Little Bits of History

Hangul Alphabet

Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 9, 2014
Hangul alphabet

Hangul alphabet

October 9, 1446: The Hangul alphabet it published in Korea. Sejong the Great was the fourth king of the Jodeon Dynasty. The alphabet was devised as both the complement of and as an alternative to traditional logographic Sino-Korean hanja. It was initially denounced by the educated class as eonmun or vernacular writing, much like the abandonment of Latin in the West. It became the primary Korean script following independence from Japan in the middle of the 1900s. The project of creation was completed either in December 1444 or January 1445 and was described in a paper entitled Hunmin Jeongeum (“The Proper Sounds for the Education of the People”). October 9 is celebrated as Hangul Day in South Korea and on January 15 in North Korea as Chosongul Day.

In 1940, a 1446 paper called Hunmin Jeong-eum Haerye (“Hunmin Jeong-eum Explanation and Examples”) was found. It explained the design of the writing style. Consonant letters were created according to articulatory phonetics (a subset of phonetics which separates sounds by how the sounds are produced physiologically). Vowel letters were created according to the principles of Yin and Yang and vowel harmony which puts restrictions on vowels sounds used in proximity to each other. Korean has positive or light or plus vowels (Balgeun moeum), negative, heavy, or minus vowels (Eoduun moeum), and one neutral or center vowel.

King Sejong believed the Korean language to be fundamentally different from Chinese and using Chinese characters (hanja) to write made the written language inaccessible to the common man. Only privileged aristocrats were able to read and write fluently, leaving the majority of Koreans illiterate. Hangul was developed in order to allow commoners the ability to master reading and writing. This idea was met with resistance from the literate elite. The yangban were reluctant to give up their special skill and Choe Manri and other Korean Confucian scholars were adamant about the use of hanja.

The simplified version of writing was embraced by the common people, just as the king had hoped. It was employed even by women and many writers of popular fiction. It was helpful in educating the masses and disseminating information among all the people, so much so that King Yeonsangun banned Hangul documents in 1504. King Jungjong agreed with his predecessor and abolished the Ministry of Eonmun (research related to Hangul) in 1506. Late in the 16th century, the method saw a revival and Hangul novels became a major genre. Hangul was adopted as the official language of Korea in 1895. Today, Korea has a 99% literacy rate with both Hangul or mixed Hangul in use in both North and South Korea.

A wise man can acquaint himself with them before the morning is over; a stupid man can learn them in the space of ten days. – from the Haerye, regarding Hangul

Reading and writing, like everything else, improve with practice. And, of course, if there are no young readers and writers, there will shortly be no older ones. Literacy will be dead, and democracy – which many believe goes hand in hand with it – will be dead as well. – Margaret Atwood

You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test. – George W. Bush

Obviously, every child should be given the best possible opportunity to acquire literacy skills. – Hugh Mackay

Also on this day: Vinland – In 1000, Lief Ericson arrived in North America.
Washington – In 1888, the Washington Monument was finally opened.
Bright Lights – In 1604, a supernova was discovered.
Free – In 1820, Guayaquil declared independence from Spain.

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2 Responses

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  1. vanbraman said, on October 10, 2014 at 2:33 am

    There are some really cool displays in the museums in Seoul about the development of the alphabet. It is truly a unique system.


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