Hangul Story – The Korean Alphabet
Any linguist would agree that the Korean alphabet, Hangul (the “Great Script”), is one of the most scientific writings. What makes the Korean alphabet “scientific” is that its letters correspond to the places where the mouth is articulation.
Let the letters “ㄱ” and “ㄴ” suffice as reference for the examples. These two letters roughly correspond to the phonemes / k / and / n / of the International Phonetic Alphabet. “ㄱ” demonstrates the back of the tongue raised to contact the soft palate, in the back part of the roof of the mouth, where / k / is produced. “ㄴ” shows the tongue raised at the front of the month, where the sound / n / comes from.
“나랏말싸미 듕귁에 달아 문자와로 서르 사맛디 아니할쎄
이런 젼차로 어린 백셩이 니르고져 홀 배 이셔도
마참내 제 뜨들 시러펴디 몯 할 노미 하니라
내 이랄 위하야 어엿비 너겨 새로 스믈 여듧 짜랄 맹가노니
사람마다 해여 수비 니겨 날로 쑤메 뼌한킈 하고져 할따라미니라 ” – 세종대왕
“Since the Korean language is different from the Chinese language, the Chinese characters don’t render it well enough. That is why the common people want and cannot express their feelings, and this is a common occurrence. It is a common occurrence. Moved by pity, I have created twenty-eight characters that can be easily learned by all and used in everyday life.” – King Sejong
In 1443, King Sejong the Great ordered that an alphabet be created for the Korean language”The Appropriate Sounds for the Education of the People”. The hangul is regarded as a humanistic creation of the Korean renaissance.
This same imitation of the shape the mouth takes when forming their sounds is true for the 14 Korean consonants. Its ten vowels represent the three concepts of Yin (Earth) and Yang (Heaven), with man at the intersection of the two. Thus, we could also say that Hangul is the most philosophical of all the alphabets, but that would be the subject of another essay.
Consonants as well as vowels are then combined to form blocks of syllables that are easy to recognize and, with practice, to utter. The Hangul is unique among the major alphabets of the world in that its inventor is known to us and it was created in relatively recently.
In 1443, King Sejong the Great ordered that an alphabet be created for the Korean language, as the Koreans had hitherto used Chinese characters for writing. In 1446, the new alphabet was promoted in an enlightened document entitled “The Appropriate Sounds for the Education of the People”. The hangul is regarded as a humanistic creation of the Korean renaissance.
SINCE THE END OF THE 12th CENTURY, Korea was a vassal kingdom of the Mongol emperors who ruled over China at that time. At the beginning of the 14th century, the Mongol emperors were led to change their own script in favour of the Galik alphabet, a compromise between the Tibetan script of the Indian type and the Uigur script of the Aramaic type.
The Koreans were affected by these cultural upheavals with a slight time lag (in the meantime, the Mongols had been overthrown in China by Hong-Wou, founder of the Ming dynasty).
An enlightened king
In the first half of 15th century, King Sejong (1419-1451) reigned over the kingdom of Korea. He was an enlightened and cultured monarch. In 1434 he issued a decree in which he instructed his administration to search for “men of knowledge and sophistication, whether of noble birth or not, to encourage them to teach the people, even women and girls, to read. ».
He also sent missions to Nanking and Pyolmun to seek advice on the possibility of introducing simplified writing into his kingdom. When these missions failed, the king, with the assistance of scholars from his court, invented the new script. In 1446, King Sejong issued a decree, Oje Hunmin Chongum, ” True pronunciation taught to the people ” by which he introduced the new writing known as Onmun. It made a mockery of the scholars of the time, who were attached to the Chinese script and, through it, to the power conferred on them by its mastery, which they called ” Vernacular Writing “.
In the preface to Hunmin Chongum, King Sejong clearly explains his motives:
“Since the Korean language is different from the Chinese language, the Chinese characters don’t render it well enough. That is why the common people want and cannot express their feelings, and this is a common occurrence. It is a common occurrence. Moved by pity, I have created twenty-eight characters that can be easily learned by all and used in everyday life. »
It was originally a real alphabet of 28 signs including vowels and consonants. By its very principle, pân tchel is of great simplicity, which testifies to its artificial character and to the scientific spirit of its creator. Thus, the addition of a simple line makes it possible to form ‘KH’ from ‘K’, ‘TH’ from ‘T’ or even ‘PH’ from ‘P’.
Originally, pân tchel was to be used to phonetically decompose Chinese ideograms. It was only later applied to the transcription of the Korean language itself. To do this, it was slightly modified by creating signs to transcribe sounds that do not exist in the Chinese language such as ‘b’, ‘g’ or ‘d’ by adding an accent to the signs of the corresponding deaf people, ‘p’, ‘k’ and ‘t’. In addition, some signs disappeared, the forms of others were modified. Thus, the original 28 signs were changed to 25 signs today, 14 consonants and 11 vowels.
Because of its ease and regularity, it is no exaggeration to say that the Hangul alphabet can be learned in one day. However, while the script is simple and straightforward, the language it represents is anything but. Indeed, the Korean language is one of the most difficult to learn in the world, especially for speakers of European European languages. That said, the Korean visitor should not miss the opportunity to learn the Korean alphabet, even if he or she has no intentions of mastering the language, a task that would take years if not a lifetime.
Even for those whose stay will be brief and have no intention of learning Korean beyond basic greetings and menu items, learning the Korean alphabet is a profitable venture. Le Hangul offers a window not only on oriental philosophical but also on universal phonological principles that are true in all languages. Whether your stay in Korea lasts a few months, a few years or a lifetime, learning Hangul will be a valuable way to spend an afternoon.
For those who are unfamiliar with the script, seeing it in its modern fonts on neon signs might remind someone of the indecipherable lines and circles seen on the sides of spaceships in science fiction movies. However, as “foreign” as it may seem, it is remarkably easy to learn and carries with it valuable philosophical and scientific principles that will enrich anyone who makes the effort to learn it.
Hangul Day, celebrated on Friday, 9 October last, was celebrated as a national holiday until 1991 and is now celebrated as a national day of commemoration, which signifies that we still have to work and go to school. That is a shame. If ever an alphabet deserved a day off, it is the Hangul, at least to give foreign visitors time to learn it.
© Trésor & Bonté
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