History Of Hangul 101: A Fascinating Throwback

History Of Hangul

With the influence of the Korean wave, many fans want to learn the Korean language. But today, let us take a look back on the colorful history of Hangul (용국).

Did you know that among the East Asian languages, the Korean language is the easiest to learn? It will only take you days to learn the Hangul letters (Korean alphabet) without any hassle. It’s no surprise since most Korean drama or K-pop fans know many Korean words without actually having formal lessons. This is a blessing for people like you who want to learn Korean.

But, the Korean writing system wouldn’t be as easy as it is now if it wasn’t because of King Sejong and the colorful history of Hangul. In this blog, we will travel back in time and learn the history of Hangul or the Korean script. You will also learn more about Korean culture, Korean people, and Korean history.

Discovering The History Of The Korean Alphabet (Hangul 용국)

Korean is the official language of the Korean peninsula consisting of North Korea and South Korea. There are also other Korean-speaking countries worldwide, like the US and other Korean diasporas. The Korean language is the 13th most spoken language in the world. Thanks to King Sejong the Great, Koreans and other language enthusiasts can learn the Korean language and its pronunciation easily.

However, the true magic of the Korean language lies in its history. Understanding the evolution of this language can unlock the door to a deeper appreciation of Korean culture and its roots. It sheds light on the linguistic and cultural influences that have molded Korean into the diverse and beautiful language it is today. Let’s start this beautiful journey as we delve into the importance of understanding the history of the Korean language.

History of Hangul Joseon dynasty

Joseon Dynasty – Chinese Characters (Hanja 한자)

During the Joseon Dynasty, the writing system used in Korea was Hanja (한자) which uses Chinese characters. This writing system is brought over from Chinese and Buddhist literature. Koreans adapt and use it in their literature, official documents and records, and bureaucracies, which will affect them later.

Before Hangul was created, the Korean elite used Hanja as it was then they realized that the Korean words sounded different. So, the Korean elite chose to convert Hanja characters to Korean phonetically.

As the preferred writing system in Korea, Hanja was far from easy. Hanja characters combined with various phonetic writing systems did not mix well. Adapting to this foreign language system was difficult since Hanja and Chinese characters are logographic. This means that you can’t pronounce the characters as you can in Spanish, German, or English. It doesn’t also suit the Korean grammar style and has many characters to learn.

Given this situation, only people with access to higher education can only learn this writing system, which is the elite, not commoners. With Korea’s situation back then, having no centralized education, learning to read and write, especially for commoners, was a real struggle. So, many Koreans are illiterate, and the worst part was their cultural identity was borrowed. Their identity was only limited to oral traditions without any written script.

In response, a more straightforward system was created – Idu – a harmonious blend of Chinese characters and Korean symbols representing Korean speech. Thus began the journey of the ancient Korean language, characterized by its strong Chinese influence and the use of the Idu writing system. It marked the start of a long tradition of borrowing and adapting elements of Chinese culture and language, which continues to this day.

History of Hangul King Sejeong

King Sejong (Sejong The Great)

If you have been to South Korea, you might have seen the massive statue of King Sejong the great resting in the Gwanghwamun Square (광화문광장) towards Gyeongbokgung Palace (경복궁). He is the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty. Well, he wouldn’t be getting this massive statue for no reason. His contribution to Korean history, especially in the Korean language. Before that, let’s have a short throwback about King Sejong’s life.

King Sejong the Great (세종대왕) was born in 1397 during the Joseon Dynasty period. He is the third son of King Taejong and Queen Won-Gyeong. At first, his older brother, Grand Prince Yangnyeong, was the heir to the throne. But when King Taejong stripped Grand Prince Yangnyeong of his title, he made Sejong the heir to the throne with the title Grand Prince Changnyeong. He then ascended the throne in 1418 at the age of 21.

After King Sejong became a King, he selected many talented people to help him reach his goals for the country. His father, King Taejong, was a regent until he passed away. King Sejong then established the “Hall of Worthies with a vision of modernizing the country with new inventions.

