- The Moon Reflected in a Thousand Rivers: Literary and Linguistic Problems in Wŏrinch'ŏn'gang chi kok
- Sungkyun Journal of East Asian Studies
- Sungkyunkwan University, Academy of East Asian Studies
- Volume 18, Number 1, April 2018
- pp. 1-42
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- Additional Information
Despite its importance as one of the very first literary works written using the newly invented Korean script in mid-15th century Chosŏn, the Wŏrinch'ŏn'gang chi kok 月印千江之曲 (Songs of the moon reflected in a thousand rivers; henceforth, Wŏl kok) has been little studied or appreciated, especially in English. This paper surveys the scholarly literature to date on both literary and linguistic problems in the Wŏl kok and suggests that the relative paucity of literary research on this work as compared to studies of a linguistic nature is due to the general difficulty of understanding the text without a detailed knowledge of both Middle Korean and Buddhism (and especially the biography of the Buddha). After outlining some of the debates about the authorship, original language, and relative chronology of the Wŏl kok vis-à-vis the Yongbiŏch'ŏn ka and the Sŏkpo sangjŏl, the bulk of the paper focuses on one pesky grammatical issue in Middle Korean (defined here as the language of the 15th and 16th centuries) as exemplified in the Wŏl kok: the alternation of -·ke-/-·Ge- vs. -·e- in certain verb endings. I propose a new approach to transitivity in Middle Korean based on Hopper and Thompson's (1980) notion of "discourse transitivity" and show how a treatment of -·ke-/-·Ge- as "Low Transitive" and -·e- as "High Transitive" improves on earlier analyses of this alternation and also helps our understanding (and translations) of the Wŏl kok.