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Old Korean currency - Nyang versus yang and L->N->Y


#1

In historical series I always see “nyang” as a money unit. And yet if I search online, I only find yang
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Korean_currencies and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_yang. Wikipedia says

[QUOTE]
Before 1892, the main currency of Korea was the mun, a denomination based on the Chinese cash (Chinese: 文 wén).
Just before the yang was introduced, a small number of coins denominated in hwan (환/圜) and mun (문/文) were minted (1 won = 1000 mun). It is unclear whether these coins circulated. The 1 won and 5 yang coins were equal in size, containing 416 grains of silver.
The yang (양/兩) was the currency of Korea between 1892 and 1902. It was subdivided into 10 jeon (전/錢), 100 bun (분/分) and 5 yang = 1 hwan (환/圜).
The mintage and circulation of modern currency began during the last years of the old Korean Empire as a result of contact with the West. Around the time of the trial adoption of the gold standard in 1901, gold and silver coins were in circulation along with some Japanese bank notes.
The yang was replaced by the won at a rate of 1 won = 5 yang…[/QUOTE]

How is that possible? I saw nyang in “Jackpot”, which was before 1728.

The only reference to nyang I can see is in a book:
https://books.google.gr/books?id=A0vgIU59G_gC&pg=PA198&lpg=PA198&dq=nyang+Korean&source=bl&ots=uApxly26qZ&sig=Rd6fpLNYxe5b6SMQEBaItExJrYA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiYiNKYpPPRAhVDuhQKHQb4D3YQ6AEIYTAP#v=onepage&q=nyang%20Korean&f=false
It says

in this other book:
https://books.google.gr/books?id=H4CsWDEi52IC&pg=PA82&lpg=PA82&dq=nyang+Korean&source=bl&ots=tEWagbO8ze&sig=qJKlwews-b3veoKy5FRB9o4cfM8&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiYiNKYpPPRAhVDuhQKHQb4D3YQ6AEIaTAS#v=onepage&q=nyang%20Korean&f=false
they mention a proverb
.[QUOTE]mal-man chal ha myon chon nyang pit-to kam-nunda (One can repay a 1000 nyang of money with appropriate words)
worded differently in another website as
Malhanaro cheonnyangbit gapneunda (말하나로 천냥빚 갚는다).
Repaying a 1000-Nyang (old Korean currency unit) with one word…[/QUOTE]

There are other references too, in Google books, I won’t tire you quoting all of them. But why isn’t there no mention in official English-language reference sources?

I finally came to a more official source.
http://www.albany.edu/eas/205/weights%20and%20measures.pdf

But then I remembered an interesting discussion within the “Jackpot - The King’s Gambler” team discussion. I’m sorry I didn’t keep the names of the original posters, and I’m too lazy right now to go and find it - it was a very looong team discussion.

[QUOTE]As a matter of linguistic history, the initial ㄹ (“L”) was pronounced until the last few hundred years (after the time of our drama, according to 두음법칙 = 頭音法則, “Initial Sound Law”). There is evidence for the change of initial ㄹ to ㄴ (“N”) as early as the 15th century: 來日 래일 → 내일), but the ㄴ was apparently retained until the latter half of the 18th century, when we suddenly see spellings like 이 for 니. So both Lee Seong Gye and Nee In Jwa would have sounded the consonant (differently, but they both had it). But as you know (I’m saying all this for our non-Korean colleagues), modern Koreans pronounce all these names “Ee” (without the Chinese “Y”). The romanizations with “L,” “Rh” (Syngman Rhee), and “Y” are aimed more at maintaining the connection with the Chinese source words than at reflecting the modern pronunciation.
Be that as it may, there’s no escaping the fact that the name of the dynasty is routinely spelled “Yi” in the West.
Reply:
I think north korea went against the sonorant law so their Yi (이) is actually Lee (리), retroactively closer to their sino-root. am not sure but I heard there’s no 이 in North Korea only 리.
In South Korea there are still instances the sonorant law gets an override by human anatomical assimilation rule. There are times the sonorant law is too awkward for the body to produce, the example I always think of is counting in korean many ppl in South Korea still count the way before the sonorant law is applied.
일리(ri)삼사오륙 (ryook) <-- against initial sound law (sonorant law) but often adopted
vs 일이(yi)삼사오육 (yook) <-- applied sonorant law (but often not practiced in speech)

