Most alphabets around the world have mysterious and unknown origins. They slowly evolved from images to symbols that represent sounds. The Korean alphabet (Hangeul) is different and unique among widely used alphabets because rather than evolving, it was deliberately created.
During the 15th century, Koreans used Chinese characters to write. These characters are known as "Hanja" and are still used occasionally in Korea, especially on calendars. Since Korean is grammatically very different from Chinese, writing Korean using Hanja was an almost impossible task. Therefore, only the Korean elite was literate.
In 1443, King Sejong decided that it would be better for Korea if the Korean language had its own alphabet. He then set to work and, in 1444, the new alphabet was completed.
Unlike Chinese characters, Hangeul is incredibly easy to learn. It is said that "a wise man can learn it in the morning, and a less wise man can learn it in ten days". In fact, it can be learned in less than two hours if you use the best techniques possible, try our 90 minute challenge to see how. Compare those two hours to the time it takes to learn to read Chinese and you can imagine how revolutionary Hangeul must have seemed at the time of its invention!
Like most other alphabets, Hangeul is phonetic. But it also has several adaptations that make it well suited for Korean. For example, rather than being written in a straight line, the letters that make up Hangeul are arranged in a square shape that matches the Chinese characters they replaced. This makes it easy to identify the meaning of any word based on Chinese characters.
Another, rather incredible, adaptation of language is that consonants are based on the shape the mouth takes when pronounced. This prediction is only possible because the language has been planned, and it makes hangul easy to learn.
The vowel letters are based on a combination of three elements: a point, representing the sun; a vertical line, representing the man; and a horizontal line, representing the earth. Unlike English, each vowel sound in Korean has its own letter, which makes a huge difference when learning to pronounce new words.
Although Hangeul is a created language, it has evolved slightly over time, with some letters becoming obsolete. The double ㅎsound, for example, is no longer used. The original script also had marks to indicate word height, but these marks are no longer used. Also, the dots that used to be used in vowel sounds today are almost exclusively drawn as short lines.
Despite all the advantages of Hangeul, it nearly died out during the Choseon Dynasty. The elite of the time wanted to preserve their status and therefore saw Chinese characters as the only true way to write Korean. At the beginning of the 16th century, Hangeul was effectively banned by the king, and teaching centers that taught Hangeul were closed.
However, Hangeul experienced a resurgence in the 19th century, and gradually became more and more common, particularly due to its role in Korean nationalism during the era of Japanese occupation. Even after Korean independence, Chinese characters were still frequently used, and if you read newspapers from the 1950s and 1960s, you will see a mixture of Chinese characters and Hangeul. It wasn't until the 1970s that the use of Chinese characters declined, but nowadays almost all Korean is written in Hangeul.
The date of Hangeul Day in Korea has varied greatly since its inception in 1926, but its current date, October 9, has been in use since 1945. Today, Korean workers will be pleased to see that October 9 is marked in red. on their calendar, which means that day is a national holiday. But it has not always been so; between 1991 and 2012, Hangeul Day lost its status as a national holiday and workers did not get a day off. Luckily, its national holiday status was restored in 2012, so this year you can enjoy the good weather that Korea usually experiences in early October instead of being stuck behind a desk.
Hangeul Day is a day dedicated to celebrating the Korean alphabet, known as Hangeul (or "Hangul"). This day is known as 한글날 (Hangulnal) in Korean, and is also known as "Hangul Proclamation Day".
Hangeul Day is celebrated on October 9 in South Korea, and January 15 north of the DMZ.
At first it might seem a little strange that people take a day off to celebrate the alphabet (but of course any reason for a day off is a good reason!) However, once you learn the history of Hangeul, you will see why it is so important for Korea and Korean culture!
Why not commemorate Hangul Day by visiting the King Sejong Museum. The museum is easy to find; it is located directly below the large golden statue of King Sejong in Gwanghwamun Square, across from Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul. The entrance to the museum is at the back of the statue.
Inside the museum, several exhibits explain the creation of Hangeul as well as other technological advancements during King Sejong's reign. The period of King Sejong's reign is often considered a golden period in Korean history, where enlightenment and knowledge, rather than war and invasion, were the defining events of the era. It's no surprise that a picture of King Sejong appears on the ten thousand won bill!
Another way to celebrate Hangeul Day in Korea is to learn Hangeul. As mentioned before, learning the Korean alphabet only takes two hours and allows you to read Korean signs as well as improve your pronunciation and ability to learn new words. What better way to celebrate this day than to learn the language.
Show everyone how awesome you think Hangeul is by writing something using the Korean alphabet in the comments below!
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