think it’s cool.

  4. This is probably a silly question because I know nothing at all about this kind of thing, but: is there a chance that this could affect pronounciation?

  5. I hadn’t heard the terms Abstand and Ausbau before so headed over to Wikipedia for an explanation, but I still don’t understand Nick Nicholas’ usage of them. Could anyone explain it to me?

  6. I don’t understand them either. Nick?

    Some other useful notions: Kloss’s criteria of Ausbau vs. Abstand languages.
    1. Ausbau languages are languages because they have been developed or `built-up’; they contain all the useful vocabulary they need and are recognized for all domains and registers of a language—technical, religious, etc. But they may be very close to some other, even mutually intelligible lect: The Scandinavian “languages”, Czech and Slovak, Lao and Thai, etc. But they may depend on different classical (or other) languages as a source of learned vocabulary …
    2. Abstand languages are definitely languages by `distance’, i.e. there is no close relative with which they can be confused, or are mutually intelligible with: Japanese, Korean, Icelandic, etc. No chain of mutually intelligible lects merging with some other `language’. Thus many African languages, Amerindian languages, Malayo- Polynesian languages, Australian languages are so by Abstand, but not by Ausbau.
    3. Many languages are languages by both criteria of Ausbau and Abstand, e.g. Japanese, English, French, etc. but some are languages by only one criterion, though some are attempting to become useful for all registers by developing their own Ausbau procedures;
    4. Some languages that are so by Ausbau but not by Abstand may try to increase the distance by resorting to purism or some other distancing mechanism (borrowing from some other source). Urdu and Hindi try to distance themselves, the former by borrowing from Persian and Arabic, the latter by borrowing from Sanskrit. After the breakup of Yugoslavia, Croatian, Serbian and “Bosnian” are now trying to distance themselves–from each other: Croatian (mostly “Catholic”) by borrowing from Latin and western European languages, Serbian (mostly Orthodox) by borrowing from other Slavic languages, and “Bosnian” by borrowing from Arabic or Turkish.

  8. So the adoption of Hangeul distances Cia-Cia from other languages? How so? How would this ‘squander access’ to Ausbau?
    I would have thought that adopting Hangeul would actually be more related to Ausbau than Abstand, if it means that the language can be more easily taught in schools etc.

  9. Linguists who have done extensive fieldwork in Papua New Guinea have often come across bits of evidence that suggest that multilingual village peoples have consciously manipulated their language usage to strengthen or weaken their linguistic ties with surrounding communities, depending on the latest political realignments. The Hangul writers among the Cia-Cia would seem to be making a striking orthographic declaration of independence–or perhaps a declaration of dependence on foreign investors rather than their national government.

  10. Joel, I have seen that mentioned somewhere too. I think that is a major impulse in rapid change in slangs in our own society. How lame is it to use your parents slang terms, and how pointless? What do you do when even white people can follow your slang?

  11. So the adoption of Hangeul distances Cia-Cia from other languages? How so?

    By erecting a barrier separating it from related languages that use another script. If we started writing Catalan with Hangul, it would most certainly distance it from, Spanish. The relationship between the two would be obscured and people proficient in one language would be discouraged from learning the other language. They would certainly be unable to pick up a newspaper in the sister language and get most of what the headlines say.

  12. Erecting a barrier was why the Soviets imposed Cyrillic scripts on Turkic and Iranian languages, and Moldovan, in the Soviet Union

  13. mollymooly says:

    It reminds me of the Caribbean microstates that recognise Taiwan rather than PRC. If there are only a few and they’re small, Taiwanese largesse compensates them for restriction of access to the mainland tiger.

  14. I posted the following comment at the Log, but I’ll repeat it here.
    Chris Sundita on the AN-LANG discussion list observes that Cia-Cia seems to have a glottal stop (cf. its numbers pa’a ’4′ and no’o ’6′ in Wikipedia). I’m not sure how that might be represented in Hangul.
    Writing the name of the language as Jjia-Jjia (in Hangeul rev. rom.) betrays another poor adaptation. I suspect that the doubling of the initial consonant is designed to ensure that the repeated /c/ is pronounced as the same in both positions, like Korean tense obstruents and not like Korean unaspirated/lax obstruents, which are voiceless initially but voiced medially (unless adjacent to aspirated Cs, IIRC). It seems ridiculous to write every Cia-Cia voiced obstruent as doubled in order to keep Korean readers from interpreting them in their usual environmentally conditioned manner.
    (The Korean differential voicing of the same C would be rendered in McCune-Reischauer romanization as Cia-Jia, while Yale romanization would reflect orthography rather than phonology and render it as Cia-Cia, or Ccia-Ccia if the Cs are tense.)

