(This is a question about handwritten Korean, I don't have enough reputation to create a new tag for handwriting.)

My Korean grandfather's notebook contains a chronology of the places he went while migrating to France in 1920-1921. This is written in a mix of hangeul and hanja, and both are hard to read for me (*)

Among the parts in hangeul, I see things that don't look like standard combinations. Here is a portion apparently corresponding to the part where he left Korea, went to Shanghai by train, then to Marseilles by boat:

travel steps from Korea to France in 1920

This is written from top to bottom, right to left (I will refer to theses columns by numbers 1 to 5 from right to left). These are likely place names. Below each one of these are a date in hanja (not shown). The right-most is associated to a date corresponding to his arrival in Marseilles.

Here is what I guess for each column:

  1. 짐 ㅅ더(a) 는 날
  2. 셔 울 ㅅ던(b) 는 날
  3. 上海(c) [some hanja]
  4. 上海(c) [some other hanja]
  5. 마 루 셰 이요[sharing the empty consonant placeholder?] (d) 陸(e)

On columns 1 and 2, I guess these may actually not be place names, because they end in what looks like 날, and this can mean "day". So it could be something like "the day when I left/arrived at XX". (a) and (b) seem to have a ㅅ either lonely or in the beginning of a syllable, combined with the next ㄷ. I'm not sure about the ㅁ in 짐 at the beginning of column 1.

On columns 3 and 4, (c) is likely Shanghai. The second hanja is difficult to read, but Shanghai is likely because that's where he spent some time before taking a boat to Marseilles. I completely fail to read the following hanja (and I'm not even sure they are hanja: could they be hangeul?).

On column 5, I suppose the word in hangeul corresponds to a phonetic notation for "Marseilles": "marusyeiyo", but (d) is strange: I either see a 이 followed by a 요 without its empty consonant placeholder, or both combined around the same placeholder.

I'm not sure about (e), but one possible guess given what I found in the "Pleco" smartphone app: This character can mean shore, land, continent. These meanings would match the idea of an arrival by boat to the continent. So this could be "Landing in Marseilles".

So, my questions are the following:

  • What do you think of these (a), (b) and (d) combinations? Do I simply fail to parse this correctly, or they are actually unusual hangeul combinations. Is it a known practice to make non-standard hangeul combinations, either to note foreign words, or regionalisms (**).

  • What could be their meaning? (If you have an idea of the meaning of everything, or if you spot mistakes in my guesses, I'm interested too, of course.)

(*) I was raised in French and only slowly started to study Korean (and Chinese) about one year ago. My grandfather died in the 1980's without ever having taught Korean to his children (whenever they asked, he would tell them that they should study Chinese first). We got aware of this notebook only after his death. Our interest in these things was revived with the 100th anniversary of 삼일 운동 last year.

(**) My grandfather was from the region of Hamhung, in what is now the east coast of North Korea. I read in Wikipedia that they have a quite distinct dialect there. I have no idea how dialectal my grandfather's Korean actually was. He was from a poor countryside family, but went to school where he learned some classical Chinese, then some Japanese (after the 1910 annexion).

  • 1
    A bit of south(east)ern French phonology: Marseille would have locally been /maɾ.'se.jə/, possibly Koreanised as /ma.ɾu.se.jø/, which could well have been written 마루셰(ㅇퟂ). Standard French pronounces it /maʁ.sɛj/. Modern Korean writes it 마르세유 implying borrowing through Japanese マルセイユ = /maɾɯseijɯ/. – Michaelyus Aug 17 at 15:21
  • @Michaelyus Yes, I had thought of the southern French pronunciation to account for the 요, but the 上 proposed in the accepted answer seems more likely. – bli Aug 18 at 7:53

I'm not an expert on old Korean, but some of them look recognizable.

  1. 집 떠난 날 = day of departure from home

  2. 서울 떠난 날 = day of departure from Seoul

  3. 상해 착(着?) = arrive at Shanghai?

  4. 상해 발(發) = departure form Shanghai?

  5. 마르세이유 상륙(上陸) = arrive at Marseilles

I think, there were no standard Hanguel grammar at that time. Not even the official language of the nation. So people freely(?) used several combinations of Hanguel alphabets to record their sounds.

(**) about your second note: It looks like standard Hanguel (not dialect) and pretty normal (even academic) writing to me.

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  • Thanks for your help. I see that you interpret as 서 and 세 (with single horizontal line on the vowel) on columns 2 and 5 what I thought were 셔 and 셰 (with two horizontal lines) respectively. This makes perfect sense if the places are indeed Seoul and Marseilles (and this is highly likely). Do you have an idea why there seem to be these extra horizontal lines? – bli Aug 15 at 15:35
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    Regarding your interpretation of column 5, if what I thought was a 요 without it's placeholder is instead a 上, then there is no 유 at the end of "Marseilles". – bli Aug 15 at 15:44
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    I wrote in modern Hanguel. To help you further investigation. I see it is actually written as 셔울 (2), 마루셰이 (5). People wrote in this fashion because (I think / heard) they speak in this sound! Not 서울, more windy sound 셔울. – 9dan Aug 15 at 15:46
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    As 9dan recognized well, 着 is the last character of Line 3 and 上海着 means "상해에 도착함". 發 looks more like there. – Klmo Aug 15 at 15:49
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    @bli I guess so, and the Japanese rule seems to be one of the reasons he left Korea. – Klmo Aug 15 at 16:35

I can't decipher all of it, but the ㅅㄷ combination is an old way of writing the ㄸ character; so it would say "떠난 날". (I think it's 떠난 날, but with 아래 아, a dot under the consonant, an old vowel which became ㅏ)

I wonder if 짐 is actually 집? It looks like a handwritten style ㅁ, but it's a bit different - so 집 떠난 날 would be the day he left his home.

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  • Thanks for these information and interpretation. They make perfect sense. I had no idea written Korean had changed so much since the 1920's (apart from a decrease in the use of hanja). – bli Aug 15 at 15:29

The original Hangul, called 훈민정음Hun-min-jung-eum, had more diverse combinations and few more characters compared to current usage, such as ㅴ, ㆋ, ㅿ, ㆍ,ㆆ. We believe that these allowed Hangul to express sounds more precisely than we can do with current Hangul. However, this also caused Hangul to be more difficult to learn, and even the linguistics experts had to debate how to pronounce such combinations when they tried to formalize the rules in early-mid 20th century. They ended up banning such combinations and characters, as well as adding few new combinations that are currently in use.

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