Hangul: Korean writing

The Korean language has one of the most unique writing systems in the world, known as Hangul. Its characters are composed of smaller glyphs, each of which connotes a single consonant or vowel. Thus Hangul characters represent syllables, much like Chinese characters, only Hangul are clearly phonetic. Because of this, Hangul is extremely easy to learn. It was actually designed with that in mind — the king Sejong the Great, who created and promoted the writing system in 1446, did so in order to promote literacy. At the time Koreans primarily wrote in Classical Chinese, which was notoriously difficult to learn, requiring mastery of thousands of characters, or in Korean but using adapted sets of Chinese characters. By creating the system of Hangul to write the native language in, literacy became attainable for many more people in Korea. Hangul was originally called Hunminjeongeum, after the document that it was first introduced in.

Hangul initially had a mixed reception, as those who had invested so much time in learning Hanja (the Chinese writing system) did not want to give it up for the new writing system. As such, the elites continued using the traditional writing systems, and Hangul was only adopted by women and the lower classes. It wasn’t until the 19th century that the system gained more widespread acceptance with the rise of Korean nationalism; it was 1894 before Hangul was adopted in official documents. Even today, Hanja is still used in South Korea, although Hangul has become increasingly widely used there, with some newspapers only using Hanja to disambiguate homonyms. In North Korea however Hanja has been banned since 1949, and so Hangul is used exclusively. World-wide, there are about 7.2 million speakers of Korean — and since literacy is so high among Korean speakers, that means there’s almost that many writers of Hangul.

Korean is a fascinating language, with a particularly fun writing system. There are only 24 ‘letters’ that compose Hangul characters, making it simple to learn and straightforward to use. I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a little about Hangul! À la prochaine!

Omniglot: Korean

ZKorean: History of Hangul

Udemy: Korean Letters

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