Posted by: rbbadger | May 19, 2009

Hangeul will conquer the world!

One of my students recently said that her teacher told her that in twenty years, every country would give up their alphabet and use the Korean one.  I really do hope that she misunderstood her teacher.  Writing seems to be one of those things that gets bound up with a culture.  Granted, there are areas in the world where the government has accomplished a massive reform of the written script.  Kemal Atatürk, the great Turkish leader who lead his country from the remains of a crumbling empire to a modern state, did manage to rid his nation of the Arabic script, at least for writing Turkish.  Given that the vast majority of Turkish people are Muslim and as nothing but the original Arabic is accepted as a true Quran, yes they still do use Arabic script, at least for religious purposes.  For years, Turkish people had used the Arabic script to write their own language in.  Atatürk managed to get his nation to adopt the Roman alphabet in a generation.  But for the most part, different alphabets or logographic scripts continue be used around the world despite one’s preference for one alphabet over another.

This is not to knock Hangeul.  Hangeul is a marvelous invention which fits the Korean language perfectly.  I am constantly amazed at the linguistic genius of King Sejong who invented it.  However, as I tried to explain to my student, there are so many alphabets around the world and the people who speak each different language often cherish their alphabets or writing systems as much as Koreans cherish theirs.

I’ve heard weird things from students on occasion, such as the interesting myth that Chinese characters originated in Korea and that the Chinese stole them.  No serious scholar would accept this, though it might be very interesting to trace where these ideas originate.  There ARE Chinese characters of purely Korean invention, such as 乭 and 畓.  However, the vast majority of Chinese characters originated in China itself, with the exception of Chu nom, special characters formerly used in Vietnamese, invented by the Vietnamese, and used only by the Vietnamese themselves.  Koreans can be very, very nationalistic.  When you’ve been taught from your earliest years that Korea is the greatest nation on earth, I suppose you might get very frustrated when foreigners and other countries don’t appreciate that belief of yours.



  1. Sounds like Atatürk was appropriately named. Is that like “attaboy?” Bwah-ha-ha. 🙂 Sorry. I couldn’t resist.
    Good job to those guys who made that dictionary. I keep thinking, though, that there would be no way any Chinese dictionary could ever be complete, even if it did take them 30 years and is so massive! Am I right? Just wondering.

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