Hong's Hangul Page



You might want to check out "Hangul Romanizations" page so that you can understand how I am writing romanized Hangul on this site.

This will be a simple description of the written Korean language (한글 HanGeul, or more commonly Hangul). Your browser will need to be able to handle the EUC-KR character set encoding and to display Korean fonts.

This is neither about the Korean language in general (i.e., how to say "xxx" in Korean) nor about the representations of the Korean language in computers and Internet (i.e., how to display a Korean site on your computer). You may find a better reference in the resource page.


A Brief History of Hangul

The Korean language existed long (don't quote me on this, but I think, at least, there is a historical reference dating back to around 400 A.D.) before the writing system. Before (and long after) its invention, almost all of writing was done with Chinese characters (한자 HanJa). The influence of Chinese characters can be seen everywhere in the modern Korean language and society.

The Korean writing system is quite unique in that it was invented, relatively recently, in 1443 by King SeJong (세종대왕 SeJongDaeWang) and his scholars at 집현전 JipHyeonJeon. It was published three years later. The system was originally known as 훈민정음 HunMinJeongEum, which translates to "the proper sound for teaching people". The name, Hangul (한글 HanGeul), is known to be coined by 주시경 Ju SiGyeong in 1913.

Before this document describing the writing system was discovered in 1930s (I was never good at History), no one knew what this system was based on. Some claimed that King SeJong one day looked at his "window" (before glass, thick papers were used to cover wooden frames with geometric shapes) and came up with the idea.

However, the document describes the philosophical (i.e., 천지인 CheonJiIn / "heaven, earth and human") and physiological (e.g., shapes and locations of mouth and tongue) bases for each alphabet (자모 JaMo).

The exact purpose of this creation has been debated for a long time. What King SeJong wrote initially about it is that the Korean language and the Chinese language are different and it makes it difficult for common people to express themselves well with Chinese characters and that he created these characters so that they can be easily learned and used everyday.

Its use didn't become popular overnight despite its ease of use. It was still a time when China had great influences over Korea in every aspect, so aristocrats and scholars kept using Hanja and despised its use. If you wanted to get ahead in life (e.g., becoming a scholar or landing a government position), one was required to learn HanJa. So, Hangul was mostly used by women and people of lower classes. It wasn't until recently, in the mid-20th century, that its use became more prevalent among people.

I think the Hanja education in the secondary schools is continuing in a way, but not much. Since the late 1980s, newspapers have started to use only Hangul. It used to have mixture of Hangul and Hanja and I remember that I often got reprimended for not being able to read newspapers well (I wasn't good with Hanja).

These days, most of the printed media use Hangul exclusively. Some did have come back to using both, especially for personal names. But for the most of the younger Koreans, Hanja isn't such a big issue in everyday life.

One last thing. Koreans used to celebrated October 9th as the Hangul Day (한글날 HanGeulLal) nationally (that is, a national holiday). But about a decade ago, they canceled it citing, if I remember correctly, that we had too many holidays (whether that was the real reason, I have no idea)! Anyway, it is no longer a national holiday, but some do still remember.


Created with Emacs

Maintained by Younghong "Hong" Cho
Last updated:
Created: February 6, 2004

since 2004-02-06.