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KAIM Chairman Cho, Sok-hwan develops Inter-Korean Hangeul keyboard jointlyPositioned to achieve “real national unification”
By Lee Kyung-sik

“There is only one person in the Republic of Korea who is able to achieve real national reunification of the Korean peninsula.” A friend of mine told me so recently. It certainly was like a bolt from the blue.
“Who could be that person?” I wanted to know.
North Korea's Kim Jong-un shows the cold shoulder to the Moon Jae-in regime which has pursued an appeasement policy. The North Korean regime also turned down all appeasement gestures so far made by President Donald Trump of the United States.
Still, the friend said that there is someone who is positioned to materialize national unification “peacefully’ and at the initiative of the Republic of Korea.
The person in point is Chairman Cho, Sok-hwan of the Korea Association of Information Management (KAIM), who has pushed for the standardization of Hangeul keyboards for decades. The Korea Post recently interviewed Chairman Cho to hear about his passion on the Hangeul keyboard project which may also contribute to the realization of the divided Koreas. Excerpts from the interview with Chairman Cho follow:
Chairman Cho, Sok-hwan of the Korea Association of Information Management Association (right) is interviewed by Publisher Lee Kyung-sik of The Korea Post media.
Question: Could you review the history of Hangeul computer keyboards in Korea?
Our keyboard standardization undertaking dates back to half a century ago. Tens of millions of computer users worldwide have been able to gain access to the Korean standard keyboard system (KS C 5715) since it was designated as a global standard by the South Korean government in 1982. Despite the government-level exchanges between South Korea and North Korea had remained frozen, Cho, Sok-hwan, chairman of the Korea Association of Information Management, signed an agreement on academic exchanges with North Korea with regard to a unified keyboard project in preparation of national unification. South and North Korea jointly developed the “Hangyeore Unified Keyboard Layout of Digital Telecommunication Devices.” We registered pertinent trademark & technology patents in the South.
Chairman Cho (right) and Publisher Lee with many citations won by the former.
South and North Korea have developed various methods on speaking, letters, and printing. However, different names like “Hangeul” and “Joseon characters” have been adopted on telecom devices, such as telephones, televisions, FAX, computers, and smartphones, primarily due to the advancement of digital information technology. Despite the same Hangeul and Joseon characters on their keyboards, South and North Korea have used different grammars as well as the different order of consonants and vowels for nearly 70 years. The keyboard of digital communication devices should be easy to learn and use. This is embodied in the Humin Jeongeum’s philosophy.
Q: What motivated you to be a keyboard specialist?
After becoming a member of KATUSA (the Republic of Korea Army Augmented to the Eighth United States Army) in the 1960s, I first accessed the IBM computer and the digital keyboard. Even after leaving the army, I remained interested in the computer and went to the United States for advanced study. I worked hard to install the Hangeul alphabet on the computer keyboard. Eventually, l became a national computer keyboard specialist, while working hard to unify the computer keyboard layouts of South and North Korea.
Chairman Cho, Sok-hwan of KAIM display the keyboard he has developed.

Of note, Kong Byung-woo (1906-1995), who developed the “triple-set” typewriter, had a great impact on me. He once invited me to his office and called for me to spearhead the development of triple-set typewriter. Unlike the Hangeul typewriter used by Koreans today, which features a “double-set” keyboard layout, Kong’s typewriter exhibited a “triple-set” layout containing the end consonants in addition to the first consonants and vowels. He earnestly asked for me to commit to the job of developing a unified keyboard standard amid high tensions in the Korean Peninsula. In 1969, the Korean government adopted a double-set keyboard layout after many twists and turns. Since then, the double-style computer keyboard has become a global norm. The National Computer Keyboard Commission was created around that time.

Unified Hangeul Keyboard of Hangyeore jointly developed by Cho Dong-mun with North Korean experts.

There were several reasons for the adoption of the double-set keyboard layout. In the 1980s, one big problem related to poor printing ability of the triple-set keyboard system. At that time, the printing quality of the triple-set keyboard was very poor. However, now that the printer's performance has significantly improved, printing on triple-set keyboard layout poses few problems. But it will be impossible for large numbers of people to shift to the double-set keyboard system all of sudden. Like in the United States, both double-set and triple-set keyboards can be put to use. Today, the QWERTY keyboard is widely accessed in the United States, but the Dvorak simplified keyboard is also recognized as a standard keyboard.

