Sunday, October 9, 2011

Alphabet follows empire Part IV Korea

Hangul is the name of the phonetic Korean alphabet
    It's National Alphabet Day in Korea, where a phonetic alphabet appeared, armed and fully operational, in the 15th century under the inspiration of King Sejong.  Like so many other alphabets in human history, this one served a political purpose; by letting everyone learn to read and write it undercut the power of the elite.  This upper class, which held a monopoly on government employment through the antiquated Chinese system of memorizing hundreds of characters, was threatened by the elegant, logical simplicity of Hangul letters.  The Mandarin establishment tried to disparage the new Korean alphabet with nicknames like “One Morning” or “Just for Girls” because it was so easy to learn. 
    The ten vowels and thirteen consonants of the Korean language are formed out of half a dozen simple brush strokes.  The shapes of the letters themselves suggest how to hold the mouth to pronounce them.  They are combined systematically to make syllables, which each occupy a box.  The Hangul system, in fact, is so logically designed that today’s linguistics experts recommend it for recording newly-discovered spoken languages that have not been written down yet. 
Koreans are proud of their sturdy Hanji paper.  It can be folded into a simple candle shade. 

    A footnote to the story of Hangul: in 1945, after almost half a century of occupation by Japan, South Korea re-established the use of the Korean language in schools and government.  In North Korea, all foreign words and Chinese characters have been weeded out of printed documents; in South Korea, some remain.  Both countries commemorate King Sejong with statues, and celebrate National Hangul Day, October 9, in Korea and in ex-pat Korean communities abroad. 


    I enjoyed your blog a lot! And it was amusing to find Hangul.
    I am sure that you would have seen all these already, this Korean calligrapher is my favorite and I wanted to show you :)

  2. Thanks for the link [s]. Korean is such a wonderful system of writing. I will try to post something again on Alphabet Day 2014.