By Korea.net Honorary Reporter Bardise Muhammad
Photo = Bardise Muhammad
Long ago, the Korean people used to write using Chinese characters, called Hanja (한자) in Korean. They didn’t have their own alphabet. However, King Sejong the Great (세종대왕) (1397-1450), the fourth Joseon king, wanted the Korean people to have their own writing system so that they would be able to express their thoughts more easily. Since they didn’t speak ancient Chinese, and spoke Korean, using the traditional Chinese characters wasn’t very convenient. Also, he wanted to help everyone who came from the lower classes and who didn’t have the chance to learn Hanja. The king wanted to help them to read and to write more easily and to receive the proper education they deserved.
So, King Sejong had his scholars create the Korean alphabet in 1443, and published the “Hunminjeongeum” (훈민정음) to introduce the newly created alphabet, and it was officially proclaimed in 1446.
The name “Hunminjeongeum” means, “the proper sounds for instructing the people.” In fact, the “Hunminjeongeum” is Korea’s National Treasure No. 70, and was registered as part of UNESCO’s Memory of the World in October 1997.
Now, writing and reading Korean became much easier, even for non-Koreans who are learning Korean and didn’t grow up speaking the language.
As a Korean language learner, I had to express my love for the Korean alphabet in a special way. Since the alphabet looks like geometric shapes, I decided to use it and add it to my stuffed toys as their eyes, noses or mouths. Each letter adds a different facial expression. There are 14 consonants and 10 vowels, so I made 14 Hangeul toys! The letters I used are ㄱ, ㄴ, ㄷ, ㄹ, ㅁ, ㅂ, ㅅ, ㅇ, ㅈ, ㅊ, ㅋ, ㅌ, ㅍ and ㅎ.
The Korean alphabet was invented to make it easier for people to learn the Korean language. That’s why writing Korean in the Latin alphabet doesn’t make the process of learning Korean any easier. On the contrary, it makes it quite difficult as it doesn’t serve the same purpose that the Korean letters do.
It’s worth noting that the illiteracy rate in Korea dropped noticeably after the alphabet was proclaimed. Now, Korea is one of the top countries in the world with one of the highest literacy rates. Also, to show appreciation for King Sejong’s efforts and creativity, the Korean people celebrate Hangeul Day (한글날) annually on Oct. 9, and even non-Koreans get to celebrate this big event at Korean cultural centers around the world.
Now, the name of King Sejong can be found in many countries that are many kilometers away from Korea with the recent establishment of many Sejong Institutes (세종학당). These were set up by the Korean government with the purpose of helping the rapidly increasing number of non-Koreans who have a huge interest in the Korean language and who want to learn the language, but who reside outside Korea. The centers help them to learn the language properly without having to move to Korea.
The Korean alphabet didn’t only make it easier for people to learn Korean. With its artistic look, it encouraged many calligraphy artists to start using it for their calligraphy work, along with the usage of traditional Chinese characters.
I believe that Hangeul can be used with anything, and it’ll make it look either artistically beautiful or even cute.
King Sejong, thank you for creating Hangeul!