2014 “The Sounds of Our Country: Interpreters, Linguistic Knowledge and the Politics of Language in Early Chosŏn Korea (1392–1592).” In Rethinking East Asian Languages, Vernaculars, and Literacies, 1000–1919. Leiden: Brill.
In the frequent envoy exchange between Chosŏn Korea (1392-1910) and Ming China (1368-1644), Korean court interpreters who mastered spoken Chinese played indispensable roles as mediators of spoken language. Although the two courts communicated via classical Chinese, a literary language they shared, they could not dispense with the need for oral communication. In the course of their service to the Chosŏn court, interpreters also produced an extensive body of language manuals, many of which made use of the Korean alphabet in phonological glosses. Invented and promulgated in the mid-15th century, the ability of the new script to systematically represent the phonology of Sino-Korean made it readily adaptable to notating the phonology of spoken Chinese as well. The extensive use of the script by court interpreters demonstrated the importance of the script as a technology of mediation between two very different spoken languages: Korean and Chinese.
The role of court interpreters thus revealed the centrality of this connection in the politics of language in the Chosŏn court. A consideration of this connection helps in the reexamination of the linguistic landscape of the period. On one hand, the invention of the alphabet, seen too often as either solely a prerequisite stage in the eventual elevation of the Korean “vernacular” over classical Chinese or a gesture of cleavage from the Ming, was in fact intimately connected to the Chosŏn court’s efforts to maintain cultural and political ties with the Ming court. On the other, the importance of spoken language was overshadowed by a graphocentrism that marginalized the essential roles played by interpreters as mediators of linguistic difference.