The first step of understanding the Korean Wave, Hangeul

Kang Hyounhwa

(Ex-President of King Sejong Institute Foundation/ Professor of Yonsei University)

Every October 9th is a Korean holiday to commemorate the birth of Hangeul. Not many alphabets in the world has a clear explanation of its origin or the purpose of its creation. However, Hangeul was intentionally made by King Sejong in 1443, which was publicized in 1446. Because of its scientific and rational nature, the Korean alphabet was registered at the UNESCO Memory of The World in October 1997. The creation of Hangeul radically lowered the illiteracy rate of Koreans, and the UNESCO has created the King Sejong Literacy Prize in 1989 in honor of such feat.

The first step of understanding the Korean Wave, Hangeul
Learning a foreign language includes not only the language itself but also the foreign culture. Adopting a language other than one's mother tongue coincides with respecting differences between cultures. This means that the initial step of intercultural communications is to learn foreign languages. More and more people are immersed in the Korean culture, and the size of Korean speaking population is 13th in the world. The recent popularity of BTS and award winning films such as Parasites and Minari is bringing even more attention to the Korean culture and language.

In order to understand Korean, one needs to first understand the alphabet, which is called 'Hangeul.' Hangeul has three characteristics; linguistically scientific background of character making, the spirit of love incorporated in the making process, and the scientific nature as a phonetic alphabet system. In fact, many foreigners find Hangeul very exotic, and the arrangement of words is quite different from most of English and European languages(the sequence of words is similar to Mongolian, Turkish and Japanese). Nevertheless, we should look into the reason the unique charms of the Korean language and Hangeul.

First, Hangeul is logical and versatile. Other than most of characters which simulated the shapes of ordinary objects, Hangeul is made after how our vocal organs look like. This means the Korean alphabet is phonetically original that it connected the visual and phonetic nature of sounds that human vocal organs can make. In addition, the ample number of consonants and vowels, which are 19 and 22 each, enables Hangeul writers to express most of human created sounds into words. In fact, over 8,800 sounds can be described using Hangeul. Therefore, Hangeul is not only easy to learn and write but also one of the most versatile alphabet system that can express vast range of human sounds, which made it in the first place at the 2020 World Alphabet Olympic Games by the International Alphabet Association.
Second, the spirit of love is incorporated in the creations of Hangeul. The alphabet is democratic in nature because it targets those people who are alienated from using writing systems. King Sejong initially created Hangeul because there were no written languages which could describe Korean language. The official written language then, the Chinese characters, was the language of the ruling class, and the public had less access toward the written system. Therefore, the creation of Hangeul meant a cultural revolution which made possible the public to enjoy the culture of writing. In addition, the publicization of Hangeul enriched Korean culture by fostering the integration of foreign cultures into Korea.

Third, Hangeul has its unique artistic values. The Korean alphabet is different from English alphabets or Chinese characters. First, Hangeul consonants and vowels are written in a rectangular shape, whereas English characters has to be arranges in a long linear shape. The calligraphy course by the King Sejong Institute is popular among Korean learners because people can draw and visualize the words itself using syllables. Hangeul's harmonic design of straight lines and curves made the language interpreted as beautiful drawings, so the characters are often used in making fashion items such as reusable shopping bags and T-shirts.
Lastly, Hangeul has many practical uses in the era of industrialization and information. Hangeul keyboards are efficient in that it speeds up the input time, which leads to faster communications of information. This ultimately lead Korea to be one of the largest electronic industries around the world. Moreover, as one Hangeul character corresponds to one sound, Hangeul is the most adequate language for the voice recognition technology. Because of this aspect, Hangeul has strengths in conveying long spoken messages or researching information using voice.

The Korean Wave(ie. Hallyu), including BTS songs and 'the Squid Games,' have became a global phenomena. Deeper interaction between Korean and other cultures can be done by mutual efforts to understand each other, especially through by learning the Korean language and Hangeul.
Jeudi 7 Octobre 2021

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