Posted by: rbbadger | August 8, 2009

The Korean Alphabet Abroad

The news media was recently very excited about a recent development regarding the Korean alphabet.  A minority tribe in Indonesia recently chose to adopt Han’gul, the magnificent alphabet invented by King Sejong the Great and his court scholars in 1443, as the alphabet for their language.  Like many minority languages, the language of this particular tribe lacked a writing system of its own.  The Hunminjeongeum Society, a group which promotes the use of the Korean alphabet had been proposing the use of Han’gul for minority languages which lack their own scripts.  Needless to say, they and native Korean linguists have been quite thrilled over the decision of the tribe to adopt Han’gul.  You can read all about it here

The Korean script is a marvelous invention, one well suited to the language.  It fits Korean in much the same way as Roman letters fit Italian.  It is, in other words, a perfect match.  There have been attempts in the past to use it for other languages.  I am aware of attempts to teach the pronunciation of Mandarin with Han’gul in Korea. 

One of my students was utterly convinced that the Korean script would dominate the world in twenty years.  I tried to reason with her, first by showing how Roman letters cannot capture the sounds of Korean as easily or as well as the Korean script can.  Then, I tried to show her how the Korean alphabet, at least as it is presently used in modern Korean, cannot adequately capture the sounds of English.   She didn’t believe me.  After all, her public school teacher told her that.  Not even appeals to the pride that China continues to take in its fiendishly difficult writing system could sway her. 

The Korean alphabet is a marvelous invention.  In fact, it is the only easy part to the language.


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