Reply:
Northern spellings such as 로동 신문 are generally just spellings; they pronounce 노동 신문 just like the South (but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that some local dialects near the Chinese border retain the ㄹ pronunciation).
As for the example you cite, the Initial Sound Law does not apply when the sound is not initial. In compounds such as 16 십륙 → “심뉵” or 미스리, the last syllable is “protected” by the preceding one and the ㄹ survives. I think you’ll find that when Koreans say “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6” quickly, they use the compounding pronunciation, but when they pause between words and treat each as a separate one, the ISL applies.

Another reply:
when we count 1,2,3,4…, 2 comes after 1 so it sounds natural to say 일리 since 리 is not the very first word. At least that’s how it is to me. :slight_smile:

O.P.
yes makes total sense! i have encountered a few ethnic Koreans who said what I would have pronounced ‘yi, yul,yuk, etc’ as ‘li, lul, lyuk’ but not sure where their hometowns were actually.

This is also generational. My mommy, daddy and other old people who are reaching senior citizen status all pronounce Korean differently than the younger Koreans such as the 에 and 애 difference. It doesn’t matter the hometown because this is true in immigrant and native Koreans too. n <20. sampling was done via nyc transit system.
In the 60s I believe the Kim dynasty passed pronunciation reforms ==> infamous North Korean accent. The senior citizens who grew up pre-pronunciation reform sound like South Koreans! Isn’t that interesting?
Oh and 두음법칙 screwed some people overnight making 류 ryoo into 유 yoo overnight and 라 into 나. I’ve met some 류’s who were very adamant that they’re 류’s not yoo
I think this has/van be overridden but it caused them legal headaches as the legal doc names no longer matched (ref:newpaper articles in Korean).

What I got from a Korean linguist was that yes, before the war many northern dialects did have 류, 로동, etc., but the boundaries were inconsistent and variable, as might be expected in a unified country. After the war, the ROK standardized its language around the Seoul dialect (유, 노동) and the DPRK standardized around the Pyongyang dialect (류, 로동), and dialects that were “on the wrong side” of the border were made to conform to the two national standards.
If we go back to the time of our drama (before the Musin Revolt in 1728), there would have been regional variation between 李 = 리 (farther north) and 니 (farther south), so depending on where he was from (and also on how proficient he was in Chinese), our man 李麟佐 might have pronounced his name “Lee In Jwa” or “Nee In Jwa.” But the initial consonant was not lost anywhere in Korea until the 18th century, so he certainly would not have said “Ee In Jwa” (or “Yi In Jwa” as some people prefer to spell it).
If we go farther back to 1392 when the dynasty was founded, neither of these sound changes had begun, so 李成桂 (Western spelling Yi Seong Gye) would surely have pronounced his name 리성계 (Lee Seong Gye), retaining the original Chinese consonant. [/QUOTE]

So I concluded that nyang and yang are one and the same thing, pronounced differently, so that now they are even spelled differently. (And that it possibly was lyang before nyang)
But the time frame is not yet clear. The Albany University source says nyang was from the 17th century onwards (1600-1700), which is also consistent with the Jackpot setting. But Wikipedia says the yang was only from the late 19th century, and for a very short time, from 1892 to 1902. So is Wikipedia wrong? Or is yang something else after all?

I would be grateful if someone could confirm!
And, if nyang is yang, is the Wikipedia conversion correct? 1 nyang/yang = 5 won?
I need this for a historical film I’m translating

@ajumma2


#2

Dear Irene
Even though I don’t know a lot in my opinion one nyang couldn’t be one yang due to the different value they have.
In all historicals I have seen so far nyang is used to imply huge amount of money.


#3

Maybe a won was also a big amount, and it went down afterwards, who knows in so many centuries what happened. The won stopped circulating in 1910 because of the Japanese occupation, so the new won that we know now may be very different in value.
At a certain point in the 20th century I read that it used to be 1 won=1 dollar, and now it has become 900 won = 1 dollar…
That’s why I hope that some local person can give us light on this!!!