King Sejong’s thinking philosophy was based on the Neo-Confucianism philosophy. This philosophy emphasizes the importance of justice and righteousness between the sovereign and the subject. The emphasis was on education and more rational thinking. Many of the more spiritually based customs and beliefs of the time were discarded by Neo-Confucianism.

Koreans call him “Sejong the great.” He is considered one of the greatest rulers in Korean history. He encouraged the development of Science and Technology, introduced measures to stimulate the economy, and helped Korean society progress in all kinds of ways possible.

King Sejong also assisted in codifying the calendars and publishing the first farmer’s handbook to disseminate effective farming techniques across the peninsula. He was always there to help his people during trouble like floods and drought. He ruled with kindness and benevolence during his reign.

History of Hangul Creation

1443 – Creation Of Hangul By King Sejong (세종대왕)

“A smart man can learn it before lunch, and a fool can learn it in ten days.” – King Sejong

The reign of King Sejong the Great is considered the Golden Age of Korea. Aside from all his achievements mentioned above, there is one most significant thing that he is known for, which changed the lives of Koreans forever – the creation of Hangul, the Korean writing system.

Throughout his reign, King Sejong bemoaned that ordinary people could not read and write due to their ignorance of the complicated Chinese characters used by the educated or those in the noble classes/upper classes. He grasped their dissatisfaction with their inability to read or transmit their thoughts and feelings through written language.

King Sejong The Great noticed a growing divide between the educated and the ignorant in his realm. He realized that the nation needed a new writing system. This is what made him invent Hangul, a phonetic alphabet.

He set out to create a native script that the Korean people could readily learn and use, thinking about the literacy rate of his people and the growth of his country as a whole. It is believed that King Sejong ordered the Hall of Worthies to invent Hangul. But, the Veritable Records of King Sejong and the introduction of the Hunminjeongeum are among the records that claim he created the writing system himself.

History of Hangul What is Hangul

What Is “Hangul”?

Let’s break down the meaning of the word “한글.”

한 (han): 한, coming from the hanja 韩 (hán), can be interpreted as an abbreviation of South Korea, which in the Korean language is 한국 (han gug), or a reference to Korean people.
글 (gul): writing

Until the twentieth century, the script was known by the name Hunminjngm (Hunminjeongeum; loosely translated, “Proper Sounds to Instruct the People”), which was given to it by Sejong. On the other hand, North Korea calls it Chosŏn’gŭl.

The Hunmin Jeongeum was first published on October 9, 1446, and South Korea commemorates that date as Hangul Day. The term Hangul was coined in 1912 by Ju Si-gyeong, a Korean linguist.

Letters are made up of basic geometric shapes separated into vowels and consonants. In the beginning, Hangul consisted of 28 symbols, but four symbols were not needed, so they removed them. It is just 14 consonants and ten vowels, referred to as jamos, to which we must add five double consonants, 11 compound vowels, and 11 consonant clusters to make a total of 40 letters.

Hangul letters are put together in syllabic blocks with at least one consonant and one vowel. This contrasts with other East Asian writing systems like Chinese and Kanji, which use logographic characters in which each character represents a separate word.

1446 – The Impact Of Hangul

After the creation of Hangul, people from the lower class or the commoners had a chance to be literate. They learned how to read and write Korean, not just the upper classes and literary elite. They learn Hangul independently without formal schooling or such.

Hangul has easily become popular and quickly adopted by the Koreans. No matter their social class, people have learned a new opportunity to express their own words. This includes women, writers, and more.

The Koreans also gained more sense of nationalism because they had a new alphabet they could call their own. They no longer need to borrow from another language. Everything that they write, read, and speak is purely their own.

Rejection From The Korean Elite (Yangban 양반)

Although Hangul, the official writing system of Korea, benefited many Koreans, the Korean elite first opposed it. Many of them believed that Hanja was the only legitimate writing system. The Chinese writing system appeared to be far more advanced and respectable.

