The Korean alphabet was invented in 1444 and promulgated it in 1446 during the reign of King Sejong (r.1418-1450), the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty. The alphabet was originally called Hunmin jeongeum, or "The correct sounds for the instruction of the people", but has also been known as Eonmeun (vulgar script) and Gukmeun (national writing). The modern name for the alphabet, Hangeul, was coined by a Korean linguist called Ju Si-gyeong (1876-1914). In North Korea the alphabet is known as 조선글 (josoen guel). (Source)
Hangul (pronounced /ˈhɑːŋɡʊl/; Korean: 한글 Hangeul/Han'gŭl [haːn.ɡɯl] ( listen) (in South Korea) or 조선글 Chosŏn'gŭl/Joseongeul (in North Korea)) is the native alphabet of the Korean language, as distinguished from the logographic Sino-Korean hanja system. It was created in the mid-fifteenth century, and is now the official script of both North Korea and South Korea, being co-official in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture of China. A project is currently underway to adopt Hangul as the writing system of the Austronesian Cia-Cia language.
Hangul is a phonemic alphabet organized into syllabic blocks. Each block consists of at least two of the 24 Hangul letters (jamo), with at least one each of the 14 consonants and 10 vowels. These syllabic blocks can be written horizontally from left to right as well as vertically from top to bottom in columns from right to left. Originally, the alphabet had several additional letters (see obsolete jamo). For a phonological description of the letters, see Korean phonology.
"First Sounds," and also symbolically represent the five elements. They fit together nicely into the diagram of the First Sounds below, having essentially the same symbolism as explained in the previous paragraph. Source
Hangul was promulgated by the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty, Sejong the Great. The Hall of Worthies (Jiphyeonjeon, 집현전) is often credited for the work.
The project was completed in late December 1443 or January 1444, and described in 1446 in a document titled Hunmin Jeongeum ("The Proper Sounds for the Education of the People"), after which the alphabet itself was named. The publication date of the Hunmin Jeong-eum, October 9, became Hangul Day in South Korea. Its North Korean equivalent is on January 15.
Various speculations about the creation process were put to rest by the discovery in 1940 of the 1446 Hunmin Jeong-eum Haerye ("Hunmin Jeong-eum Explanation and Examples"). This document explains the design of the consonant letters according to articulatory phonetics and the vowel letters according to the principles of yin and yang and vowel harmony.
In explaining the need for the new script, King Sejong explained that the Korean language was different from Chinese; using Chinese characters (known as hanja) to write was so difficult for the common people that only privileged aristocrats (yangban), usually male, could read and write fluently. The majority of Koreans were effectively illiterate before the invention of Hangul.
Hangul was designed so that even a commoner could learn to read and write; the Haerye says "A wise man can acquaint himself with them before the morning is over; a stupid man can learn them in the space of ten days."
Hangul faced opposition by the literate elite, such as Choe Manri and other Confucian scholars in the 1440s, who believed hanja to be the only legitimate writing system, and perhaps saw it as a threat to their status. However, it entered popular culture as Sejong had intended, being used especially by women and writers of popular fiction. It was effective enough at disseminating information among the uneducated that Yeonsangun, the paranoid tenth king, forbade the study or use of Hangul and banned Hangul documents in 1504, and King Jungjong abolished the Ministry of Eonmun (언문청 諺文廳, governmental institution related to Hangul research) in 1506.
The late 16th century, however, saw a revival of Hangul, with gasa literature and later sijo flourishing. In the 17th century, Hangul novels became a major genre. By this point spelling had become quite irregular.
Due to growing Korean nationalism in the 19th century, Japan's attempt to sever Korea from China's sphere of influence, and the Gabo Reformists' push, Hangul was eventually adopted in official documents for the first time in 1894. Elementary school texts began using Hangul in 1895, and the Dongnip Sinmun, established in 1896, was the first newspaper printed in both Hangul and English.
After Korea was annexed by Japan in 1910, Japanese became the official language and main educational language, but Hangul was also taught in the Japanese-established schools of colonial Korea, and Korean was written in a mixed Hanja-Hangul script, where most lexical roots were written in hanja and grammatical forms in Hangul. The orthography was partially standardized in 1912, with arae a restricted to Sino-Korean, the emphatic consonants written ㅺ sg, ㅼ sd, ㅽ sb, ㅆ ss, ㅾ sj, and final consonants restricted to ㄱ g, ㄴ n, ㄹ l, ㅁ m, ㅂ b, ㅅ s, ㅇ ng, ㄺ lg, ㄻ lm, ㄼ lb (no ㄷ d, as it was replaced by s). Long vowels were marked by a diacritic dot to the left of the syllable, but this was dropped in 1921.
A second colonial reform occurred in 1930. Arae a was abolished; the emphatic consonants were changed to ㄲ gg, ㄸ dd, ㅃ bb, ㅆ ss, ㅉ jj; more final consonants (ㄷㅈㅌㅊㅍㄲㄳㄵㄾㄿㅄ) were allowed, making the orthography more morphophonemic; ㅆ ss was written alone (without a vowel) when it occurred between nouns; and the nominative particle 가 ga was introduced after vowels, replacing ㅣ i. (ㅣ i had been written without an ㅇ iung. The nominative particle had been unvarying i in Sejong's day, and perhaps up to the eighteenth or nineteenth century.)
Ju Sigyeong, who had coined the term Hangul "great script" to replace eonmun "vulgar script" in 1912, established the Korean Language Research Society (朝鮮語研究會; later renamed Hangul Society, 한글學會) which further reformed orthography with Standardized System of Hangul (한글 맞춤법 통일안) in 1933. The principal change was to make Hangul as morphophonemic as practical given the existing letters. A system for transliterating foreign orthographies was published in 1940.
However, the Korean language was banned from schools in 1938 as part of a policy of cultural assimilation, and all Korean-language publications were outlawed in 1941.
The definitive modern orthography was published in 1946, just after independence from Japan. In 1948 North Korea attempted to make the script perfectly morphophonemic through the addition of new letters, and in 1953 Syngman Rhee in South Korea attempted to simplify the orthography by returning to the colonial orthography of 1921, but both reforms were abandoned after only a few years.
Since independence from Japan, the Koreas have used Hangul or mixed Hangul as their sole official writing system, with ever-decreasing use of hanja. Since the 1950s, it has become uncommon to find hanja in commercial or unofficial writing in the South, with some South Korean newspapers only using hanja as abbreviations or disambiguation of homonyms. There has been widespread debate as to the future of hanja in South Korea. North Korea instated Hangul as its exclusive writing system in 1949, and banned the use of hanja completely.
The Hunminjeongeum Society in Seoul attempts to spread the use of Hangul to unwritten languages of Asia. In 2009 they had their first success, with the adoption of Hangul by the town of Bau-Bau, in Sulawesi, Indonesia, to write the Cia-Cia language.
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Anonymous. 2009. "Hangul". Wikipedia. Posted: October 12, 2009. Available online: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hangul
Wright, Stephen. 2004. "Linguistic and Philosophical Origins of the Korean Alphabet (Hangul)". The Wright House. Posted: July 13, 2007. Available online: http://www.wright-house.com/korean/korean-linguistics-origins.html