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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Korean Language - Hangeul

Korean Vowels and Consonants

Hangeul (, the Korean alphabet) consists of forty letters. Twenty-one of these represent vowels (including thirteen diphthongs), and nineteen represent consonants. Twenty-four are basic, while the others are compounds of the basic letters. Consonants


Hangeul Syllables

A Korean syllable is divided into three parts: choseong (initial consonant), jungseong (vowel), and jongseong (final consonant). This is the basic framework that King Sejong and the Jiphyeonjeon scholars adhered to when creating the letters. Jongseong was not separately created and was a repetition of the choseong. Therefore, Hangeul is capable of creating thousands of words by combining the consonants and vowels.


As the above examples clearly show, Hangeul, with only 14 consonants and 10 vowels, is capable of expressing virtually any sound.

The Korean language has a well-developed and expansive vocabulary, and therefore, it is very difficult to express fully in foreign script. However, due to its scientific design, it is quite easy to approximate the sounds of foreign words in the Korean alphabet. Following are some examples of English words expressed in Hangeul.

English words into Korean
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In particular, because of its simplicity and the rather small number of letters, Hangeul is very easy for children or speakers of other languages to learn.

Most children are capable of expressing their feelings and thoughts by the ages of two or three, albeit in primitive form. However, most Korean children by the time they reach school age, have mastered Hangeul, which is unusual. This fact clearly attests to the easy learnability and accessibility of the Korean alphabet.

It is ironic that the strongest proof of the easy learnability of the alphabet came from the critics who argued against the creation of Hunminjeongeum. Some scholars vehemently railled against the "new" alphabet because of its learnability, and in derision, they called it Achimgeul (morning letters) or Amgeul (women's letters).

Achimgeul meant that it could be learned in one morning. For those scholars who had spent years learning the complicated ideographs of the Chinese language, Hangeul did not appear to be worthy of learning. Amgeul meant that even women who had no academic training or background at the time Hangeul was invented could easily learn the alphabet. At that time, there were those who considered the pursuit of academic studies and the subject of reading and writing to be the sole domain of a few privileged scholars.

Such misconceptions were the result of confusing simple linguistic learning with more advanced academic studies. Without learning the basic alphabet, reading and writing would be impossible, let alone the study of more advanced subjects. Without being able to read and write, there can be no indirect communication of one's feelings and thoughts. Surely, King Sejong's intent was to enrich the lives of the people by introducing Hangeul, and not to make scholars out of all his subjects.

In its subsequent history, Hangeul has been a mainstay of Korean culture, helping preserve the country's national identity and independence.

Illiteracy is virtually nonexistent in Korea. This is another fact that attests to the easy learnability of Hangeul. It is not uncommon for a foreigner to gain a working knowledge of Hangeul after one or two hours of intensive studying. In addition, because of its scientific design, Hangeul lends itself to easy mechanization. In this age of computers, many people now are able to incorporate computers into their lives without difficulties, thanks to a large number of programs written in Hangeul.