They consider Hangul a threat to their status since Hangul is straightforward to learn and understand compared to Hanja. They were scared that it would make them stand out from the rest of the world to employ a “second-rate” writing system because it was made-up language. With this, you can infer that the language spoken by people is a status symbol.

1504 – Hangul Was Banned

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Seeing Hangul as a threat to the upper classes, they had to take it down. So, it was banned just a few years after Hangul was born. The newly empowered peasants put up posters mocking the king, Yeonsangun, around town. It did not make him happy, so he outlawed the study and usage of Hangul.

Late 16th Century – Pop Stories In Hangul

Pop stories are well-loved by the Koreans during these periods. People follow the stories of famous pop writers, which keeps them entertained. During the late 16th century, writers began employing Hangul to produce widespread reports in the late 16th century. This contributed to the survival of Hangul. With this, we can deny the power of the pen as an instrument to fight.

The 1890s – Corruption, Illiteracy, And Western People

During King Kojong, Korea faced a big problem brought by illiteracy, corruption, and the western people within their borders. This awakened his senses, and he felt the need to do something to fix all these problems. He established a reform called Gabo Reform to abolish slavery and social classes and endorse a merit-based education and employment system.

But what does it has to do with Hangul? Gabo Reform also declared that all official government documents should be written in Hangul. In 1895, schools started to teach in Hangul, and in 1896, the first newspaper written in Hangul and English was printed. He realized that going back to Hangul from Hanja could help solve illiteracy, corruption, and western influences and threats.

1910 – The Japanese Colonization

The journey of Hangul as the official Korean alphabet is far from over. In 1910, Korea became an annex of Japan, and of course, they declared Japanese as the official language of Korea. The Japanese banned the teaching of Korean literature.

The Japanese have been pretty clever in their moves with the Koreans. They want to maintain their blood pure, so they don’t let Koreans have Japanese names. They don’t want the Koreans to come to their borders and enter their country as Japanese.

Korea was largely left to its own devices by the Japanese imperial administration. They made it possible to teach and study Hangul in schools and universities. The Japanese have stayed in Korea for a long time, so the brave locals’ centuries of colloquial use of the Korean language left Hangul in a messy situation. It lacked a central organizing body, and some excessive letterforms and grammar rules needed to be trimmed.

Groups like the Korean Language Society fought for the Korean language during that time, and in 1912 and 1930, Hangul’s letters and orthography were codified. The characters were somewhat standardized, with minor revisions.

In 1938, Japan became more strict and adopted a policy of assimilation, where Korean culture was outlawed. This time, it’s worse because even the schools can no longer teach Hangul, and the official documents were ordered to be written using Japanese. During this time, the Korean language is hanging on a thread.

1946 – The Fall Of Japan Empire

The Japanese empire brought a lot of struggles for the Korean language. But, in 1946, these struggles ended because this was the fall of the Japanese empire in Korea. Both the Korean government and the Korean people adopted Hangul as their official language.

Even though Korea was divided during the Korean War, North, and South Korea declared Hangul their official language. In 1946, North Korea attempted to add a few more letters to the Hangul alphabet. Come 1949, North Korea established Hangul, its official writing system, outlawing the use of Hanja entirely. On the other hand, in South Korea, Hanja letters are nevertheless employed in some circumstances.

Hangul Day Celebration

To recognize the historical creation of the Korean Alphabet Day, Koreans celebrate Hangul Day/Hangeul Day in South Korea and Chosŏn’gŭl Day in North Korea. It is celebrated on October 9 in South Korea and January 15 in North Korea.

Hangul Day is a national holiday in Korea, but from 1991 to 2012, it was not considered a national holiday. Its status as a national holiday was only restored in 2012.

How Does Hangul Look Like?