An Underwood typewriter donated to Chosun Christian College by Dr. John T. Underwood.
Q: Could you explain about the unified South-North Korean computer keyboard?
In the early 2000s, industrial standardization of the two Koreas was a key issue. The industrial standardization of both Koreas was hard to achieve due to the prolonged division of the peninsula. Thanks to our concerted efforts to reach an agreement with North Korea, however, we came up with the finished product which obtained technology patents in South Korea. It was named “Unified Hangyeore Keyboard.” While we were able to register the technology patent at an earlier time, the patent registration of the word, “Hangyeore” took more time. Eventually, we won a crucial lawsuit, which enabled us to use the word legally.
Although South Korea gains greater access to the operating system (OS) of Microsoft (MS), North Korea adopts Linux like Europe. This is the reason that the unified keyboard was developed by installing both MS and Linux. In response to the market trend, the Google Play Store installed the “Hangyeore Unified Standard Keyboard” app a year ago.
American Christian Missionary Mr. Underwood who developed the first Hangeul script (horizontal writing
Q: How do you assess the role and future of the unified Hangeul keyboard?
After acquiring a Ph.D. in business administration from Yonsei University, I have devoted myself to doing research on the keyboards. I have spent more than 50 years in R&D on keyboards. I became keenly interested in the unified keyboard one year after I was named chairman of Special Computer Keyboard Committee of Korean Agency for Technology Standard in 2004. While traveling to North Korea for academic exchanges, I felt the necessity to create a unified keyboard in the event of national unification. Our Northern partner was “National Reconciliation Council” which was responsible for academic exchanges with South Korea. However, we accessed North Korea via the language information management society of Chinese-Koreans in China since it was difficult to travel to the North very often. It is hoped that the unified keyboard will become a stepping stone of national unification, while it may take time for the keyboard to be accessible in daily life.
Students of Chosun Christian College practice Korean typewriting (predecessor of Yonsei University).
Q: How would you like to talk about the historical background of our typewriter and digital keyboard system?
A: There are two experts in regard to Hangeul mechanization (installing Korean alphabet on the invented typewriter keyboard). They are Kong Byung-woo and Kim Dong-hoon. The first thing that President Park Chung-hee has done after creating the national science and technology exhibition in 1969 involved the integration of typewriters. The triple-set keyboard (consonants, vowels, Korean final consonants (bachim) developed by Kong Byung-woo was easy to use, while its characters were unattractive. The five-set keyboard of Kim Dong-hoon (consonants and long & short vowels) was attractive, albeit it was too slow in speed. A four-set keyboard also hit the market. However, the newly developed triple-set keyboard, with the addition of consonants and vowels, was considered more reasonable. Moreover, it was faster than the double-set keyboard that is readily available today.
Eventually, both Kim Dong-hoon and Kong Byung-woo threw in the towel. I had to manage all related issues. I have started collecting Korean typewriters since. I became a high school teacher. I was urged to lead the national computer keyboard special committee by the Korean Agency for Technology and Standards. Soon, I embarked on a 160-million-won research project. As for the mobile Hangeul keyboard, C model developed by Samsung Electronics and N model created by LG Electronics were considered de facto standards in view of the market principles.
Chairman Cho explains how the keyboard has been developed.
In November 2005, we finished basic research on the standardization of a miniature keypad-type layout. In 2007, we produced research reports regarding the keyboard layout for information technology, texts and office systems. We also adopted reports on the keys of the keypad (KS X ISO/IEC 9995-4, KS X ISO/IEC 9995-8).
The history of digital keypad standardization lasting half a century is never short. One obvious fact is that while an effective and scientific layout method is important, it may be difficult to ignore market principles (de facto standards.) As a result, the adoption of multiple standards seemed reasonable.
The announcement that developer Cho Kwan-hyeon would give up all patent rights related to the Cheonjiin keyboard model, which has become a de facto standard, was a watershed in the development of national standards. On this occasion, I sincerely hoped that this model would be in great demand as a global standard for digital keyboard.
Q: Please tell us about China’s “Hangeul Project” and the mobile phone keyboard.
It was reported in October last year that the Chinese-Korean information society in China will kick off a standardized keyboard layout project. China’s “Hangeul Project,” which calls for developing the method of Hangeul input on mobile devices including smartphones, has fueled anti-Chinese sentiments in Korea.
Chairman Cho, Sok-hwan of KAIM shows the keyboard he has developed.
This incident reminded me of Joseon Dynasty scholar Choe Man-ri’s movement against Hangeul. Choe was an associate professor in the Hall of Worthies who spoke against the creation of Hangeul (then called Eonmun) together with other Confucian scholars in 1444. He made a submission that year to King Sejong against hangul. Part of the submission reads: “Our dynasty, from our ancestors, has followed the great and complied with the standards of China. Now we are of the same script and the same measure, it is detrimental to conformity to create a new orthography such as Eonmun.”
The history of Hangeul standardization dates back to half a century ago. Today tens of millions of Hangeul computer users access the computer information processing keyboard. This keyboard had already been globally standardized. The sudden reports on China’s “Hangeul Project” have thrown Koreans and the political circles into confusion.

Lee Kyung-sik  edt@koreapost.com

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