National institute invites complaints from sexual minorities
By Chung Hyun-chae, Park Ji-won, Nam Hyun-woo
Love seemed to be a universal concept that embraced all. Recently, however, a national institute released a new definition of the concept that excludes minorities, in particular same-sex partners.
The National Institute of the Korean Language (NIKL) came out with a new definition of the word love — a feeling or affection for a person of the opposite sex.
According to the institute, which establishes language policies and updates the national dictionary, the concept of love exists only between a man and a woman, except when referring to love for friends, family, inanimate objects or country. The NIKL announced the new definition on March 31.
This is not the first time the institute changed the meaning of the word. Love used to be defined as a “feeling or instance of longing passionately for a partner of another sex by being attracted to the partner’s allure.” Five university students asked the NIKL to expand the definition because it seemed “discriminative to sexual minorities.” Thus, in November 2012, it replaced the phrase “partner of another sex” with “somebody.”
Given that Korean society is still closed for the most part to sexual minorities, the NIKL’s move was a bold step toward acknowledging that same-sex partners can love each other in a romantic or sexual way.
However, the institute’s decision invited complaints, mostly from conservative Christian groups. The Commission of Churches in Korea urged the institute to scrap the revision in October, saying, “Deleting ‘partner of another sex’ from the definition of love can be interpreted as defending homosexuality.”
In response, the NIKL said the revision was not intended to promote homosexuality, but to reflect the current use of the word in Korean society. Nevertheless, the institute said it will review the definition of love once again and change it to reflect conventional perception.
“We change the meaning of words after receiving revision requests from many people through various means such as the Internet and telephone,” said an NIKL researcher surnamed Han.
The NIKL reviews the definition of words every quarter. During the reviews, researchers and linguists discuss the definitions based on their use and opinions from citizens and experts.
Han explained that the institute’s latest revision of the definition of love reflects opinions that the term “somebody” was too broad and vague.
“If they changed the meaning based on ordinary usage, they had to stand by that revision,” a Korean language teacher at a university said on condition of anonymity. However, the teacher questioned how much people’s use of the word love could have changed significantly in less than two years.
The Solidarity for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Human Rights of Korea released a statement on March 31 that limiting the meaning of love to something that exists only between a man and a woman clearly discriminates against sexual minorities.
“The NIKL’s move is against the new Korean society, which accepts differences,” it said in the statement.
Young Koreans interviewed agreed that defining love is quite difficult but that the definition of love should not be limited in terms of gender.
“When I was younger, I believed there was only one type of love — Eros,” said Hwang Dan-bi, 23, a senior at a four-year college.
She said she is straight but doesn’t think the word love should be defined as a feeling only between a man and a woman.
“As I grew older, I realized that love isn’t just about the heart beating fast. I think love can be enjoying delicious food, strolling down a street and sharing thoughts with someone else.”
“If I share those feelings with a friend of the same sex, shouldn’t I call it love?” Hwang asked.
She said she has a number of gay and bisexual friends whom she met during her stay in Canada last year. At that time, she realized that people of other sexual orientations are no different from straight people.
“They longed for love and boasted about what they did with their same-sex partners. And they were excited to plan their next dates, just like me. If the word love is defined as affection between a man and a woman, what should we call their feelings then?” she said.
A college freshman surnamed Lim, a lesbian, also said love is just an honest emotion.
“I can express my feelings, without display, to my girlfriend. We are just who we are to each other, and we are not just same-sex friends. I think it is love,” Lim said.
Regardless of one’s sexual orientation, some people say that love doesn’t have one exact definition. They have their own meaning of love based on their experiences.
“Love is the feeling of deep affection toward all creatures,” said Gil Min-sub, 29, an office worker.
“I think love is an irrational, illogical emotion because it is something that’s hard to define,” said Kim Yeon-joo, 24, a college senior.
Older citizens interviewed, however, have mixed opinions about the NIKL’s new definition of love.
“I am a Christian, so I’m just being honest when I say I’m anti-gay,” said a civil servant in her 50s. “But I’m still unconvinced that deleting the phrase ‘partner of another sex’ promotes homosexuality,” she said.
“In Korea, love is still widely considered as a feeling between people of opposite sexes. If the NIKL reflects that, then it’s an appropriate move,” Kim Chang-hwan, 48, said.
Should we define love?
Renowned linguist Roland Barthes said language is “quite simply fascist.” This is because words affect how people perceive a concept. When we refuse to accept a different meaning of a word and regard it as wrong, we are tacitly allowing ourselves to be compromised by discrimination.
As the NIKL said, a word’s definition should reflect its current use. However, many people have pointed out that the NIKL’s new definition of love disregards the existence of sexual minorities in the country. It implies that a gay couple’s relationship is not love even though they do the same things a straight couple does.
Barthes also said, “To try to write love is to confront the muck of language; that region of hysteria where language is both too much and too little, excessive and impoverished.”
A gay man in his 30s who declined to be named said love is a simple, unsophisticated feeling.
“For me, the feeling of love isn’t something big. It is the feeling of wanting to take off my jacket and cover my partner because the weather is cold,” he said.
“I think love is the desire to take good care of someone, which comes from the heart,” he added.
Perhaps this issue may be meaningless to those who do not have a special someone, but it is nevertheless something worth thinking about.
Source : The Korea Times