Basic Hangul consists of 24 letters which comprise ten vowels and 14 consonants. Want a quick preview of what you’ll learn? Here’s what Hangul looks like:

History of Hangul alphabet preview

Did hangul get you curious? We’ve written a comprehensive guide on the 24 letters on the Korean alphabet. You sure wouldn’t want to miss out on this opportunity, right? Check that one out!

Importance Of Hangul

Can you imagine watching a K-drama or listening to K-pop music without using native Korean words? Probably not. But, aside from watching K-dramas and listening to K-pop music, what else makes Hangul important?

Hangul became the way of making the Korean population almost 100% literate. It also helped to distinguish this little peninsula’s people as uniquely Korean. Because of the invention of the Korean script, South Korea quadrupled its GDP and became a pop culture and technology powerhouse.

But, do you know what’s more important? It ignited the sense of nationalism of the Korean people. As Noah Webster said, “A national language is a band of national union.” The creation of Hangul, like any other language, brought the people closer together.

The fruits of King Sejong’s labor are far from having a language they can use to communicate. It’s more about having the identity that sets them apart from others. A cultural identity that they can call their own and not borrow.

Hangul had gone through many battles, but some people stood up and fought for it. If all those things did not happen, many things that we know and admire from Korea might not be there. Truly, Hangul is a language worthy of its name – The Great Script.

The Modern Korean Language

The melodic tunes of Western culture serenaded the modern Korean language in the 20th century. This fusion brought a wealth of new Korean words and phrases to Korean Peninsula, especially South Korea, as compared to North Korea, enriching the language and making it more versatile. It’s as if the Korean language has taken on a new instrument and added a unique sound to its symphony.

Just as different instruments must harmonize harmoniously to make beautiful music, the Korean people also strive to unify their language. In the 20th century, standardization became the driving force behind a common language for all Koreans, regardless of regional differences. The result was a standardized Korean language with a unified vocabulary and grammar harmonizing with the diverse Korean people.

The Korean writing system, Hangul, was like a latent symphony waiting to be played. Invented in the 15th century, it wasn’t until the 20th century that it became the official Korean language writing system. With its widespread use, Hangul has helped to make the language more accessible to the masses, like a beautiful piece of music that all can now enjoy.

Characteristics of The Modern Korean Language

The modern Korean language boasts a standardized form, a vocabulary as rich as a full symphony orchestra, and an elegant Hangul writing system. It is a highly expressive language that Korea’s cultural and historical heritage has shaped. Today, Korean is widely spoken, serving as a proud anthem of Korean culture and identity.

Useful Vocabulary

With the knowledge of its rich history under your belt, it’s time to put it into practice and add some linguistic flair to your discussions. Let’s arm you with some valuable words for those meaningful conversations.

Ancient Korean Language고대 한국어Godae Hangug-Eo
Borrowed Words빌린 단어Billin Dan-Eo
Chinese Characters한자Hanja
Chinese Influence중국의 영향Jung-Gug-Ui Yeonghyang
Korean Hangul한글Hangeul
Korean Peninsula한반도Hanbando
Middle Korean Language중세 한국어Jungse Hangug-Eo
Modern Korean Language현대 한국어Hyeondae Hangug-Eo
Mongolian Invasion몽골의 침략Mong-Gol-Ui Chimlyag
Western Influence서양의 영향Seoyang-Ui Yeonghyang
learn korean with Ling app

Going To South Korea? Learn The Korean Language Now!

With its beautiful culture and the huge influence of the Korean wave, who wouldn’t wanna go to South Korea? But it would be fantastic if you knew how to talk to the locals and make new friends. So, why not learn Korean with the Ling app now?

Ling app has developed features that can make language learning easy for learners. The app was filled with fun and meaningful activities essential for developing language skills. Korean, an easy language to learn, is already a headstart for you, so further your learning by using the Ling app to learn Korean now.

If I were you and planning a long vacation in South Korea, I’d download the Ling app on the Play Store or App Store to practice ahead.

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