#4

Yes, nyang = yang = ryang. When there is another syllable/number before this word, (like 일냥 (1 nyang), then it is nyang. But when this is the first syllable/sound in a word or when it’s by itself, it becomes yang because of 두음법칙 (The initial sound law). But actually Nyang is more commonly known and some people also use Nyang by itself, without changing it to Yang.

Although it’s hard to tell exactly how much nyang is but I don’t believe it was that much. I think of it as a small coin’s worth: i.e. less than $1. It’s possible that 1 won was 5 nyang when it was first converted. But at the same time, 1 won at that time was worth a lot more money than what it is now. In today’s standard,1 won is worthless - even less than a penny.

I read somewhere that towards the end of Joseon dynasty, you could buy a sack of rice with 8 nyang, which would have been worth about 150,000 won ($150 USD) in today’s money. So maybe saying that 1 nyang is about 20 USD is more accurate. I think I’ll go ahead and use this info on my document. :slight_smile:


#5

As for the drama Jackpot using the money unit Nyang, instead of Mun, my guess is that they just used Nyang in the drama only because most Koreans are familiar with Nyang being the old coin unit, and not Mun. I’ve never seen any historical drama where they used Mun as money unit. I’ve only seen them using Nyang, Hwan, or Jeon. But it’s just my guess anyway.


#6

Ah, I knew that you would give me the answer I wanted. Still my searching spirit made me spend more than half an hour reading about Korea’s currency history, and now I can understand better your explanation too.
(Learn a new thing every day, keep Alzheimer’s away)

Thanks a lot!!!

By the way, someone should go and correct Wikipedia, right?


#8

More info coming in! I’m loving it!

Actually the whole thing started from The Wedding Day, a film I’m “taking care of” and which is now getting translated into other languages (so a translator asked me about the nyang’s value). Wedding gifts list included:

[QUOTE]
19:36 황금 백 냥중
Gold 100 Nyang weight,
19:38 은 팔백 냥중
silver 800 Nyang weight,[/QUOTE]

(ajumma2 knows it, because she was the one to complete and edit the English translation in this film)

In the beginning, reading this, I thought to myself
"Does this mean that it also used as a measuring unit both for gold AND silver? Or does it mean “that much weight which would be worth 100 nyang/800 nyang” (Because they were too lazy to measure the actual weight, or rather because they wanted to impress the giftee on the value of the gold and silver, that’s why they converted it into currency to make their point clear of how much they are giving to the bride).
But now I see that it is both a currency and a measure of weight, the weight of the coin itself, I suppose.

But we have two conflicting answers here;
Ajumma2 said:

[QUOTE]
Although it’s hard to tell exactly how much nyang is but I don’t believe it was that much. I think of it as a small coin’s worth: i.e. less than $1. It’s possible that 1 won was 5 nyang when it was first converted. But at the same time, 1 won at that time was worth a lot more money than what it is now. In today’s standard,1 won is worthless - even less than a penny.
I read somewhere that towards the end of Joseon dynasty, you could buy a sack of rice with 8 nyang, which would have been worth about 150,000 won ($150 USD) in today’s money. So maybe saying that 1 nyang is about 20 USD is more accurate. [/QUOTE]
and
cgwm808 wrote:

[QUOTE] Per Naver dictionary, 냥 兩 nyang (a unit of old Korean coinage), (중량) nyang (a denomination of weight: 37.3g), Since there are 31 grams in a troy ounce (used to measure precious metals such as gold, silver and platinum) the nyang was over an ounce of silver so that must have been of sizeable value during the Joseon dynasty.
In Gu Family Book, episode 10, there is a discussion about what 5000 nyang would be worth and the answer is that it would be enough to build 10 to 12 ships.[/QUOTE]

If it was made of 37.3g of silver, since today Silver Price Per Gram is $0.57, it would indeed be 21 dollars.But that’s only the material. Currency also has a symbolic/name value, apart from the material of which it is made.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/53/Korea_1898_coin_-1_yang.jpg/220px-Korea_1898_coin-_1_yang.jpg

http://www.coinquest.com/cgi-data/cq_ro/response_graphics/korea_5_yang.jpg


#9

I agree with cgwm808 because 5000 nyang (if that was 20 dollars each) would be 10.000 dollars that can’t be enough to build 10-12 ships.


