11 October 2005

Sunday Was Hangul Day.

Korea has a special day to celebrate its unique alphabet whose characters are called Hangul. That day was last Sunday.

King Sejong (세종대왕 in Hangul, 世宗大王 in Chinese characters), the fourth king of the Choson dynasty, was born May 6, 1397 and ascended the throne in 1418 at the age of 21. He died May 18, 1450 aged only 53. He is known for his work improving Korea's defenses against Japanese pirates and invaders from Manchuria, for his patronage of scholarship (among other things, he founded the 집현전 集賢殿 (Jiphyeonjeon) or "Hall of Worthies", a kind of royal academy) and for his own scholarly work. He is credited with the invention of a rain gauge, a water clock, and a sundial. His literary works include the highly regarded Yongbi Eocheon Ga "Songs of Flying Dragons", Worin Cheon-gang Jigok "Songs of the Moon Shining on a Thousand Rivers", and Seokbo Sangjeol "Episodes from the Life of the Buddha". He also compiled the Dongguk Jeong-un "Dictionary of Proper Sino-Korean Pronunciation". Most of all, he is known as the creator and promulgator of Hangul.

Prior to 1446, the Korean language was rarely written at all. The written language used in Korea was Classical Chinese. The combination of the use of a foreign language with the large amount of memorization required to learn thousands of Chinese characters meant that only a small elite were literate, overwhelmingly men from aristocratic families. The great majority of people were illiterate. On the relatively rare occasions when Korean was written, it was written using Chinese characters, in part for their sound, in part for their meaning. This too was a complex system poorly suited for mass literacy. Hangul was the first writing system to make it easy for any Korean to read and write his or her native language.


Sotosoroto said...

I'm going to have to put this on my calendar. Do you know if it's every October 9?

Hangul rocks.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

I don't. The traditional lunar calendar is used for some purposes, while the Western solar calendar is used for others.

My inlaws, for example, triple dip. They had big bashes for their 60th birthdays (a full cycle of the lunar calander and the traditional age in Korea at which one becomes a senior citizen) and also had big bashes for their 65th birthdays (the traditional American retirement age). Of course, they also had big bashes when they retired early. Maybe they just like parties.