  15. I was using the terms pretty loosely, but commenters are right about what I meant by Abstand: Hangul is a potent way of differentiating yourself from your neighbours’ language. There’s lots of orthographic artifice employed in the same way in Australian and PNG community orthographies, but until now they’d all remained in the ambit of Roman script.
    Ausbau does not mean what I used it to mean; I was generalising it from “development” to “infrastructure”. The Ausbau of literacy in Bahasa Indonesia includes access to the Roman script, fonts, yadda yadda, the trappings of a literate language (which is what Ausbau is in some part about), which regional languages can piggy back on. (That loses their Abstand, and gets into issues of Dachbau, and that’s enough German for one comment.)
    So they’re foregoing Western and Indonesian infrastructure of literacy, to go with Korean infrastructure. Nowhere near as much of a problem now as it used to be, but getting stuff printed and disseminated is not going to be uniformly as easy for them.

  16. The strangest bit of the article, I thought, was the naming of the town as Bauer and Bauer. How on earth did they come up with that one?

  17. David Marjanović says:

    Chris Sundita on the AN-LANG discussion list observes that Cia-Cia seems to have a glottal stop (cf. its numbers pa’a ’4′ and no’o ’6′ in Wikipedia). I’m not sure how that might be represented in Hangul.

    Perhaps by digging up the obsolete letter ᅙ. But, I don’t know, maybe it’s enough to just write it as a syllable boundary, or maybe h (ᄒ) isn’t needed and can be used…

  18. jason asistio says:

    The organization of Hangul syllables—with individual phonemes clustered into a syllable, rather than organized in a horizontal line as in English—is thought by some observers to be a powerful reading aid. Because of the clustering of syllables, words are shorter on the page than their linear counterparts would be, and the boundaries between syllables are easily visible (which may aid reading, if segmenting words into syllables is more natural for the reader than dividing them up into phonemes).[23] Because the component parts of the syllable are relatively simple phonemic characters, the number of strokes per character on average is lower than in Chinese characters. Unlike syllabaries, such as Japanese kana, or Chinese logographs, none of which encode the constituent phonemes within a syllable, the graphic complexity of Korean syllabic blocks varies in direct proportion with the phonemic complexity of the syllable.[24] Unlike linear alphabets such as English, the Korean orthography allows the reader to “utilize both the horizontal and vertical visual fields;”[25] finally, since Hangul syllables are represented both as collections of phonemes and as unique-looking graphs, they may allow for both visual and aural retrieval of words from the lexicon.
    Although many experts hold similar views about the advantages of Hangul for readability and literacy,[citation needed] most of these theories have not yet been subject to rigorous testing, or the tests have not shown the specific features of the Hangul orthography to produce any significant effects on readers’ visual processing.

  19. Bauer and Bauer
    It’s 바우바우, Bau-Bau, as one would expect. For instance, in the map with this story.
    You can see more details of the teaching materials by pausing the video in this story. I didn’t see any sign of ᅙ, myself.

  20. marie-lucie says:

    maybe h (ᄒ) isn’t needed and can be used…
    What about the word hangul/hangeul itself? or perhaps the sound does not occur except initially?
    One LLog comment mentions a Korean linguist who invented a hangul counterpart to the IPA with 80 characters, perhaps the extra characters needed can be taken from that set.

  21. marie-lucie says:

    Abstand and Ausbau: Thanks, David, for clarifying the meaning of those words in the linguistic context.
    Consciously manipulating the language: French is an example: In Canada, French speakers and especially writers (many of whom know English well) try to avoid English words and instead new French words are created, for instance for “email”: courriel, created by shortening courrier électronique, while in France, where many people have some limited acquaintance with English and want to show it off, English words are adopted with gusto (in spite of official pressure), for instance email, now often shortened to mail (for “email” only).
    Even in English, Canadians tend to use British rather than American spellings, such as grey or flavour or honour.

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