#10

On the other hand, the value of dollars itself (as well as everything else) has changed a lot.
You are much younger than me so you cannot remember this, but when I went to school in the '70s the bus cost 2 drachmas, and now it costs 1,4 euro which is 477 drachmas. The currency has lost value of more than 200 times, in just 40 years.


#11

I had no idea Andromache was such a baby ajumma compared to you.

I may or may not be correct but I believe the nyang gained or lost value depending on external circumstances so it was always easier to leave nyang as nyang and not put = x dollars. Do you guys do that? I think you were the one who said that you convert won into Euros.

I personally prefer to keep it in KRW so I don’t have to convert to USD or tell a fib that 1 dollar = 1,000₩ this is not true, sadly for Korean international students. The dollar is significantly stronger. For larger amounts like Kang Cheol is worth 2.8 billion usd I convert to that day’s bank exchange rate (as a preference).


#12

Yes, I could easily be her mother, LOL…

We do
X won (approx. Y euros)
When they only put dollars I have to reconvert into won first. I’ve just learned how numbers work in Korean and if I can catch what they’re saying fine, otherwise I just fudge it like that, rounding as I go.

But in this particular instance of the film, I think nyangs are meant to be a weight measure, so just putting a note with how many grams was each is enough explanation.


#13

Hello everyone,

I was searching for the meaning of nyang myself and I came across your discussion. (Sorry that I’m interrupting).

I’m translating the drama Pride and Prejudice into Slovak and in Episode 2, there is a menu board of a restaurant translated, saying: “5000 nyang, Tonkatsu house”
The girl is later on asking for money from the guy, saying:

P1: Do you have some money?
P2: How much?
P1: 5700 won.

The nyang then can’t possibly be equal to 20 dollars, right?


#14

Nyang is an old currency that was used during late Goryeo and Joseon era. So the actual value varied depending on which period you are talking about.

In Pride and Prejudice, which is a modern drama, they are just using the name “Nyang” as part of a cute name for the restaurant, since Korea hasn’t used Nyang as actual money unit for a very long time. It looks to me that the restaurant owner chose to use the word Nyang instead of Won without really considering the real value of Nyang. Most Koreans just know that Nyang was an old unit for money and they don’t really think of what its worth was. So in this case, they are just substituting Won as Nyang for nostalgic reasons, maybe.


#15

Oh, thank you for the explanation! :slight_smile: That makes sense.


#16

5000 nyang x $20each == $100,000 (not 10k). in 1977 i bought a pair of sneakers in korea for a dollar. going back 100 years before even that dollar was probably worth 100 dollars… i certainly believe they could buy 5 ships for 100,000 dollars in the 1800’s. Very fine ships. That would make that 100k worth more like 10 million in todays currency. can build some pretty nice boats for 2 Million a pop considering they had no fancy electronics. 5 ships for 5000 nyang? do-able! what do you think 10,000,000 pairs of sneakers == five ships?


#17

Sorry I accidentally deleted my prior post on the subject of Nyang and I don’t know how to recover it


#18

You mean this one?
cgwm808 wrote:

[QUOTE] Per Naver dictionary, 냥 兩 nyang (a unit of old Korean coinage), (중량) nyang (a denomination of weight: 37.3g), Since there are 31 grams in a troy ounce (used to measure precious metals such as gold, silver and platinum) the nyang was over an ounce of silver so that must have been of sizeable value during the Joseon dynasty.
In Gu Family Book, episode 10, there is a discussion about what 5000 nyang would be worth and the answer is that it would be enough to build 10 to 12 ships.[/QUOTE]


#19

Thank you.
I wanted to add if you look up both 양 (yang) and 녕 (nyang) the Hanja for both is the same 兩. There is a Korean pronunciation rule that if a word starts with a “Y” sound, you insert a “n” in front of it. It’s called n epenthesis.


#20

Adding this to my reference document!